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Alum leads NMMI to Elite Eight

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Former NMMI cadet and athlete, now head boys’ basketball coach, Connor Williamson has the Colts in the Elite Eight in his second season. (NMMI Sports Press Photo)

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New Mexico Military Institute coach Connor Williamson has gone a step further than he dreamed about. He has his team playing with house money, as his Colts team is in the Elite Eight. It is the first time in his career as a player or coach that NMMI has been this far.

New Mexico Military Institute’s Daniel Xibille attacks the basket against Navajo Prep’s Dontrelle Denetso during Saturday’s 3A boys basketball playoff opener at the Eagles Nest in Farmington. (Matt Hollinshead File Photo/Farmington Daily Times)

Today, he hopes to keep the magic going as he looks to beat Hot Springs. NMMI ended up in second place in District 4-3A behind Tularosa. NMMI improved from 3-3 to 4-2 in his second season and improved their win total by seven wins, to go 15-8.

Williamson helped guide the Colts to the playoffs in his first season on the bench, before falling to Santa Fe, 57-40. When he was hired last September, Williamson, in his introductory press conference, stated that his goals were to bring stability to the program.

“I know there’s been a lot of turnover in the last couple of years,” Williamson said. “So I hope that I can be the start of a solid foundation here — one which basically teaches our kids the same system, starting with varsity all the way down to the C-team.”

Williamson knows how much this means to the NMMI community because he is an alumnus. He played for the Colts for four years. During his sophomore and junior years, the Colts won two games. In his senior year, the team made it to the state tournament but never had the success the Colts are having this year.

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According to his assistant coach and dad, Clyde Williamson, his son, Connor has always been a gym rat, fast learner and high achiever, ever since he was an assistant basketball coach at Roswell. Connor Williamson coaches the same as he played at the Institute: 110%. Connor graduated as valedictorian from high school and junior college.

“I’m honored and humbled to be Connor’s assistant coach,” Clyde Williamson said. “He’s a positive example both on and off the court and holds his players to high standards that represent NMMI. Connor (Williamson) knew what to expect when he took the job, after attending school there.”

Connor Williamson expected to make the playoffs this season and has used a balanced scoring attack in Hector Soto, Richard Mata and Daniel Xibille as each of them scored in double figures against Navajo Prep on Saturday to combine for 42 of the team’s 54 points.

Connor Williamson feels it’s his honor to work with the team and help them make it to the playoffs.

“It definitely feels good,” Connor Williamson said, “but it’s also expected. If I can’t make the playoffs with the kids I have, I don’t deserve this job.”

NMMI plays with a discipline of a military school and runs a high tempo, motion offense. On defense, they go man-to-man and will throw in something unexpected at times.

Coach Williamson feels like for his team to have a chance against Hot Springs, his team will have to spread the ball on offense and get good positioning on defense. He feels like they cannot get into foul trouble and they will have to box out and crash the boards on both offense and defense to have a chance. Williamson has learned to accentuate the positive. His type of players are athletic, unselfish and determined.

The No. 2-seeded Hot Springs is the defending 3A champion. They bring plenty of experience to this game. Hot Springs is not very big, they have aggressive rebounders and get good guard play. They shoot it well and are very disciplined. Hot Springs will play mostly man defense. In the matchup earlier in the year, NMMI lost by two points to them, 50-48, on Dec. 6 in the Rio Grande Shootout. That game went down to the last possession. Williamson feels like his team has jelled since that meeting and they’re ready.

“I believe I was born to do this,” Connor Williamson said. “It means a lot to come back to the place that helped shape me as a man and help these cadets in any way I can. If these young people can learn some things that help them throughout their lives, then I have been successful.”

NMMI will face Hot Springs in the quarterfinals at 4:45 p.m. today at the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho.

Sports editor J.T. Keith can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 304, or sports@rdrnews.com.

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