Rallying point or distraction? Shooting in Albuquerque will follow Aggies all season
Greg Heiar will win a lot of rivalry basketball games as the New Mexico State men’s basketball coach.
There is no doubt about that.
He won his first in dominant fashion, as the Aggies beat rival UTEP 95-70 on Wednesday at the Pan American Center.
New Mexico State men's basketball blows out UTEP wire-to-wire
But right or wrong, the events of Nov. 19 in Albuquerque will cast a shadow over his first season in Las Cruces as information out of the University and State Police has been hard to come by in the early stages of an ongoing investigation.
As the leader of the most storied program on campus, Heiar took responsibility this week for the actions of 21-year-old Mike Peake, the Aggies player who was involved in a shooting that killed a UNM student and left Peake in the hospital after being shot in the leg as police say he fired back, killing UNM student Brandon Travis, who conspired with three other UNM students to lure Peake to campus around 3 a.m., according to police documents.
“I would say that in life when you are part of a family and someone in the family makes a mistake, sometimes everyone in the family is looked upon because of that mistake,” Heiar said on Tuesday in his first public comments since the shooting. “There are a lot of guys who did the right thing. We are all suffering because of a mistake that was made. That’s life.”
Heiar said Peake was still a member of the basketball team, stating that Peake needs them now more than ever.
“We are keeping Mike in our hearts and our prayers and use that as a rallying tool to help our team grow,” Heiar said.
In addition to hearts and prayers, Peake is still actively connected with his teammates, speaking to the group on a regular basis, including at halftime and postgame on Wednesday.
Aggies guard Xavier Pinson said Peake told the team to, "Keep our foot on their neck. We have a lot more in us."
Heiar said Peake spoke to the team following the victory, as well.
"He was just saying he was hopping around on one leg and how excited he was," Heiar said. "He said I want to give everyone in the room a hug. I'm so proud of you guys and to keep it up."
Heiar said Peake had been disciplined following his involvement in an October fight at Aggie Memorial Stadium that proved to be the genesis of the shooting, according to police documents. Heiar and NM State administration has not disclosed what the discipline entails, but Peake played in the first two games of the season and an exhibition game.
While discipline may lie with the head coach as it relates to potentially losing playing time, or not, at some point Heiar and/or the athletic department, perhaps even the Dean of Students, will have to address Peake’s standing as a student athlete.
NM State and police have confirmed that Peake took a gun on a team bus to Albuquerque, breaking University policy, and taking a gun on the UNM campus, a misdemeanor in New Mexico.
That’s something that is not going away until either Peake steps back on the basketball court next season or he’s removed at some point. There have been two UNM students involved that have already been charged and when those cases progress through the legal system, we will have to report those details as well due to the link between a shooting and NM State basketball.
But even if Heiar would have announced that Peake was no longer with the basketball team in the past week, his teammates still have to play through any distractions that last week’s events may have created.
The shooting has also resulted in the cancellation of both rivalry games against New Mexico.
"We are doing it for him," Aggies guard Anthony Roy said. "We lost a big piece of our team and it's important that everybody kind of steps it up. We play for 15 (Peake's jersey number)."
While NM State has not provided updates on Peake’s condition, he remains a member of the basketball program. Peake has interacted with folks via his social media accounts.
In a Facebook post, Peake addressed the shooting and some of the reaction around it, stating, “Just up looking through my social media gang and I can honestly say some of you “Fans of Nmsu” wanted a different outcome of that night. Regardless the situation I made a Horrible decision that night by stepping out at 3AM in ALL AGGIE GEAR but do you think I would’ve stepped out if I knew I were to be set up by 4 FRIENDS that knew each other very well And I came ALONE. Some of y’all “Opinions” just sound kindergarten fr but it’s all good fasho imma come back stronger mentally and physically shorty n I stand on my business in every which way #seeyallnextyear”
When asked if the shooting that involved their teammate has been a rallying point and not a distraction, Pinson said his approach starts with Peake's message to his teammates.
"It really started with him to be honest," Pinson said. "I feel like a lot of people were shook and lost and he told us, it is what it is. You guys have to keep playing, you have to keep doing what you are doing, don't be scared, don't let the fans get to you, bad comments. We all took backlash from it. We just move on from it. You can't control everything. We just control what we could and just stayed in the lab and play as hard as we can."
Jason Groves can be reached at 575-541-5459 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @jpgroves.