Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, NM)

Time To Bring It On.(Sports)

Byline: Story by Mark Smith * Photograph by Mike Stewart * Of the Journal

Will a reshuffling of the roster create a winning combination this season?

You must play the hand you're dealt. An old sports adage, to be sure, but one that University of New Mexico men's basketball coach Fran Fraschilla knows oh, too well.

This season, however, he's the one who shuffled, cut the cards and dealt them. Nine of the Lobos' 11 scholarship players got their papers from Fraschilla.

A year ago, Fraschilla inherited a UNM program that was coming off four straight NCAA Tournament appearances.

It was a team, however, that had just lost Kenny Thomas, the guy that many call the greatest basketball player in school history.

A new coach, a new system and a lot of mystery surrounded the program.

It remained enigmatic, sometimes frustratingly so, throughout the topsy-turvy 1999-2000 season.

It was a campaign clouded by seven home losses, nearly setting a record for Pit ineptitude in a non-scandal year, and numerous player defections.

But it also had some tremendous highs, like an upset of 21st-ranked Utah, a shocker over No. 3 Arizona in Tucson one of the Lobos' biggest-ever road victories and a highly rated recruiting class.

From the get-go, Fraschilla preached it was a transition season and that he was two recruiting classes away from getting the program rolling with his type of players.

While Fraschilla has had just one such class, this season's team will feature more different faces than a troupe of impressionists.

Will the newcomers be enough to improve on last season's 18-14 record and get UNM back into the NCAA limelight? Or are the Lobos still a year away or even more?

"I think it's a transition year," says Fraschilla, who had six seasons of college head-coaching experience before sitting out the 1998-99 season after being fired by St. John's.

"In many ways, we're a young team, an inexperienced team. We like our talent level, but we also catch ourselves in a league that's top-heavy with upperclassmen.

"I like our position, and I like where our program is in terms of development because we're kind of a work in progress. I don't want to finish fifth, and something inside me tells me we may not. …

Log in to your account to read this article – and millions more.