Practice at the pit: Jamestown’s men’s basketball team prepares
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The theatre-style seats that line the University of New Mexico’s practice gym are one of many features that signal the unique experience the Jimmies are living for a couple days.
It’s a once-and-a-lifetime opportunity that is not lost on coach Justin Wieck’s team.
“How could you not have fun? This is pretty awesome,” said star senior Mark Hoge. “We want to make the most of this. This is not something a lot of people get to do, so we want to use it as a learning experience, but at the same time have fun.”
The opportunity is a result of the relationship between Wieck and New Mexico coach Craig Neal, who was an assistant at the University of Iowa when Wieck was a player at the Big Ten school.
The Jimmies practiced in The Pit, sight of tonight’s game between the 20th-ranked Lobos and the University of Jamestown, last year during their holiday trip. At the time, Wieck joked with his players about someday possibly playing a real game here.
The players didn’t think much of it at the time, but then came a team meeting at summer camp.
“I just remember thinking, ‘Wow. We’re really going.’” Hoge said when he learned of the trip. “It’s a great opportunity for us to get to do someting like this.”
That was the common theme among the players Tusday night inside New Mexico’s sparkling facilities.
“When you get away and do something like this it’s great for chemistry, team-building, just getting to know your teammates and coaches better,” said the team’s top reserve Taylor Newton. “The plane ride down, going out to eat together that’s a unique part of this too. Yeah, we know each other well already because it is like a family-situation being a part of this team, but doing something like this kind of takes it to the next level and it’s a lot of fun.”
The Jimmies, who split their first four games of the season, understand what they’re up against tonight in the Lobos, who are the favorites to win the Mountain West Conference. But they’re not content on just being a sacrificial lamb.
“We want to get better and compete at a high level,” said point guard Breshion Tucker. “Obviously, we understand what kind of team they are, but we still feel like we can go out there and give a great effort and earn some respect.”
The effort and intensity were high Tuesday night, and while they’re determined to play well tonight in front of upwards of 15,000 fans, they also want to take it all in.
“This is something we’ll always remember, something we’ll be able to tell our kids about,” Tucker said smiling. “But, we want to play well, too.”
Hoge was unable to practice because of a foot injury that just flared up in recent days. He still hopes to play tonight, but was in obvious pain. ... Tuesday’s practice began a bit shaky, but turned around after some stern words from the head coach, although Wieck was sympathetic to the apparent nerves. “It’s understandable. It’s easy for me. I don’t have to shoot or make a pass. All I have to do is blow my whistle. ... Wieck was on a team similar to last year’s New Mexico team, which was a 3-seed in the NCAA tournament but was upset in the first round by Harvard. Iowa was a 3-seed in 2006, but got upset by Norwestern State. “They’re more athletic. ... I haven’t seen them play a lot, but we know they’re good,” he said smiling. ... While the Jimmies were practicing Tuesday, the New Mexico women’s team was playing Western New Mexico State. ... The Pit is literally dug into the earth. It sits 37 feet below sea level.
Sun sports editor Dave Selvig can be reached at (701) 952-8460 or firstname.lastname@example.org