Marvin Menzies turned Aggies into contenders

It’s time to give Marvin Menzies his due. The New Mexico State University basketball coach had big shoes to fill when he was hired in 2007 to replace the charismatic Reggie Theus, who left the Aggies to become the head coach for the NBA’s Sacramento Kings. But fill them he has.

The Aggies are going to the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years after dominating Louisiana Tech in the championship game of the Western Athletic Conference Tournament late Saturday night. They play Indiana at 7:45 tonight in the first round of the South Regional. And, while the storied Hoosiers will be the higher seed and go into the game as the favorite, the Aggies will have more players with NCAA tournament experience.

Menzies has quietly, steadily built a consistent winner. He has searched the world for talent, and has brought players to Las Cruces who have succeeded on the court and in the classroom. The last time the team had an issue with academic eligibility was the start of the 2009-2010 season, when star players Troy Gillenwater and Wendell McKines missed the first few weeks of the season.

“I’m sorry and I apologize for not taking care of my responsibilities,” McKines said after his first game back in December 2009. “Our goals haven’t changed. We can still compete at the top of the WAC and beyond.”

Since then, McKines has developed into a team leader, and his passion and determination in the WAC Tournament was truly impressive.

Menzies has compiled a 112-70 record with two conference tournament championships a regular-season championship and three 20-win seasons in five years at NMSU.

The Aggies took Michigan State to the wire before losing by three points in the first round of the NCAA Tournament two years ago. The Spartans went on to make it all the way to the Final Four. That experience will likely serve NMSU well tonight against the Hoosiers.

With senior leaders such as McKines, Hernst Laroche and Hamidu Rahman, and exciting young players such as Daniel Mullings and Tshilidzi (Chili) Nephawe, the Aggies have a team that could very well add to the madness of this year’s tournament.

We’ll all be watching tonight, along with the rest of the nation. Go Aggies.