No matter the players, the records, or the coaches, a Clovis-Hobbs basketball matchup is never ignored and long-awaited.
“I’ve heard that’s the experience of a lifetime, being able to play in a Clovis-Hobbs game,” Clovis junior guard Deven Crockett said. “That’s like Christmas for a basketball player.”
Wildcats players are set for their District 4-5A opener at Rock Staubus Gym, despite the lump of coal a federal court put in their stocking Tuesday.
Friday’s game will be the first for Clovis (11-8) since Tuesday, when a restraining order was lifted that had held up both a New Mexico Activities Association suspension and his subsequent dismissal as Clovis coach.
Isler, in his ninth season, is accused of recruiting players. He has maintained his innocence, and another court hearing is scheduled for Feb. 15.
Fans for Hobbs (17-5, 1-0 district) will be ready, as Wildcats senior post Logan Turnbow hears they’ll come dressed in military fatigues — as recruits.
“I’m not even going to lie,” Turnbow said. “That’s a good one.”
Interim coach Scott Robinson coached last year’s district opener at Hobbs, as Isler was forced to sit out following an ejection in the previous game.
This time around, Robinson isn’t sure how long he’ll be in charge.
“Coach has his battles to fight, and we have ours,” Robinson said. “Our focus has to be on the court and taking care of what we’re able to take care of.”
As part of his suspension, Isler is not allowed to talk to Wildcats players, but they’re sending their own messages. During Thursday’s pep rally, each player wore a shirt with “We Support Coach Isler” on the back.
“We want him to be with us,” Turnbow said, “but we’ve just got to play and hope for the best.”
Hobbs coach Russ Gilmore expects the situation to be a rallying point for the Wildcats.
“The Clovis kids have a lot of character and I’m sure they will respond to it,” said Gilmore, in his 12th season with the Eagles. “They can go one of two ways. They can go and win one for the Gipper, or they can go the other way and let that stuff bother them.
“Knowing Clovis and the type of character their kids have and the program they have year in and year out, I think they’ll be even more difficult to beat under these conditions.”
The Wildcats (10-8), idle since a 78-43 win at Artesia on Jan. 26, have used the week-plus to rest a few injured players.
“Deven is a lot better,” Robinson said of the junior, who had suffered from turf toe since December. “The rest really did him good. He's 100 percent ready to go.”
Crockett figures he’s about 80 to 90 percent, and he figures he’ll have his hands full with Hobbs’ guard combo of Shelby Reeves and Jordan Lee.
“They hustle, every play,” Crockett said of the Eagles. “They’re not going to take any plays off.”
The Wildcats will have the services of junior guards Lathan Lieb and Craig Cook for the first time this season. Crockett said the two transfers complement the Clovis backcourt and give the squad extra depth.
“I think we can match them on the perimeter,” said Gilmore, who has concerns about Turnbow and Marcus Slocum in the post. “But they have a lot of good athletes they can throw out there. I didn’t realize how many they had until I watched more film on them.”
CHS BOYS CAPSULE
Hobbs (17-5, 1-0 District 4-5A)
at Clovis (10-8, 0-0)
7 p.m. today
Radio: KCLV-AM 1240, KRMQ-FM 101.5.
Coaches: Hobbs, Russ Gilmore, 12th season. Clovis, Scott Robinson, first game as interim coach.
Coming in: The Eagles are coming off a 80-63 win in their District 4-5A opener against Carlsbad. Clovis has been idle since a 78-43 win at Artesia on Jan. 26.
Common opponents: The teams have five common New Mexico opponents — Cibola, Rio Rancho, Espanola Valley, Roswell Goddard and Artesia — and two common out-of-state opponents — Phoenix North and Plainview. Clovis is 4-3 in those games, while Hobbs is 5-2.
Hobbs players to watch: G Jordan Lee, Sr., 6-0, 165; G Shelby Reeves, Sr. 6-1, 175; F Brandon Marinovich, Sr., 6-5, 190.