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New coach hopes to build on Aggie tradition


Maybe it’s time to party like it’s 1969.

When Jason Hooten was introduced as New Mexico State University’s new men’s basketball coach at the Pan American’s Center Sunday, March 26, he referred to the Aggies as a “storied program.”

The Pan Am’s own stories began when it first opened, in time for the 1968-69 basketball season.

On Sunday, 54 years later, there were six notable things that put an exclamation point on Hooten’s description of NMSU as a storied basketball program.

First, the welcome event and press conference took place on the Pan Am floor, still one of just a handful of parquet hardwood basketball courts in the country.

Second, was the oversize autograph on that floor of Lou Henson, longtime Aggie Coach.

“To be at a place where Lou Henson coached, that’s something,” Hooten said. “You can’t overstate what Coach Henson meant to the game of basketball, not just New Mexico State.”

Third, Henson’s widow, Mary, was in attendance, introduced by NMSU Athletic Director Mario Moccia as “the all-time First Lady of Aggie basketball.”

Fourth, hanging silently from the Pan Am rafters, but speaking volumes, was the Final Four banner from the Aggies’ 1969-70 season.

Fifth, seated right next to Mary Henson, was Barbara Hubbard, the 95-year-old Las Cruces legend who was the Pan Am’s first manager, a lady who’s probably spent as much time in the building as all the Aggie head coaches combined.

Sixth, in the most emotional moment of the day, Moccia mentioned the previous day’s passing of former Aggie assistant coach Keith Colson, who on the bench next to Henson during those early Pan Am days. Moccia had to step away from the podium to compose himself before he delivered the news.

The past five months, however, have produced the darkest chapter in the long-running book of Aggie men’s basketball. November saw a gun death in Albuquerque with an NMSU player behind the trigger, and February saw hazing allegations against Aggie players. Around all that was a very un-NMSU-like 9-15 record, and 2-10 in Western Athletic Conference play. It might have been worse if the season hadn’t been suspended with six games left.

Aggie fans, hungry for a turnaround and curious to check out the new guy, showed up Sunday in numbers that might have rivaled some of the more poorly attended 2022-23 games in the Pan Am.

“Thanks, Aggie Nation for coming out today,” Moccia said. “What a great turnout!”

Curiosity was one reason fans came out to watch. But another reason was a word both Moccia and Hooten used in reference to Aggie Nation: Care.

“This is a new start,” Hooten said. “A new beginning for a great, historic, traditional basketball program where the people and the fans really care.”