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New coach: ‘People wanted something positive'


“There is a great opportunity for this to be a shining moment,” New Mexico State University new head basketball coach, Jason Hooten, said in a July 11 interview.

Hooten and his staff have recruited 11 new players to the basketball team as of July 11, he said, including the most recent, a 6-11 Australian player who was one of the best youth players in Australian leagues.

“Recruiting is always difficult,” said Hooten, who has about three months to fill the final two scholarship positions on the team before the Aggies’ first “real practice” Sept. 27 and its first game Nov. 8.

Recruiting has been made more difficult by the program’s troubles the past year and by recent changes to NCAA transfer regulations that allow student athletes to change schools without sitting out a year after their transfer.

Hooten left his longtime job as head basketball coach at Sam Houston University earlier this year to take over a program at NMSU that had been plagued by a hazing scandal – the university settled an $8 million lawsuit with two former players in June – and a fatal shooting in November 2022 in Albuquerque involving a former NMSU player who was not charged in the incident.

Those incidents left “a lot of people disappointed,” Hooten said, who started at NMSU April 1.

“We’ve had to answer a lot of questions,” he said. “If you’re a mother” with a son being recruited by the NMSU basketball program, “You have some questions for sure.”

Hooten’s message to parents, players and potential players, the university and the community is, “It’s all over and done now. Things will be different,” he said.

“I’m a very prideful person,” Hooten said. “Honor and things like that are the most important things.”

He said he wants to strike a blend on his roster of freshman, Division I transfers and junior college transfers. The signees reflect that, but since none of last year’s Aggies returned, it’s a different challenge to have to recruit a completely new team in one season, Hooten said.

“I want to be good this year. I’m a competitive guy,” Hooten said.

And he knows “people expect us to win right away. That’s okay too. It’s part of the job,” Hooten said. “But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.”

Hooten said his plan is to take things “a day at a time,” with a goal for each day of being “a little better than the day before,” but knowing, “The easiest day was yesterday,” he said.

He and his coaching staff are also looking to “establish our future,” as they recruit for 2024 and beyond.

Hooten and his wife of 23 years have two children, an 18-year-old daughter who will be a senior in high school this year and a 14-year-old son who will be a freshman. His daughter is a volleyball player and his son plays tennis.

The family is still looking for a house in Las Cruces, Hooten said, but has already discovered “a lot of really good eating places here.”

Hooten jogs two to three miles a day, five days a week.

“I’m a big runner,” he said.

Hooten also likes to play golf, “but I don’t,” he said. “I’d rather spend time with my family doing whatever they want to do.”

He describes himself as “a yard guy,” but considering the extensive xeriscaping in Las Cruces, he speculates he won’t be doing much lawn mowing when his family settles into a house.

He’s also a churchgoer and enjoys watching college basketball and Major League Baseball – he’s a Texas Rangers fan.

Baseball was Hooten’s “best sport” as a young player, he said – he played shortstop and second base – but there was “just something there about basketball,” and he fell in love with the sport. Being told he was too short to play basketball was just “fueling my fire,” Hooten said.

Part of the reason he chose to come to NMSU, Hooten said, was the basketball program’s “history and legacy,” including what legendary Aggie Coach Lou Henson and “all those people created.” They started a “trajectory of winning basketball,” he said.

Las Cruces was “a place that really made a stance about what a basketball program means to the community and the university,” Hooten said. “People wanted something positive to happen.”

Hooten knew taking over the program “was going to be a difficult challenge,” he said. “We just put our head down and just started to work."