The NMSU men’s basketball team is starting the 2023-2024 season with a new head coach, Jason Hooten, after having a rough season last year.
In the 2022 season, a fatal shooting and hazing allegations preceded the termination of the former men’s basketball coach, Greg Heiar.
In November 2022, former NMSU student Mike Peake shot and killed a University of New Mexico student, Brandon Travis. The shooting reportedly stemmed from events at last fall’s Rio Grande Rivalry football game at Aggie Memorial Stadium.
Months later, NMSU basketball players Deuce Benjamin and Shakiru Odunewu were allegedly hazed by their teammates Kim Aiken Jr., Deshawndre Washington and Doctor Bradley. After these events made national news, the entire coaching staff and team roster left the NMSU men’s basketball program. Many Aggie fans wondered who would coach the team next, and Hooten has taken on that role.
“Our new program is about culture and recruiting high-character young men,” Hooten said. “The program values four main things, which are God, family, education and basketball.”
Before coaching, Hooten played college basketball at McLennan Community College in Waco, Texas, for two years before transferring to Tarleton State University for his final years of eligibility. “I wasn’t good enough to be a professional basketball player, but I was stuck on wanting to coach,” Hooten said.
Before deciding to lead the Aggies, Hooten served as the head basketball coach at Sam Houston State University for 13 seasons, and he was named as one of the 20 finalists for the 2022-2023 Hugh Durham Award.
“The reputation here [at New Mexico State] of basketball has always been high,” Hooten said. “There has always been a culture here that this is a basketball place, and people here really love it. I was very blessed to be able to coach against this university for two years.”
“The program values four main things, which are God, family, education and basketball.”
Hooten was known as a defensive-orientated coach at SHSU, and his coaching style is likely to continue with the Aggies, he said.
“You don’t win championships without defense,” Hooten said. “There are going to be nights where your shots aren’t going in. You are going to miss some free throws or layups, but there shouldn’t ever be a night where you don’t put great effort into playing defense and rebounds.”
NMSU’s director of athletics, Marrio Moccia, officially introduced Hooten as the university’s new men’s basketball head coach on March 24 during a press conference at the Pan American Center. “Mario Moccia has always been known as an aggressive athletic director that really wants to win,” Hooten said. “I have always heard he is going to give you what you need to be successful.”
With no returners from last year’s team, Hooten has used practices to search for new team leaders. Kaosi Ezeagu was SHSU’s starting center last season, but he will play under Hooten’s direction once again after signing with the Aggies in May.
“We have had some guys come in and step up,” Hooten said. “Kaosi is a guy that I always talk about because he is the only guy on our team that has experience playing for me. He has done a great job at being more vocal to me than he was at Sam Houston. He is going to defend and rebound for us at a high level.”
As the Aggies prepare for the upcoming season, Christian Cook, a Northeastern State University transfer, has caught Hooten’s eye on the court.
“I think Christian Cook has done a great job and been a big surprise shooting the ball consistently,” Hooten said. “He is really starting to show us that he can be an everyday guy. Jaylin Jackson-Posey is also a guy who I had a little bit of a relationship with by knowing him from Stephen F. Austin State University and competing against him. Just knowing what he’s made up of and what he brings daily has done a fabulous job for us.”
Jackson-Posey and Ezeagu can be found on the court at the Nov. 6 season opener against University of Kentucky, while Aggie fans cheer on Hooten and the new team he’s created.