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Now in starter’s role, Nephawe taking advantage of increased minutes

By on January 13, 2011 in News

LAS CRUCES — Teammates don’t sugar coat things.  Especially for freshmen.

Tshilidzi Nephawe

As the New Mexico State men’s basketball team prepared for last weekend’s game against unbeaten Fresno State, the Aggies’ gameplan centered around containing pre-season All-WAC center Greg Smith.

“I’m a freshman here so guys who were here last year told me that (Smith) is really good and that he’s going to kill you or whatever,” said NMSU’s 6-foot-10, 250-pound center Tshilidzi Nephawe. “I told myself that I just have to go out and do my best. I think I did a great job on him.”

With Nephawe as one of the Aggies’ primary defenders in the interior, Smith was a non-factor in an 80-68 NMSU victory. He fouled out after tallying just six points in 20 minutes on the evening.

Nephawe has provided a steady presence in the post for the Aggies, starting the last seven games while junior center Hamidu Rahman works back into form following a calf injury.

Aggies coach Marvin Menzies points to Nephawe’s development as an ideal NMSU player, coming to school as a freshman and improving over the course of a full career in Las Cruces.

“It’s good to see him get the opportunity because that’s going to help his development and help him advance at a more rapid pace maybe than if he was backing up (Rahman) all year long,” Menzies said. “His desire to want to learn and get better is phenomenal.”

He is averaging 5.8 points and 4.1 rebounds per game for the season while shooting an impressive 76 percent from the foul line. In three Western Athletic Conference games, Nephawe’s number have climbed to 9.3 points and 4.3 rebounds for the 2-1 Aggies.

Hustle play

Not bad for a player who has been playing basketball for just four years — two in America after growing up in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Nephawe entered the season as a likely backup to a deep front line. But a slew of frontcourt injuries have thrust him into action earlier than expected.

“When I came here, I told myself that I would work as hard as I can and see what is going to happen,” Nephawe said. “Things are going well on my side. I’m just glad I’m getting this much playing time. I’m just trying to improve my game and make sure we win games.”

Nephawe has earned the trust of his teammates in the post.

“When we lost (Rahman), we didn’t know what we were going to do,” Aggies sophomore wing Tyrone Watson said. “To put him in that position is kind of a tough thing to ask. He got the call and he adjusted and went out and took care of business.”

Nephawe’s season is typical of any freshman. After a career-high 13 point, seven-rebound performance against USC, he disappeared in rivalry game sweeps to UTEP and New Mexico. Nephawe fouled out twice against the Lobos in a combined 17 minutes of action.

“In the beginning I was doing OK,” he said. “I think it was against UTEP. I don’t know what happened but I was not comfortable at all. I had a couple bad games and fouled out a lot. I hit a wall but now I’m way better.”

As Nephawe works on his post moves and develops into the rebounder and post defender the Aggies need him to become, perhaps it’s his skill as a good teammate that is his best attribute at this point of his career.

“I think he’s a monster,” Watson said. “I’ve never seen anything like this before. He’s a lovable guy. He’s fun. He’s outgoing. He’s a little emotional at times but overall, he’s a good guy.”

Jason Groves can be reached at (575) 541-5459

Tshilidzi Nephawe has started the last seven games for the Aggies. Here are his numbers during that time.

8.3 PPG

4.9 RPG

50 percent FG

76 percent FT


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