LAS CRUCES – The Panamaniacs, a team competing in The Basketball Tournament comprised of mostly former New Mexico State men’s basketball players and coaches, has finalized its coaching staff ahead of the July tournament.
The Panamaniacs will be led by NMSU athletic director Mario Moccia as head coach and assisted by Michael Nanez, Shawn Harrington, Keith Roberts, Justin Tabor and William Benjamin. Preston Laird will also be on staff as the associate head coach, and former NMSU player and men’s basketball staff member Brandon Mason will serve as general manager, largely in charge of logistics. The team is organized by Mason and Laird.
More:It’s Aggies, Lobos to open The Basketball Tournament in Albuquerque
Roberts currently serves as the head coach at Mayfield High School. Benjamin is the head coach at Las Cruces High School. All members of the coaching staff have previously been associated with NMSU men’s basketball.
“I think we’ll have some success in New Mexico, and I think it’s going to be fun,” Mason said. “Hopefully we can get some fans to come up to (Albuquerque) and support the Aggies.”
More: Best Aggies ever? Building the perfect 12-man NMSU squad
The Basketball Tournament announced Wednesday the Panamaniacs will be a No. 5 seed in the tournament and play the Enchantment, the New Mexico Lobos alumni team, in the opening round at The Pit. Mason said Laird is already leading film study sessions and the team is preparing game plans for the matchup in late July.
“(Laird) understands all of the ins and outs, and he’s more than capable of helping these guys and preparing them for a run,” Mason said. “And then he has some assistants – Billy Keys, Mike Nanez, coach Benjamin, all of those guys – they’ve got a good staff for Mario.”
Mason said once he established the coaching staff, coaches bounced potential roster members off each other before diving into the recruiting process. The team announced their 14-member roster Wednesday, ranging from players as old as Justin Hawkins to as young as Johnny McCants. The roster also includes two non-Aggies: Lamar Morinia, a Montana State-Northern graduate, and Jerome Seagears, who played collegiately at Rutgers and UNLV.
The Panamaniacs gradually announced players and staff members over the past three months.
“We picked a lot of relationship guys (for the coaching staff) first that could reach out to former players on their own, and then come back with names on who would be interested,” Mason said. “And then I went with people that I’ve known for years that I know care about the University, from Billy Keys, Mike Nanez, William Benjamin, Shawn Harrison. …And then the icing on the cake was to have Mario be the face of this thing.”
Mason said the team has already begun practices and workouts ahead of the next month’s tournament and looks forward to returning to The Pit.
“For something so exciting to happen with former players that you’ve watched over the years and cheered for, that have won championships for your team, to come back over the summer and work for the chance to win a million dollars, I think it’s incredible,” Mason said.