The New Mexico State men's basketball team begins its 2019-2020 regular season on Tuesday at the Pan American Center with a game against Western New Mexico at 7 p.m.
The following is a Q&A with Chris Jans, who begins his third season as the head coach of the program.
1. With seniors AJ Harris and Clayton Henry out for the beginning of the season, what have you seen from them in terms of support they’ve shown for their potential replacements?
Jans: They've been great. I would have expected them to be great since they're two seniors. AJ has been here since I arrived. He was a part of my first recruiting class. They're both good guys that really want to win, so they know their role has changed for the time being. They've really tried to help as much as they can while observing and are certainly being encouraging while, at the same time, pointing out mistakes as well.
2. With a shorter rotation to start the season, are there any guys you're hoping to see show a little more aggressiveness on offense?
Jans: I don't look at the game like that. I just kind of let it unfold the way it does. Certainly, we have some holes to fill, and I'll be as curious as anyone to see who picks up the slack in certain areas. But we really focus on defending and rebounding and playing really, really hard. Our mentality is if we have good spacing and we put them in the right spots, we'll eventually score enough points. But who that will be in making up for our injuries remains to be seen.
3. What are you hoping to see out of the team these first few games?
Jans: Just compete. Just understand that, because of our success since we've arrived, all that does is create a bigger target. Our opponents are looking at our injuries as 'Hey, it's a little bit easier to tackle them right now and knock them off their perch.' We've been talking until we're blue in the face about how people are going to attack us. They're going to try to do everything in their power to beat us, and we have to guard against it as best as we can and prepare for those kinds of environments that we're going to be playing in. The number one thing for me is that our guys on the floor understand how competitive these games are going to be. I tell them all the time that it's a lot easier to climb to the top of the mountain than it is to stay there. Not to say that we've accomplished everything we want to accomplish, but I think right now we're at a place where people feel like beating us would be a big win for them. We just have to understand the mentality of our opponents and exceed it.
4. You recently signed an extension with the team, and almost half of your retention bonus ($65,000 out of $139,000 this upcoming season) was privately funded by outside individuals/companies. Can you talk about the support you’ve gotten not just from the university but from others outside of the program?
Jans: It's been nothing short of amazing. I'm very blessed and humbled by the amount of people that have been willing to contribute financially to support our program. It starts with (athletic director Mario Moccia) and the relationships that he has built since he has arrived. I'm just very lucky. We try our best every day, and there's just a lot more riding on it now with the personal investments that people are making. We want to continue to have a program that everyone who is an Aggie fan is proud of.
5. You're entering your third season with the team. What has been the most rewarding part about being the head coach since you got here?
Jans: I love when I hear comments from people that I come across in every day life like 'Hey, I ran into one of your guys the other day at the Walmart and he was so nice.' We'll get off a plane and get some positive feedback, unsolicited, from a flight attendant about how well behaved our guys are compared to some other teams they've had in the past. I'm just really proud of all of the positive feedback that I've received since I've arrived about how our kids carry themselves off the court, in the classroom and in the community. Certainly, we all make mistakes and we're not perfect, but they understand that it's important around here. It's just another added layer of responsibility.
Rapid fire questions
1. Biggest joker on the team: Clayton Henry
2. Best shooter: Terrell Brown
3. Most aggressive defender: Jabari Rice
4. Breakout player this season: I don't know
5. Biggest hustle guy: Shunn Buchanan