By Dave Wagner
It took Shawn Scanlan two years to bring the Eastern New Mexico University men’s basketball team from a 4-22 record and the basement of the Lone Star Conference South Division to back-to-back championships.
Scanlan said the Greyhounds, who begin organized practice this afternoon, have conditioned well in preseason and he thinks it’s entirely possible they could make it three titles in a row in 2004-05.
“We’re real optimistic,” the fifth-year coach said. “I’ve been very pleased with the work (the players) have put in and the progress they’ve made.”
The ENMU women also begin practice today under assistant coach Dustin Klafka, who is serving as interim coach with head coach Dan Buzard still in Albuquerque recovering from surgery over the summer for a cancerous brain tumor.
Scanlan said his squad numbers 15 or 16, including several walk-ons. Five players return from last year’s 20-9 squad and the Hounds have added six junior college transfers, most of whom could “contribute and make a difference,” he said.
Not back are post Travazz Buckley, who had “academic issues” and has left school, Scanlan said, and guard Kennis Green, who has transferred to Ouachita Baptist in Arkansas. Both would have been seniors.
In addition, seniors Irshaun Pinckney (ankle), Jamaal Hunnicutt (broken leg) and Jamal Washington (ankle) are also on the mend. Pinckney had surgery to remove floating pieces of bone in his ankle about 2 1/2 weeks ago while Hunnicutt has been slow to heal after breaking his leg in the team’s NCAA Division II regional playoff loss to Northwest Missouri State in March.
Scanlan is hoping the Hounds, who have an exhibition game at the University of New Mexico on Nov. 1, can be at or near full strength by their Nov. 18 regular-season opener against Lubbock Christian at Greyhound Arena.
“When we get them all healthy, we’ve got as deep and talented a team as we’ve had,” he said. “I certainly feel like we ought to compete for a (South) championship this year. But I also know it’s going to be very difficult.”
Klafka said the Zias have 15 players, including seven back from last year’s 16-12 squad which made a run at the division title until the final weekend of the regular season.
“That helps our mindset,” Klafka said of last year’s strong showing, pointing to an early-season win over rival West Texas A&M as a turning point. “The kids learned how to win. Winning is mental sometimes more than anything.
“I think our expectations are a little different this year. We expect a lot more out of ourselves.”
The Zias play an exhibition at Texas-El Paso on Nov. 7, and open the season at home against Fort Lewis on Nov. 15.
When, or if, Buzard returns to coaching this season remains to be seen. Buzard, who completed radiation treatments last week, said he has been having problems with his eyesight over the past few weeks.
Longtime ENMU coach Wayne Moore is helping Klafka and assistant Sharon Max at this point, along with graduate assistant Haley Anderson.