New Mexico landed its first 2016 commitment Saturday evening, as three-star small forward Damien Jefferson made his verbal pledge to the Mountain West program. Jefferson, a native of East Chicago, Indiana, took his official visit to New Mexico this weekend and the Lobos were considered by many scouts as the favorite to land him.
News of Jefferson’s commitment was first reported by Scout.com.
Jefferson attends East Chicago Central HS, where as a junior he averaged 23.4 points, 9.9 rebounds and 2.8 assists per contest. Jefferson was named to the Indiana boys Junior All-Star team at the end of last season, and he played for the SYF Players grassroots program this summer.
Jefferson’s commitment gets UNM back on the board in the class, as forward Mitch Lightfoot de-committed in mid-April. The Lobos have just two scholarship seniors on their roster for the 2015-16 season (guard Tim Jacobs and center J.J. N’Ganga), and among the wing options Jefferson will join on campus in 2016 are sophomores Xavier Adams and Sam Logwood, and freshman Dane Kuiper.
San Diego State wasn’t the only Mountain West program to lose a 2016 commitment on Friday. 6-foot-8 forward Mitch Lightfoot, one of the top players in the southwest, announced his decision to de-commit from New Mexico Friday afternoon by way of his Twitter account. Lightfoot originally committed to New Mexico last September, nearly two full years before he’s due to set foot on a college campus.
With that being the case, a decision to open things up in order to make sure the right choice is made is understandable. In a story written by Richard Obert of the Arizona Republic, Lightfoot’s high school coach stated that the de-commitment does not eliminate New Mexico as a possible destination.
“He was young when he committed,” Gilbert (Arizona) Christian head coach Kurt Keener told Obert. “It’s not like he is eliminating New Mexico. He just wants to explore what is out there.”
Among the other offers Lightfoot had to choose from at the time of his commitment were those from Utah and Arizona State (the ASU offer came from the prior staff, of course). And according to Obert’s report Arizona State, which is now led by Bobby Hurley, has reached out to him in the aftermath of the de-commitment.
Prior to Lightfoot’s decision to reopen his recruitment New Mexico managed to land commitments from two of the top players in Arizona, with incoming freshman Dane Kuiper being the first.
Shortly after New Mexico’s 66-53 win over No. 24 Colorado State on Saturday, the news many expected to hear became official. Sophomore point guard Cullen Neal, who hasn’t played since the Puerto Rico Tipoff in November after injuring his right ankle, will sit out the remainder of the season and apply for a medical redshirt according to Geoff Grammer of the Albuquerque Journal.
Neal partially tore tendons in his right ankle in the second half of New Mexico’s loss to Boston College on November 20, and his exit from the lineup has led to senior guard Hugh Greenwood moving into the role of primary ball-handler. Prior to the injury Greenwood was expected to spend the majority of his time off the ball for the Lobos, who are currently 10-4 overall and 2-0 in Mountain West play.
Per NCAA rules, had Cullen Neal played after the 15th game of the season, which is Tuesday at San Diego State, he wouldn’t have been able to pursue a medical hardship waiver (the official term for the more commonly used medical redshirt). UNM’s compliance office and the Neal family, including mother Janet and Craig Neal, have met on multiple occasions since the injury to ensure they have all the proper documentation to file for the waiver, though there is no timetable on when the NCAA will actually rule on the request.
Without Neal the Lobos have tightened things up defensively in order to account for the comparative lack of scoring, and the results thus far have been positive. New Mexico has won seven of its last eight games, and Saturday both Sam Logwood (15 points) and Devon Williams (13) scored in double figures.