ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. Can it be? It appears New Mexico finally has a coach whose resume matches the notoriously high standards of the program's passionate fans.
At the very least, Steve Alford brings a marquee name and solid hoops credentials to Albuquerque, where The Pit remains nationally famous but the locals are still yearning for a national-level college basketball program.
Standing on the arena floor earlier this month, Alford reasoned that he did the right thing last spring by leaving Iowa after seven straight winning seasons.
"It was just great timing, at a great time in my life at 42, to get this start at a place like this," Alford said.
New Mexico fans found a coach with a 308-183 career record in 16 seasons at Iowa, Southwest Missouri State and Manchester (Ind.) College. He was 152-106 in eight seasons at Iowa, winning the Big Ten tournament twice.
Alford won an NCAA title playing for Bob Knight at Indiana and a gold medal with the United States at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
When Alford was hired in March, his hourlong news conference was staged inside the packed Student Union Building ballroom on campus, with parts televised live on Albuquerque TV stations and national cable sports outlets.
"When we heard Steve Alford was coming, it was kind of a surprise, like, 'You mean the guy who was under Bob Knight?"' center Daniel Faris said.
Alford replaced Ritchie McKay, who was fired after going 82-69 in five seasons. McKay reached the NCAA tournament only once, New Mexico's lone trip since 1999. The Lobos have never advanced past the second round.
By the time McKay departed, the town's passion for college hoops was wilting. New Mexico was 15-17 last season and McKay's overall road record was 8-41.
It was a good time for Alford to move along, too, after Iowa fans soured on his 1-3 NCAA tournament record and 61-67 conference mark. Iowa had a No. 3 seed in the 2006 NCAA tourney but blew a 17-point second-half lead and lost to Northwestern State.
"There are days where I would say I'd have liked to have done more and then there are days where, armed with what we had, I would say I think we did about all we could have done," Alford said, reflecting on his Iowa stay.
These days, Alford is eyes forward. He hopes to build a winner at New Mexico but warns against looking too far ahead.
"We've got a lot of stuff to get in and that's not easy when you've got a lot of inexperienced players," Alford said. "The seniors, you would normally say they're experienced, but in our system they're rookies."
One of the first matters he addressed last summer, players and coach agree, was academics. Alford served notice that slacking grades and sleeping through class wouldn't be tolerated by the new administration.
"It didn't take much, just a few times running early in the morning," Faris recalled. "Guys realized pretty quickly that these guys aren't messing around."
How much running?
"Oh, man. Hours and hours. A lot of running. Too much to count," Faris said.
HOOSIER ASSISTANT RESIGNS: Assistant Rob Senderoff resigned Tuesday amid a telephone recruiting scandal that already has cost Indiana one basketball scholarship and coach Kelvin Sampson a $500,000 pay raise.
The NCAA is still conducting its own investigation, which could lead to further sanctions.
VOL HOSPITALIZED: Tennessee sophomore Wayne Chism was hospitalized Tuesday after being knocked unconscious when a teammate struck him in the head with an elbow during basketball practice.
Chism was alert after being taken by ambulance to University of Tennessee Medical Center, basketball spokesman Craig Pinkerton said. Preliminary tests came back negative but more were being conducted, Pinkerton said.