By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer
PORTALES — Eastern New Mexico University men’s basketball coach Shawn Scanlan figures next year has to be better for the Greyhounds — almost no matter what happens.
After winning Lone Star Conference South Division titles the previous two seasons, what was expected to be another good year in 2004-05 began to unravel almost immediately.
Personnel losses, injuries and inconsistent play led to a 9-18 record for ENMU, including 2-10 in the South. While things generally ran smoothly during the previous two seasons, Scanlan said enough went wrong last year to cover several campaigns.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a year where all the injuries and discipline problems hit like last year,” he said.
Only senior point guard Reggie Wallace, senior off-guard Jolen Montoya and junior forwards Mikal Monette and Chad Donnell are expected back. Scanlan said Wallace’s status is uncertain this summer due to grade concerns, while Monette is coming back after suffering a torn ACL shortly before the opener in November and missing the entire season.
The injury to Monette, a Cibola High School graduate who played off the bench at the University of New Mexico his first two years, hurt the Hounds significantly, Scanlan said.
“He’s a decent athlete and he can shoot,” he said. “He can be very effective in the role he needs to fill. He’d have been a good complement for (All-LSC South forward) Jamaal Hunnicutt.”
A request by ENMU for an extra year of eligibility for senior guard Jamal Washington, out most of last season with a staph infection, was denied by the NCAA.
“We’ve got a lot of critical ‘signs’ ahead of us,” Scanlan said of the recruiting period.
Scanlan, beginning his sixth year at ENMU, and assistant Mark Murdock have signed four players for next season. Included are three transfers from Alabama junior colleges — 6-foot-5 power forwards Donald Young of Southern Union and Ira Cross of Gadsden State, and 6-5 swing forward Larry Prince of Wallace State-Hanceville.
The other signee is Jake Holladay, a 6-5 swing forward from Gilmer (Texas) High School who was a first-team Class 3A all-state selection in basketball and played defensive end on the school’s state championship football team.
Young and Cross averaged around nine points and six rebounds last season, while Prince averaged just under 11 points and nine boards.
“I’m trying to come in and help them win a championship,” said Cross, who is taking some summer classes at Gadsden State and plans to be here in early August. “I want to play the three position (small forward) some, but I’m a power forward. I get down there and bang with them.”
Even if Wallace is eligible, Scanlan said the Hounds need to add another point guard. They’re also looking to pick up inside help to replace Hunnicutt, who averaged 18.4 points and 8.8 rebounds last season.
“We’d like to think we can get a player like that, but we’re still looking,” Scanlan said. “I think Ira Cross has the ability to fill that role.
“We could use a small forward that can score. We need (to sign) three players with Reggie and four without him, and we’ve been working pretty hard the last few days trying to see what kind of options are out there.”
Cross, who helped his team reach the finals of the junior college regional tournament in Alabama, said he enjoyed his visit to Portales and believes he’ll fit into Scanlan’s style.
“They showed us a great time,” he said. “I like the way they play; I like to run and I like to play defense.
“I want to be involved and do what I’ve got to do to help them turn it around.”