New Mexico's Gordon, Negedu lead group of impact transfers
Drew Gordon was a top recruit who didn't mesh in UCLA's rigid system
Emmanuel Negedu suffered cardiac arrest at Tennessee and has a defibrillator
Other top transfers to watch next season, including Duke's Seth Curry
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.
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