By John Eisel: CNJ sports writer
Two coaches who have a combined 61 years experience are among the five new high school boys basketball coaches in the area.
Jimmy Joe Robinson at Clovis Christian and Jim Kneipp at Grady each return to coach after a three-year hiatus.
Robinson has 528 wins and four state titles over 27 years at Clovis High, Grady and Melrose.
He takes over a Clovis Christian program that has all five starters back from a team that went 5-16 last year.
Robinson said he just missed coaching and the atmosphere of the game and thought Clovis Christian was the right place to get back into the game.
With the Eagles learning a new system, Robinson is hoping to have his team up to speed by the start of district play in mid January. The Eagles can participate in postseason play for the first time this year after being cleared by the New Mexico Activities Association.
Kneipp, who coached 18 years at East Texas Baptist University, is returning to the place where his coaching career started.
Kneipp coached at Grady in 1970 and 1971 and then 14 years in Texas before going into the college ranks.
“When you’re young, you think you need to move on and move up, and I did,” Kneipp said.
Behind senior forward Jarrod Lindsey, who averaged 16 points a game last year, the Bronchos will run and press as much as possible.
Clint Conkin moves up to the Farwell varsity squad after coaching junior varsity. The Steers lost a lot of size from last year’s team, but still have plenty of speed. Conkin wants to push the ball as much as possible on offense and defense, despite a lack of depth.
The Steers have to deal with Morton and Sudan, the top two ranked teams in Class 1A, in district.
“If we can get out of our district, that’s a huge success for us,” Conkin said.
At Fort Sumner, Wes Weems comes over from Whitney, Texas. Despite losing a couple of starters, Weems said the returning group is close and unselfish, which will help in running a continuity offense that relies on cuts, screens and passing.
Shannon Shorter takes over for a Bovina team that will have to climb over Farwell and either Sudan or Morton to make it to the playoffs after finishing at .500 last year and 3-6 in District 3-1A.
Not all the faces on the sidelines are new.
Rich Luscombe is back for his 16th year at Texico, where the Wolverines will shift to an up-tempo game due to the loss of post player Bryce Bailey and increased depth. Texico gets back Tony Clement, who sat out last year rehabbing his knee.
Ralph Mason had enough close losses last year to fill up his 11 years at Muleshoe. The Mules went 9-20 a year ago, with 10 losses by six points or less. The Mules will have to replace Landon Sheets, who led Muleshoe in scoring the past two years, but six players are coming back with starting experience.
Casey Pack is back for his third season at Melrose. The Buffaloes return five seniors and seven juniors from last year’s 20-9 team that reached the state semifinals.
2003-04 record: 5-16
Coach: Jimmy Joe Robinson, 1st season at Clovis Christian, 28 overall, 528-211 record
Returning starters: Ryan Boatman So, G; Dustin Handley Jr. PG; Landon Ware Jr. G; Larry Vongsa P So.; Matt Young Jr. P
Key losses: None
Strengths: Ball handling, chemistry
Weaknesses: Having to learn a new system
Quotable: “I think they’re going to be a really good ball team around Jan. 15, when we start district ball.” — Robinson
Notable: This is the first year the Eagles can compete in a postseason tournament … After three years off, Robinson is back coaching after stints at Clovis High, Melrose and Grady.
2003-04 record: 20-9, 9-1 District 3-1A. Split title with Sudan co-champs and lost in bi-district by Morton
Coach: Clint Conkin, 1st season
Returning starters: Tate Nichols G, Sr.; Robbie Tabb G, Sr.
Key losses: Grant Gregory F, Tyler Myers P, Jason Johnson G
Strengths: Speed, intelligence
Weaknesses: Size, depth
Keys to success: Transforming successfully from a team that slows things down to a team that runs and presses
Quotable: “This year we’re pushing and getting the ball up and down as fast as we can.” — Conkin
Notable: Conkin is familiar to the players, having been the junior varsity coach the past few years under Kirk Saul, who took a job as principal at Canadian.
2003-04 record: 16-15, finished 3rd in District 3-1A.
Coach: Wes Weems, 1st season, four years overall in Whitney, Bovina
Returning starters: Ross Cortese Sr., G; Ryan Fikany Jr., G
Key losses: Jamison West G, Gerid Higgins P, John Sena F, Roel Canales F
Strengths: Speed, defense
Weaknesses: Size, shooting
Keys to success: Unity, unselfish play
Quotable: “They’ll probably surprise a lot of folks this year.” — Weems
Notable: Weems is bringing in an offense with lots of cutting, passes and screens while the defense will press.
2003-04 record: 14-14, lost to Springer 91-42 in Region A semifinals.
Coach: Jim Kneipp, 1st season, 34 years overall, last 18 at East Texas Baptist University.
Returning starters: Jarrod Lindsey, F, Sr., Colt Grau, F, Jr.
Key losses: Kevin Brown
Strengths: Quickness, depth
Weaknesses: Learning a new system, unproven guard play.
Keys to success: Adapting to a new system. The Bronchos will try and run with a motion offense and press on defense this season.
Quotable: “Any time you get started it’s a little bit of a struggle … but it’s coming there.” — Kneipp
Notable: Kneipp coached at Grady back in the early 1970s, before moving on to high schools in Texas and then to East Texas Baptist University … Kneipp will also coach the Broncho baseball team.
2003-04 record: 20-9, lost to Tatum 66-49 in Class 1A quarterfinals
Coach: Casey Pack
Returning players: Carlos Ruiz, Brock Graham, Jeremy Weese, Caleb Dodd, Jason Runyan
2003-04 record: 9-20, 3-7 District 2-3A
Coach: Ralph Mason,11th season, 18th as a head coach.
Returning starters: Brady Black P, Jr.; Tyler Sheets P, Jr.; Trevor Turnbow Wing, Jr.; Kory Atwood P, Sr.; Landon Wilson G, Sr.; Chris Kindle wing, Sr.
Key losses: Landon Sheets
Strengths: Depth, quickness, post
Weaknesses: Unproven point guard, perimeter shooting
Keys to success: Winning close games. Mason said the Mules lost 10 games last year by six points or less.
Quotable: “We’ve been real competitive, it’s just losing real close games.” — Mason
Notable: The Mules played their first game with two days of practice with the football team making the areas in football.
2003-04 record: 21-7, 8-2 District 6-2A. Lost in first round of state tournament to Hope Christian 91-60.
Coach: Rich Luscombe, 16th season, 20th overall.
Returning starters: Braden Vaughan F, Sr.; Logan Brown G/F, Sr.
Key losses: Johnny Rivera PG, Bryce Bailey P, Mark Peabody G
Strengths: Depth, speed, size
Weaknesses: Shooting, players switching positions
Keys to success: Keeping games up-tempo
Quotable: “You just don’t know at times who’s going to come up with different players.” — Luscombe on picking preseason state favorites
Notable: Sr. F/G Tony Clement missed last season with a knee injury.
2003-04 record: 12-12, 3-6 District 3-1A
Coach: Shannon Shorter