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Three words were repeated multiple times at the Sunday, March 26, public presentation of New Mexico State University’s new men’s basketball coach, Jason Hooten.
Character, integrity and culture.
During the press conference, and public event, held at the Pan American Center, Hooten, NMSU Chancellor Dan Arvizu and Athletic Director Mario Moccia all used each of those words multiple times.
Comments on those topics drew the largest applause from the many Aggie fans in attendance, who appeared curious to see how those issues would be addressed, given the incidents of the 2022-23 season, that ultimately led to the cancellation of the last six games.
“He’s a proven leader,” Arvizu said. “And he’s run a program modeled with both character and integrity.”
Hooten is no fly-by-nighter. He spent 19 seasons working for the Sam Houston State basketball program, the last 13 as head coach. In those 13 seasons, Sam Houston won 261 games and had only one year with a losing record. Hooten did not comment on either what players or what assistant coaches may join him, saying it’s just too early to say regarding those.
“You’re hiring a coach to come in and build a culture,” Hooten said, adding that his teams have always had a culture of hard work and good defense.
“You don’t get to be a finalist for the Skip Prosser Man of the Year Award if you’re not doing the right things off the court,” Moccia said. The award is named for longtime Prosser, most noted for his terms at Xavier and Wake Forest, but died of an apparent heart attack at age 56 in 2007.
According to the Skip Prosser Award website, the award “honors those who not only achieve success on the basketball court but who display moral integrity off of it as well.” Hooten is one of 25 finalists for the 2023 award, which will be announced during the Final Four weekend in Houston, April 2-4.
After receiving the job offer from NMSU, Hooten did not make his decision immediately, and said the most difficult part was leaving the university in Huntsville, Texas, where he had made his life for nearly 20 years.
Moccia said he became familiar with Hooten and his coaching style when the Aggies traveled to a Sam Houston game Jan. 20, 2022. That was the last season Chris Jans coached NMSU, and the season the Aggies won their first game in the NCAA tournament. And while they were able to beat UConn in March Madness, they were unable to beat Sam Houston in that January 2022 game.
“They kicked the hell out of us,” Moccia said.
The final score was 71-46 and it was clear “he was not going to take his foot off the gas.”
After the game, Moccia met with Hooten and said, “Congratulations, Coach. Nobody beats us like that.”
Hooten was received warmly by the Aggie fans in attendance, but it was clear he understood it’s still the honeymoon period. Hooten’s wife, Kristen, excitedly told him her Twitter followers went from 40 to 170 in just a few hours after his hire was announced.
“Of course, they all love us right now,” Hooten told her. “We haven’t lost a game yet.”