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New Mexico's Gordon, Negedu lead group of impact transfers

A year ago, Drew Gordon was a primary building block at UCLA, while Tennessee's Emmanuel Negedu was still two months away from suffering cardiac arrest that nearly killed him.

Last month, the pair was slogging through Albuquerque's sand dunes during a brutal workout with the rest of the New Mexico Lobos, both eager for a second chance to restart their college careers.

Such is the life of Division I transfers. Here today, there tomorrow.

The tandem's arrival fits into the current theme of redemption that's emanating from New Mexico's program. Last season, after a mostly mediocre decade-plus since Dave Bliss left for Baylor, the Lobos notched their first 30-win season and earned their first NCAA tournament victory since 1999. In the process, Steve Alford continued to rebound from his disappointing run at Iowa by earning a second straight Mountain West Coach of the Year award (and a contract extension through 2020).

Still, the Lobos' second-round blowout loss to 11-seed Washington means the program has never won more than one knockout game in any NCAA tournament. Despite the loss of Mountain West Player of the Year Darington Hobson (a former junior college transfer himself) and sniper Roman Martinez, the arrival of the potentially potent pair of forwards, both of whom were top-25 recruits in 2008, could set up the Lobos' 2010-11 season as a salvation sequel.

Gordon's transfer story is the more common of the two, but a player with his potential doesn't often drop into the Mountain West. A tantalizing 6-foot-9 talent who never fully found himself in Ben Howland's system, he departed Westwood last December, reportedly by mutual decision. Given the Bruins' lack of quality post play since Kevin Love's departure in 2008, the choice to let a player averaging 11.2 points, 5.3 rebounds and two blocks in just 24.5 minutes a game go wasn't just a question of talent.

Gordon, who will be eligible in December, says the break from competition has been a plus for his development, even as it pained him to watch the Lobos' stirring run last season from the sidelines.

"I think [the time off] has been nothing but a benefit for me," he said. "Being able to relax and get better at my game without being criticized or applauded and what not has really helped me out. It's just been me and my teammates. It's made me really appreciate the game and realize how much I love it."

Love for the game also is the driving force behind Negedu's controversial return to the court. He essentially was brought back from death by the Tennessee training staff after collapsing following a weightlifting session and now has a defibrillator in his chest as a safeguard. While extensive medical exams found no evidence of an underlying condition, neither Tennessee nor Indiana (his first-choice transfer spot) was willing to accept the risk of letting him play.

In stepped New Mexico and Alford, who recruited Negedu when he was at Iowa. The whole Lobos staff has been trained in CPR as part of an overall plan that, according to Alford, should include school medical staff traveling with the team to road games. Negedu will be eligible immediately after the NCAA granted him a hardship waiver since his former team refused to allow him to play.

"Nobody has been more medically evaluated that Emmanuel has," Alford said. "He looks great, he feels great, I don't know if there are any more challenges with him than anyone else, other than he's had a previous medical situation. At least that has the attention of everybody."

Last season's sharpshooting Lobos were shockingly competent on the glass (including the nation's ninth-best defensive rebounding rate), and Negedu knows he will play a crucial role in maintaining that performance.

"I don't care about points," Negedu said. "I just want to be the top rebounder on the team, and the league, too. That's what I love doing. If I need the ball, I go get it."

This all should be welcome news for Alford, who joked that last season the Lobos probably made three entry passes all season and they could do that on every possession in league play this year. Don't expect New Mexico, which shot 739 three-pointers last season, to look like a Big East team anytime soon, though. Alford doesn't intend to change his system all that much and likely will still play four guards at times, especially before Gordon becomes eligible.

A more balanced approach on both ends could make the Lobos more imposing. The added size also should help New Mexico weather the grind that eventually caught up to last year's team, which had a thin bench and no one over 6-8 in the rotation.

"Just looking at our team on paper, and evaluation by eye as our guys are here this summer, this will be our biggest, most athletic team we've had," Alford said. "If you're big and you're athletic, you can impose a little bit more presence defensively, and I hope that's what we develop into."

There are no Wesley Johnsons ready to make a National Player of the Year-type impact, but that doesn't mean the transfer class of 2010 lacks potential punch. Here are five other notable transfers (in alphabetical order):

Allan Chaney, Virginia Tech

The skilled 6-9 forward had a rocky freshman season at Florida in 2008-09, seeing his minutes dwindle as the season progressed and finally being suspended in the postseason for an argument with the team's strength coach. He is poised to join up with buddy Malcolm Delaney and Co. on a very talented Hokies team, but is out indefinitely while recovering from an undisclosed medical condition that may have been related to Chaney's fainting on the court during a workout in April. According to this report, the Hokies hope Chaney will be cleared to play by the start of the season.

Seth Curry, Duke

The surname helped create the buzz, but Stephen's younger brother helped fuel the media fire by being the nation's highest-scoring freshman in 2008-09, averaging 20.2 points per game at Liberty. While Curry's solid shooting stroke should be a good fit in the Duke offense, it will be interesting to see just how many minutes he can grab this season. With Kyle Singler back to play the lion's share of minutes at the 3, the two guard positions will be awfully crowded with returning standout Nolan Smith, sophomore Andre Dawkins (who was hindered last season by the death of his sister) and stud point guard recruit Kyrie Irving.

Greg Echenique, Creighton

The Missouri Valley is in for a rude awakening in December when the former Big East beast becomes eligible. Echenique came to Omaha to play for Dana Altman, but he'll suit up instead for Greg McDermott after Altman left to take the Oregon job. Echenique had three double-doubles in his seven games at Rutgers last season after averaging 8.4 rebounds a game as a freshman. His arrival is a nice boost for the Bluejays, who only have one returning player who averaged more than 7.5 points per game. Echenique was granted a medical waiver after recovering from an eye injury that curtailed his sophomore season and he will have 2.5 seasons of eligibility left.

Jio Fontan, USC

Fontan was one of the highest ranked point guards in 2008 and was supposed to be the centerpiece of a basketball rebound at Fordham. The St. Anthony's (Jersey City, N.J.) product was named the A-10 Freshman of the Year in 2008-09 after averaging 15.3 points and 4.7 assists per game, despite the Rams' 3-25 overall record. The school refused to give him a release last summer, but after another bad start last season led to the firing of coach Dereck Whittenberg, Fordham relented. He should slip into the starting lineup when he becomes eligible in December.

Juan Pattillo, Western Kentucky

The athletic Oklahoma transfer signed with the Hilltoppers after being dismissed by the Sooners after playing just half a season. He averaged 6.2 points and 3.6 rebounds off the bench for Oklahoma and should fit in nicely in the undersized-but-active Sun Belt.