Farewell, Mashburn, you'll be missed

Mar. 25—Take a bow, Mr. Mashburn, you've earned an encore.

As expected, Lobo basketball player Jamal Mashburn Jr. entered the NCAA transfer portal Monday, as did 7-foot center Sebastian Forsling. The duo spent three years on the New Mexico roster, representing — along with outgoing graduate Jaelen House — the foundation of a massive rebuilding project under coach Richard Pitino on the South Campus.

Mashburn's goodbye officially ends a celebrated run in a Lobos uniform after spending his first season at Minnesota with Pitino. He followed his coach to Albuquerque knowing the team wasn't any good and the reclamation project would take a couple years, at least. He came to the 505 knowing it was a risk, a place as far off the beaten path as most high-level Division I recruits are willing to go.

But he made it work. The community embraced him, the fans loved him and his calming, reflective personality made it easy for his teammates to fall in line behind him.

Some fans were probably caught off guard by Monday's news. Others, just a little hurt. Both are understandable, but Mash's farewell isn't at all surprising. The writing has been on the wall for a while and anyone who's been around him could sense something was just... off.

The emergence of several key newcomers meant fewer touches in the backcourt. Two years in the Mountain West gave everyone plenty of time to figure out he's a mid-range guy who doesn't shoot particularly well from the arc and lacks the size to be a shutdown defender against a typical 2 or 3 guard.

His numbers took a hit this season; his scoring averaged dipped by five points and he spent several late-season games on the bench during crunch time.

A ligament tear in his shooting hand back in November certainly didn't help, nor did the emergence of guard Donovan Dent at point guard. Dent blossomed into a star despite sharing the backcourt with Mash and House. With the later two gone, UNM is officially Dent's team — assuming he doesn't jump into the portal as well.

Forsling's exit is far less dramatic, but sad nonetheless. Recruited in the same class as Mash and House, he only scored 111 points in 70 career games. He was never anything close to an impact player, but his role beyond the court made him popular with fans. He was the hype man on the bench, often the first to his feet when his guys needed a cheerleader on the sidelines.

It's the loss of Mash, though, that brings a significant chapter to a close. He helped turn the Lobos into a winner, taking a miserable team that won six games the year before he arrived to a pair of 20-win seasons and a berth in the NIT last year and NCAA last weekend.

UNM is better because of him and the Lobos will continue to improve without him.

Rest assured, more departures are on the way. Insiders expect the core of the team — Dent, JT Toppin and Tru Washington, along with Mustapha Amzil and Nelly Junior Joseph — to return, but it's entirely likely that someone the fans think they can't live without will decide to hit the open market.

It happens every year, as Pitino pointed out during the NCAA Tournament. For every door that closes, he said, another opens. With 917 names in the portal as of Monday night, the final number of free agents is expected to climb over 2,000 for a second straight year.

Players can be replaced and UNM has the NIL money to land a rental to fill any hole it might have. Much like Josiah Allick's surprising decision to leave the program after starting all 34 games last season, the team is confident it can upgrade at Mash's position by bringing in a more versatile player who fits the vision Pitino has at shooting guard.

It's apparent the Lobos need more size and length at the guard spot. House was listed as a 6-foot combo guard and Mashburn was generously listed at 6-2, leaving both to defend a taller and sometimes more defensive-minded opponent.

Their exit opens the door 6-4 Washington to become a starter, leaving the other spot for an even bigger guard who can improve on Mash's best attributes.

All this to say, Mash should be long revered by Lobo fans. He climbed into the top 10 of the school's career scoring list and won the Mountain West scoring title as a junior. He will happily give his final season of eligibility to a hungry Power-5 program that will undoubtedly welcome him with open arms.

Miami, perhaps? Florida? Louisville?

The next few weeks and months reveal all.

And good for him. He leaves New Mexico with an impeccable reputation. Wherever he lands, more power to him.

Will Webber is the sports editor for The New Mexican. Contact him at