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Phoenix, the Aggies are coming.
In an announcement made Tuesday afternoon by NM State director of athletics Mario Moccia, the Aggies' men's basketball team will be leaving Las Cruces and heading to Phoenix for a period of time where it will continue to ready itself for the 2020-21 college basketball season and work to construct a robust non-conference schedule.
NM State is the first NCAA Division I men's basketball program in the country which has chosen to relocate for a portion of its season. The team will set up shop at the Arizona Grand Resort & Spa in Phoenix. There, players, coaches and staff members will be in an as much of an isolated space as possible to protect them from the COVID-19 pandemic that continue to affect the nation.
"While far from our first option, I am pleased that we found such a tremendous opportunity to prepare for the upcoming season in Phoenix, Arizona," Moccia said. "Approximately a five-hour drive from Las Cruces, the Arizona Grand will provide the ability for our team and coaches to isolate as much as possible while having virtually unlimited access to a court."
All Aggie players, coaches and staff members will continue to get tested for COVID-19 three times per week while in Phoenix. The team has been getting tested three times per week since the beginning of November, going above and beyond the current NCAA guidelines which stipulate teams need only get tested once per week. All teams around the nation will begin to get tested three times per week the week of Nov. 16 - a little over one week before college basketball's official start date.
"There is no way to repay my thanks to Nikki Balich, the Executive Director of the Arizona Sports & Entertainment Commission," continued Moccia. "Nikki and I have mutual friends from back in our high school days and she was the operational point person for our trip to the NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl in 2017. Aggie Nation could not tell her thank you enough, but I would encourage them to do so. She and her team have bent over backward to ensure our team has everything they need at the lowest possible cost to our department. Our Deputy AD and COO Braun Cartwright also put in countless hours identifying multiple options in different states and I can't thank him enough for putting us in what we believe is the best situation for our student-athletes, coaches and staff."
"We are thankful to Mario Moccia, the NM State administration and Nikki Balich, the Executive Director of the Arizona Sports & Entertainment Commission for their commitment to making this happen," said NM State head men's basketball coach Chris Jans. "The extra effort put forth by Braun Cartwright and James Miller will hopefully prove to make this type of move easier and safer for our program."
Under New Mexico's current public health order, the Aggies are not permitted to have full practices anywhere in Doña Ana County or in the state. The restrictions have also prevented the scheduling of a full complement of non-conference games for the 2020-21 docket.
"Once we settle in, we will aggressively look to complete a non-conference schedule which features matchups against our longtime rivals UNM and UTEP among others as we prepare for WAC play," Moccia finished.
"We continue to be proud of our staff and players for the individual sacrifices they are making as our program keeps pushing forward to compete during these trying times," Jans continued. "We have exercised every precaution to do our part for the health and safety of our program and community while finding a way to ensure our student-athletes have a great experience."
As stated in COVID-Safe Practice for Intercollegiate Sports guidelines released by the state, teams are not allowed to practice if the county they reside in is categorized as "red" by the New Mexico Department of Health. A "red" county is signified as being a 14-day average daily case count higher than eight per 100,000 and a positivity rate higher than five percent.
Due to the need to maintain as much of an isolated space as possible, all fan interaction with Aggie players, coaches and staff members will be prohibited during the team's stay at Arizona Grand. For complete coverage of the NM State men's basketball team throughout what is sure to be a unique 2020-21 season, visit NMStateSports.com - the official home of Aggie athletics - and follow the Aggies on Facebook (NM State Men's Basketball), Twitter (@NMStateMBB) and Instagram (@NMStateMBB).