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Jimmies seal game with New Mexico

JAMESTOWN -- The Jimmies will play a team next season some view as a Final Four sleeper.

Not the NAIA Final Four, the NCAA Final Four as in the Big Dance, March Madness or office-pool brackets.

When the University of New Mexico released its schedule on Thursday, Jamestown College was there. The game had been in the works for a while, but the finishing touches were completed this week.

"It's a great opportunity for our college, our program and certainly for our players to be in the national spotlight," said Jamestown College men's basketball head coach Justin Wieck. "It's not something that's going to happen every year, but it's a pretty unique situation and we're very excited about it."

The tie between each college is its coaches.

Wieck played at the University of Iowa when Steve Alford was the head coach and current New Mexico head man Craig Neal was an assistant. Alford, as most know, left for Los Angeles and the UCLA job in the spring and Neal was promoted to replace him at New Mexico.

College basketball insiders would say Alford left the better team behind when he went to Hollywood, but the prestige of the UCLA job was too much to pass up.

What does that mean for the Jimmies? Well, the Lobos are a lock to be a top 20 team in the preseason polls and several pundits put them in the top 15. New Mexico has one of the best big men in college basketball in 7-footer Alex Kirk. The Jimmies don't have anybody over 6-7 on the roster. Also, senior point guard Kendall Williams is regarded as a likely NBA draft pick.

Moreover, New Mexico went 29-6 last season and earned a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament, but was upset in the opening round by Harvard.

"It's a team with the talent to go to the Final Four, no question. Of course, a lot of things play into that, but on paper they're stacked," Wieck said. "Coach Alford is a great coach. He's won wherever he's been. Coach Neal is going to do a great job. He's given us a great opportunity to go there and play and we're very thankful for it."

New Mexico will pick up most of the tab to fly the Jimmies out to Albuquerque for the Nov. 6 contest.

"It's going to be a grind that week for us. We have Dordt and Northwestern the weekend before and then we go to Nebraska the next weekend to play a couple of (NAIA) ranked teams. ... But this was too good to pass up," Wieck said.

On their holiday trip last season, the Jimmies stopped in Albuquerque and practiced in the Lobos' legendary home, The Pit. The facility recently got a $60-million dollar facelift. It was home to the 1983 Final Four made famous by then North Carolina State coach Jim Valvano hugging seemingly everyone in his path after his Wolfpack upset the mighty Houston Cougars of Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler.

"New Mexico is a great basketball program with rich history. The Pit, it's one of the top venues in the country," Wieck said. "Obviously, it'll be a great challenge for our players, but how many teams get to do something like this? It should be awesome."