NCAA Division: Division I
Conference: Mountain West
Past Conferences: MWC, WAC, MSAC, BIAA, Ind
City: Albuquerque, New Mexico
Stadium: The Pit
NCAA Tournaments: 1968, 1974, 1978, 1991, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2005, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014
National Championships: 0
Conference Titles: 6
The New Mexico Lobos men’s basketball team established itself as a varsity sport in the 1899 season, since it has a longer history than many other programs across the nation. The school would compete against regional teams once it established an athletics department in 1920.
During the 1920s, when the Lobos were an intercollegiate program, Roy Johnson was a prominent figure in building the foundation for their athletics program, especially in basketball. In addition, he was dubbed “Old Iron Head” and had a successful collegiate career at the University of Michigan.
Johnson would become a decorated figure at the University of New Mexico because he was allowed to coach every sport the institution had to offer while teaching physical education. He would also serve in both World War I and World War II. As an athletic director from 1920 to 1949, he regularly scheduled games against regional schools, which helped propel the program to new heights.
In the 1931-32 season, the team became members of the Border Intercollegiate Athletic Association. From 1924 to 1934, his teams registered a record of 104-78. During his second stint, after taking some time off in between, Johnson would finally resign after the 1939–40 season.
Still, they have to wait a few decades before partaking in the NCAA Tournament, since they made the NAIA post-season tournament in 1944 and 1945 for winning the Conference outright. The next coach to make a name for himself with the program would be Bob King.
Head Coach Bob King
Before accepting the head coaching position with the Lobos, King was an assistant coach at his alma mater, the University of Iowa. In his first two seasons, Lobos won as many games as in the previous seven combined and went 116-44 over his first six seasons.
In his ten-year tenure, the team would go 175-89, while winning two conference titles in the process. From struggling in the Mountain States Athletic Conference, the school found success in the Western Athletic Conference.
Under his leadership, the University Arena opened on December 1, 1966 as the home venue for the Lobos. In recognition of the playing surface’s substandard height, students nicknamed it “The Pit.” The name would stay. Due to King’s success, he would be dubbed the “Architect of Lobo Basketball. In the 1968 season, the Lobos would reach the Regional 3rd place game before losing a close one to the New Mexico State Aggies.
Once Norm Ellenberger was given the torch, the program continued its success. The Lobos won the conference titles in both 1974 and 1978. Ellenberger knew how to continue the winning tradition, as he was an assistant for King since the 1967 season.
The odds were the greatest as they had a regular season record of 22-7. The team would win their 3rd Place Regional game against the Dayton Flyers.
When the 1974–75 Lobo team struggled and finished 13–13, Ellenberger began recruiting Junior College transfers, a tactic that would lead to his best season as Lobo coach, but also lead to his downfall, as the transfers would quit before the season ended.
Equal Opportunity Motion Offense
Despite the hardship, the 1976–77 team featured JC arrivals, Michael Cooper, Marvin Johnson, and Willie Howard, which would bring two years of success. Before the 1977-78 season began, the coach would instill a scheme that was nicknamed the “Equal Opportunity Motion Offense”.
The school would make its last NCAA Tournament in 1978 before going through a major drought. Coach Dave Bliss would become the winningest in the program’s history, as he would make seven NCAA Tournaments and three NIT appearances.
The New Mexico team stats were the greatest during this era because he inherited a strong core of players. Luc Longley was one of the key players during his collegiate career. A few years later, Longley was again named All-WAC and ended his career as the Lobo leader in scoring and rebounding, but has fallen since then to sixth in points and second in rebounds. The only Lobo to record a triple-double twice, he remains the career leader in blocks and blocks per game.
After Fran Fraschilla had a short tenure with the program, Ritchie McKay would lead the school to one NCAA Tournament appearance. Regardless of the situation, Bradley transfer Danny Granger became eligible during the 2003–04 season and led the team with 19.5 points per game; he would go on to have a solid career in the NBA.
Coach Steve Alford would bring his stature to the program, since he won a National Championship with the Indiana Hoosiers and a gold medal with Team USA. During his tenure, the team would punch their ticket to the NCAA Tournament three times. The school’s last run in the dance would take place in the 2014 season, since they lost to the Stanford Cardinal in the opening round.
Coach Paul Weir would be the next in line, but his tenure was relatively short. The University released a statement that they had decided to part ways at the end of the 2021 season.
Richard Pitino was named the 22nd head coach of the program and will be entering his third season. Thanks to a strong start in the 2022-23 season, the New Mexico Lobos have the third-best NCAAB odds to win the Mountain West Conference, although they fell short against the Nevada Wolf Pack not too long ago.
Charles Smith 1,993
Kenny Thomas 1,931
Lamont Long 1,840
Kenny Thomas 1,032
Luc Longley 912
Mel Daniels 853
Darrell McGee 684
Phil Smith 630
Kendall Williams 617
Kelvin Scarborough 235
Hunter Greene 203
Phil Smith 197
What Is the Highest Win Total in Program History?
The highest win total in the program’s history was 30 wins, with a 14-2 record against conference opponents in the 2009-10 season. The team would reach the second round before struggling against the Washington Huskies’ offensive and defensive schemes.
Who Is the Winningest Coach in Program History?
Dave Bliss is the winningest coach in the program’s history, as he brought the Lobos to seven NCAA Tournaments during his 11-year run. He is the only coach to surpass the 200-win milestone with a record of 246-108.
Who Is the Greatest Player in Program History?
The greatest basketball player in the program’s history would be Mel Daniels, as he was selected as the ninth overall pick in the 1967 NBA Draft by the Cincinnati Royals. Daniels has gained numerous accolades throughout his professional career, which include the 1967-68 Rookie of the Year Award, seven All-Star appearances, three-time ABA Champ, two MVPs, and many more. Moreover, he is an NBA Hall of Fame member.