By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer
PORTALES — Eastern New Mexico University’s Mikal Monette has overcome a lot to return to basketball this season.
After playing two years off the bench at the University of New Mexico, the 6-foot-6, 215-pound junior post transferred to ENMU and tore his ACL just before the start of the 2004-05 season. He came back last year to average 12 points and a team-leading seven rebounds, then suffered a meniscus injury late in the regular season.
He’s back and said he’s ready to go as the Greyhounds prepare for a 7 p.m. exhibition game Monday against New Mexico State at the Lea County Events Center in Hobbs.
“I feel good about it,” Monette said. “The surgery I had last year wasn’t as major as the first one. During preseason this year, I’ve been trying to get my strength and quickness back.
“Right now, I feel more like I felt in midseason last year.”
At his size, Monette often goes against bigger players in the post. He tries to use finesse and his ability to go outside to help compensate.
“You have to be able to think and play smarter,” he said. “You have to be able to do some of the basics better than (the opponent).”
ENMU men’s coach Shawn Scanlan said Monette can make a big difference for the Hounds this year if he’s healthy.
“When he played well (last season), he was a guy that contributed in a lot of ways,” Scanlan said.
The Hounds finished 12-16 last year, including 6-6 in the Lone Star Conference South Division. They beat Midwestern State in overtime on the road in the regular-season finale to nudge past the Mustangs and into the LSC postseason tournament.
New Mexico State, under second-year coach Reggie Theus, should give the Hounds a pretty good idea of strengths and weaknesses, Scanlan said, noting that the Aggies are picked second in the Western Athletic Conference this season behind Nevada.
“We’re playing a team with as good of personnel as we’ll see the rest of the year,” Scanlan said. “Anytime you return players off a team that finished in the upper half of their conference, and then you bring in three transfers that are legitimate players, you have a good squad.”
Monette has been able to test his knee in scrimmages against Texas junior colleges Howard and Midland, but admits Monday will provide a big challenge.
“It’s going to be a good game,” he said. “New Mexico State has a good team this year.”
ENMU opens its regular season Nov. 17-18 in a four-team tournament at Greyhound Arena. The Hounds face Western State (Colo.) after Washburn takes on Fort Hays State in the opener, with third-place and championship games set for the following night.