NM St coach: 'They made a statement by hiring a guy like me'

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LAS CRUCES, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico State's new coach said Sunday his focus is on rebuilding the culture of a program that was shut down in midseason after back-to-back scandals.

“I think they made a statement when they hired a guy like me,” said Jason Hooten, who came from Sam Houston State and was introduced in a pep rally setting at the Aggies' arena.

Flanked by athletic director Mario Moccia and chancellor Dan Arvizu, Hooten said the decision to leave Sam Houston after 13 years and 261 wins was a difficult one. It was certainly made more challenging given the situation he inherits. The Aggies are expected to lose up to half a roster from a team that was 9-15 when Arvizu shut things down after hazing allegations came on the heels of a fatal shooting of a University of New Mexico student by an Aggies player during a road trip to Albuquerque.

The school is conducting an investigation into a player’s accusation in February that three teammates ganged up on him multiple times in hazing episodes.

“No matter when you take over, or what the situation is, you have an opportunity to build a culture,” Hooten said. “This is a culture time. A new culture needs to be built, and a new start and a new beginning.”

Hooten is slated to make $425,000 his first season and $475,000 by his fourth year. Among the incentives in the contract are $2,500 for regular-season wins over rival New Mexico and $10,000 for winning a first-round game at the NCAA Tournament.

Among those in attendance to see Hooten become the school's 28th basketball coach was Mary Henson. Her late husband, Lou Henson, took the Aggies to their lone Final Four in 1970 and won 308 games over two long stints in Las Cruces.

The program, which is moving from the Western Athletic Conference to Conference USA next season, has been to 10 NCAA Tournaments since 2007. The new coach said he was hoping to restore the Aggies to that level.

Moccia was asked a handful of questions about the turmoil his athletic program is in. He said he hoped to be part of a task force that was recommended by an outside law firm that looked into circumstances surrounding forward Mike Peake. Peake has not been charged in the fatal shooting of UNM student Brandon Travis because Peake appeared to be acting in self-defense when he pulled a gun after being confronted by Travis at a dorm complex in Albuquerque.

“Whatever the task force is made (of), and what comes out of that, we will certainly actively follow,” Moccia said. “We can always get better.”

He also defended the athletic department's record of producing hundreds of players with 3.0 or better grade-point averages and who logged more than 6,000 hours of community service per year before the pandemic.

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