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Lobos lose 2, but help on the way

An infusion of touted transfers expected to boost UNM aspirations

NCAA Basketball: New Mexico at Wyoming
Freshman Makuach Maluach emerged as a bona-fide scorer for the surprising Lobos this season.
Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

Two Lobos are leaving but the future of the University of New Mexico men’s basketball program looks promising after a turnaround season that nearly yielded an NCAA Tournament bid.

On Tuesday, UNM announced in a news release that forward Connor MacDougall and guard Jachai Simmons plan to transfer to other schools. Both have been granted their release by UNM Coach Paul Weir, the release stated.

MacDougall, who played one season with the Lobos after transferring from Arizona State, plans to graduate from UNM in May. He will have one year of eligibility remaining and will be eligible to play immediately as a grad transfer. He sat out this season with an ankle/foot injury suffered in the exhibition game vs. BYU. He averaged 4 points and 1.9 rebounds in 2016-17.

“We wish nothing but the best in the next chapter of Connor’s journey,” Weir said. “His graduation from The University of New Mexico is an amazing accomplishment and I hope it is just the beginning of a terrific future ahead.”

Simmons, who played in 25 games, starting 10 for the Lobos this past season, averaged 3.4 points and 1.6 rebounds. He missed three games because of a death in the family, and played a diminished role after he returned. He also has one year of eligibility remaining.

“Jachai has had a challenging past few months,” Weir said in the release. “We both agreed a fresh start would be in his best interests and we will support him every which way we can in that endeavor.”

The Lobos, who were picked to finish ninth in the Mountain West, surprised many by their third-place finish in the conference after a shaky start to the non-conference season. UNM, which finished 19-15 and won seven of its final eight games, loses three seniors in Joe Furstinger, Antino Jackson, and Sam Logwood. But under Weir’s watch in Year Two, the Lobos will get an infusion of talent as it tries to regain its status as perrenial Mountain West championship contenders. The Lobos lost to San Diego State 82-75 in the MWC Tournament final.

Boosting UNM's national profile next season will be the addition of four transfers from power conferences, and a fifth recruit from the high school ranks who recently finished guiding his team to a state championship.

Sitting out this season for the Lobos were 6-foot-9 wing Vance Jackson, a starter at UConn last season, and JaQuan Lyle, a 6-5 athletic guard who started the past two seasons at Ohio State.

In December, the Lobos received a verbal commitment from 6-10 former Kansas State big man Isaiah Maurice, who played this season at South Plains (Texas) College. Then in January, UNM added more size and star power to its front court with the addition of 6-10 power forward Carlton Bragg, a former Kansas Jayhawk and 2015 high school McDonald’s All-American. Bragg, a mid-year transfer, would be eligible to play at UNM next January.

Rounding out the expected six-member 2018 class are four-star point guard Drue Drinnon, who helped lead University School in Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) to a 5A state title, and 6-9 forward Tajuan Agee from Tyler (Texas) Junior College.

Weir said in his postseason news conference earlier this month the Lobos are looking to add one or two more players, possibly an athletic perimeter player with excellent defensive skills.

Overall, the Lobos will be bigger, more athletic and have more play makers to help keep pace with the upper echelon of the league. The question will be whether the new takent will mesh with the returning core to build on the team chemistry established in Weir's first season.