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It all came crashing down Nov. 19, 2022, when we learned New Mexico State University basketball player Mike Peake shot and killed a University of New Mexico student and was also injured by gunfire on the UNM campus in Albuquerque. Police indicated the shooting was likely in self-defense, but there were troubling allegations of a cover-up and hiding the weapon, involving other players and coaches.
Per usual, everyone played judge and jury in the court of social media, but other important questions loomed apart from the criminal investigation, such as, Why was Peake even awake and out at 3 a.m., 16 hours before a big game? Why did Peake have a gun, presumably on the whole trip?
Many people advocated suspending the men’s basketball season right then and there. Others called for the firing of head coach Greg Heiar. But no one in college basketball had ever dealt with such a situation. It was strange territory, and police investigations were ongoing.
Friday, Feb. 10, 2023, we got news of hazing allegations on the team, with NMSU Police reports of players targeting at least one teammate, pinning him on the locker room floor, pulling down his pants and slapping his bare behind. As of this writing, the alleged victim has not pressed charges. Apparently, it was not an isolated incident.
That, being a severe second strike if it’s even close to accurate, prompted the university to suspend the men’s season with five games left, and put the coaches on administrative leave.
On Valentine’s Day came the inevitable news of Heiar’s firing.
NMSU chancellor Dan Arvizu made the call, and athletic director Mario Moccia delivered the news to Heiar. At a press conference Feb. 15, Arvizu said Heiar was “terminated for cause, with no settlement.”
Arvizu added he was “both disgusted and angry” at the situation, but added “this culture is contained within the men’s basketball team, and no where else” within the athletic department or campus.” Moccia said, “As a parent, it makes me sick.”
The fate of the assistant coaches awaits the outcome of further investigations.
As of this writing, three current Aggie players and one high-profile recruit from California have distanced themselves from the program.
It’s not clear when and how Heiar lost control of his team, but it’s clear he did.
He had said on camera more than once, in reference to the November incidents, variations of “I’m the guy in charge; I take full responsibility.”
Once the news of the hazing allegations emerged, resigning his position would have been the most responsible thing Heiar could have done. NMSU took that decision out of his hands.
One year ago, things could not have looked brighter for Aggie hoops.
In his fifth year as head coach, Chris Jans’s Aggies won another WAC tournament title, an NCAA bid and a long-awaited tourney victory. We knew we wouldn’t keep Jans long, what with his 122-32 record and a .787 winning percentage. In mid-major college basketball, you do well at a smaller school then you get a big raise by going to a major-conference school. In Jans’ case it was Mississippi State.
The buzz remained high with the hiring of Heiar, a former Jans colleague, who had just led Northwest Florida State to the National Junior College Championship.
Now, things could not look much darker.
NMSU men’s basketball team has been a source of pride for longer than most people around here have been alive. Basketball can be wonderful, but it certainly does not supersede the loss of human life, damage done to many families and individuals and inflicting permanent trauma on young lives.