14 NEW MEXICO THE SOFT-SPOKEN LOBOS WILL LET A STRONG INSIDE GAME DO THEIR TALKING

November 17, 1997

The Lobos' 6'8", 255-pound forward, Kenny Thomas, has evoked
premature comparisons with Karl Malone, endured the high school
nickname Baby Shaq and, if he has the sort of junior season
everyone is predicting for him this year, will lead New Mexico
to the WAC title and far into the NCAA tournament. Just don't
expect Thomas to wax rhapsodic about any of it. "Coach [Dave]
Bliss is always telling me I should talk more," Thomas says
quietly, pulling a large hand down one side of his face.
"But...." He smiles amiably and shrugs.

Like Shaquille O'Neal, Thomas grew up under the watchful eye of
a no-nonsense Army man. Unlike O'Neal, Thomas is unflinchingly
quiet. He says he prepares for games by "praying on my own,
reading the Bible." Growing up, Thomas moved from one military
base to another (including stops in Georgia, Germany, Texas and
New Mexico) with his parents, Calvin and Patricia. But unlike a
lot of big kids who gain self-confidence from basketball and
blossom because of it, Thomas remained unsure of himself. Even
as his game improved in high school and there was talk that he
was a cinch to get a college scholarship, he says, "I didn't
think I was good enough." Now he's similarly reluctant to
believe he's bound for the NBA--"Haven't done it yet," he
says--despite the fact that he's on most preseason All-America
lists.

So, coming from Thomas, it's an emphatic endorsement of this
year's Lobos when he says, "Well, we can be real good." With
four starters returning, New Mexico can improve on last season's
25-8 record, especially if it can raise its game a notch on the
road, where all eight of its losses occurred. Thomas should
improve on his 1996-97 averages of 13.9 points and 6.9 boards a
game while continuing to play unselfishly alongside forward
Clayton Shields, a spindly 6'8" senior who averaged 15.5 points
last year and converted a school-record 96 three-pointers.

Guard Charles Smith, the Lobos' alltime leading scorer, was a
first-round draft pick of the Miami Heat, but, Bliss says, watch
out for Smith's replacement, sophomore Lamont Long. A 6'4"
whippet, Long shares three traits with Thomas: a laconic
temperament, star-caliber talent and a bemused disregard for
Bliss's admonishments to get more "hyped" for games. "People say
that when I come down the court and dunk on someone, they can't
tell if I scored or someone just died," Long says. "But that's
just the way I am."

If Long, Shields and Thomas all play to their abilities, the
Lobos' taciturn stars can let their actions on the court do
their talking for them. --JOHNETTE HOWARD

COLOR PHOTO: BRIAN SPURLOCK AT 255, THOMAS, WHO WAS NICKNAMED BABY SHAQ IN HIGH SCHOOL, IS A WEIGHTY PROBLEM FOR LOBOS OPPONENTS [Kenny Thomas]

Returning Starters [Four]
Points per Game '96-97 75.8
PPG by All Returning Players 52.6

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)