New coach stays busy

Freedom New Mexico: Eric Butler New Eastern New Mexico University men’s basketball coach Andrew Helton spends much of his time filling out the 2009-10 schedule and trying to find an assistant. Helton was an assistant at South Alabama for two years before landing the ENMU job April

By Eric Butler: FNM correspondent

PORTALES — Andrew Helton, the new men’s basketball coach at Eastern New Mexico University, has a far-reaching vision of Greyhound Arena filled with fans cheering on a winning ENMU program. In the meantime, Helton will have to bide time a few more months before getting to lead practices or direct strategy during a game.

Stationed in a smaller room while the carpet is replaced in former coach Shawn Scanlan’s old office, Helton seems quite at home doing something he’s done frequently his whole coaching career as an assistant: Conducting business over the phone, namely.

But the nature of the business has changed.

Helton said that tasks like trying to find an assistant coach and finding eight more opponents to fill up next year’s schedule, something not often asked of an assistant, are filling his first days at Eastern.

“There’s not anything I didn’t know about, but there’s a lot of duties coming from a lot of different directions,” Helton said. “You’ve got to balance a lot.”

An assistant for the last 16 years, Helton spent the last two seasons at South Alabama before he was hired by ENMU in late April to turn around a floundering program. The Greyhounds, without a Lone Star Conference South Division win in more than two years, finished the 2008-09 campaign with a 4-23 record after a 6-21 mark the year before.

Part of Helton’s early goals has been to get to know the five or six players who are likely to return to play for Eastern in the fall.

“I’m happy with them. The week I had them, the guys worked hard,” Helton said. “Because of when I got hired, I had a week to do individual instruction — weightlifting, conditioning.”

The period for conducting in-person visits to potential recruits ended on May 19, so Helton had only a limited time in that regard.

Still, he got a quick commitment from well-regarded high school standout Jordan Romero from St. Michael’s in Santa Fe. A guard who can hit outside shots and drive into the lane for buckets, Romero helped St. Mike’s win two Class 3A championships during his five years on the varsity.

“We were very fortunate,” Helton said. “We got a call from Ron Geyer, his high school coach. Ron, who has a connection with the school (with his daughter Heidi, a recent ENMU volleyball player), was a huge help to us.”