Eastern New Mexico University senior Reggie Nelson is happy to be back in Portales and playing basketball.
The 6-foot-1 senior guard was the Greyhounds’ co-leader in scoring in 2009-10, but took a year off for what he called family reasons.
He’s expected to start at point guard today when the Greyhounds take on Pittsburg State today and Southeastern Oklahoma on Saturday in 4 p.m. (MST) tipoffs in Tarleton State’s four-team South Central Region Challenge.
“It’s been kind of hard,” said Nelson, who is from Tyler, Texas. “I took a year off from school and basketball, but I’m happy to be back and playing.”
Nelson said the team is quite different from the one two years ago when the Hounds went 10-16 in Andrew Helton’s first season as coach.
“We’re a lot better,” he said. “They’re (Hounds) a lot bigger. Two years ago, we were like 6-5, 180 (on the inside); now we’re more like 6-8 and 6-9.”
ENMU was picked fifth in the revamped 10-team LSC after finishing 13-14 and fourth last season in the then-LSC South at 8-6. Helton said the Hounds could’ve had a winning record, but took some losses they probably shouldn’t have during November and December.
“We made a lot of progress; we were much better after Christmas,” he said. “Having as many seniors as we do this year, I hope that helps us.”
Nelson is scheduled to start today, Helton said, along with 6-8 senior forward Curtis Wilkinson, 6-7 senior forward Max Carrier, 6-3 senior guard Stefan Mirabal and 5-10 senior guard Tralyn Harden.
ENMU returns four of its top five scorers from last year in Mirabal (14.4 ppg), Carrier (13.3), 6-8 senior forward Aaron Edwards (10.5) and Harden (8.8).
Edwards, who came off the bench in all but two of his 24 appearances last season, has the ability to bring a spark to the Hounds and did so on numerous occasions last season. Helton said he expects added depth to come from junior guard Devone Davis, sophomore guard Kyle Lantz, junior forward Maurice McGee, junior center Greg McFarland and sophomore forward Daniel Strong.
The Hounds shot 36 percent as a team from 3-point range last year, led by Mirabal (74-of-178, 42 percent). They hope they’ve added more of an inside presence with Wilkinson, McGee and McFarland, all 6-8.
He said Nelson’s presence should also help the team on defense after ENMU allowed nearly 80 points a game a year ago.
“We’re bigger, no doubt,” Helton said. “We’re a good 3-point shooting team, and having Reggie back, he’s a good shooter.
“The other thing is Reggie’s a pretty good defender. The three things we had to shore up were becoming a better rebounding team (and) a better defensive team, and our guard play had to get better.”
Nelson said the Hounds have the tools to compete in what should be a rugged LSC.
“It is, but we have a better team,” he said. “We just have to play hard for 40 minutes.”
Helton, whose team won an exhibition game earlier this month at Texas-El Paso, thinks the Hounds can do better than fifth but knows they have their work cut out.
“All I’ll say is (Texas A&M-)KIngsville was picked 10th, and Louisiana Tech had to tip in a shot at the buzzer to beat then,” he said. “Incarnate Word was picked seventh, and they won at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. That’s a really good indicator of how good the conference is.”