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Original Issue

College Basketball

Desert Boom
Reggie Theus has quickly turned around the program at New Mexico State by luring a pack of talented transfers to Las Cruces

WHEN FORMER NBA star Reggie Theus arrived in Las Cruces in the spring of 2005 to take over the foundering New Mexico State program, he saw red—but not the school's official color, crimson. "The shade of [the team's] gear wasn't right," says Theus. "It was indicative of the program's need for accountability. If the company that produces your T-shirts doesn't have the right dye, you get a different company."

Theus helped swing a clothing deal with Adidas to outfit the entire athletic department—a first at the school—and then he began a makeover of the basketball program that has been more than cosmetic. After taking over a team that finished 6--24 in 2004--05, Theus had the Aggies (18--4 through Sunday) at 8--1 in the WAC, a half game behind No. 15 Nevada (whom they upset 80--73 on Jan. 20) and most likely headed for the school's first NCAA tournament since 1999.

How did he turn things around so quickly? For one thing, he figured out which recruits of his predecessor, Lou Henson, wouldn't be able to cut it in his pressure-defense system, and he sent them packing. In their place he brought in three transfers—forward Justin Hawkins from Utah, guard Fred Peete from Kansas State and 7-footer Martin Iti from UNC Charlotte—and after sitting out the '05--06 season under NCAA rules, they have joined three other transfers already in Las Cruces to give the Aggies a mature, if transient, roster. "Throughout my career, I've built relationships," says Theus, who coached AAU teams in California for two years in the 1990s and was named one of the top 25 recruiters in the country by after two seasons as an assistant to Rick Pitino at Louisville. "When I got here, those relationships came through. People called to say they knew guys who wanted to play for me."

This season Theus also brought in 6'9" center Hatila Passos, who helped lead Arkansas--Fort Smith to the national juco title last season, and the coach has molded this far-flung group into a cohesive unit with four double-figure scorers. "We really share the ball," says Hawkins, who was averaging 16.3 points a game through Sunday to lead the team. "People knew we had talent, but they wondered if we could play as one and win."

The Aggies are second in the WAC in scoring (77.6 points a game), and third in attendance, drawing more than 9,000 a game, double the attendance of two years ago. To show their appreciation for what Theus has wrought, many fans wear T-shirts that proclaim Las Cruces REGGIE NATION. The shirts are white, and the lettering is a true, rich crimson.

Check out Kelli Anderson's Insider every Wednesday.



 PROLIFIC Hawkins has blossomed under Theus (inset) as the Aggies' leadingscorer.



[See caption above]