As the 2023-2024 men’s basketball season kicks off, NMSU is reminded of the string of controversies that plagued the Aggies last year.
At the start of last season, former player Mike Peake fatally shot a University of New Mexico student, Brandon Travis, in an alleged act of self-defense. The shooting was soon followed by hazing allegations brought against three former men’s basketball players by fellow teammates Deuce Benjamin and Shakiru Odunewu. These events resulted in a team suspension for the remainder of the season and the termination of the pervious head coach, Greg Heiar.
After the fall of the men’s basketball program, the Aggies hit the reset button and are back with a new head coach and an all-new roster.
In their first game of the season, the Aggies lost to the University of Kentucky, 46-86, on Monday, Nov. 6. This was the first time the Aggies have been defeated in a season opener since 2014.
Earlier that morning, a lawsuit filed by two former basketball players and a student manager says guns were often present among the team. The lawsuit against NMSU and the athletics director, Marrio Moccia, also unveils more information regarding the sexual assault allegations from last spring.
With this news unfolding, the remainder of the season is set to be an even steeper uphill battle for players as they compete under the direction of new head coach, Jason Hooten.
Hooten was officially announced as the head coach of the men’s basketball team in late March, during a press conference held in the Pan American Center. Before signing with the Aggies, Hooten spent 13 seasons coaching the Sam Houston State University Bearkats. He led the team to a total of 261 wins and eventually took the Bearkats to their first National Invitation Tournament.
Standout players for the Aggies this season include a transfer from Sam Houston State, Kaosi Ezeagu. Ezeagu was a starting player in 33 games with the Bearkats and a featured player in Power Five conference games. Another transfer for NMSU is Rakeim Gary, the final member of the team’s roster to be recruited by Hooten. Last season, Gary put up career-high numbers while playing for South Carolina State University, racking up 12.6 points per game.
The Aggies will start this season as a Conference USA member after an 18-year run with the Western Athletic Conference that brought home 10 WAC tournament titles. According to a CUSA preseason poll, the Aggies are projected to finish eighth in the nine-team league.
As the pressure for the Aggies reaches an all-time high, the team will play its second game of the season against Sul Ross State University on Wednesday, Nov. 8, at the Pan American Center.