'95 Grad - JR Giddens Named Northern New Mexico College Head Women's Basketball Coach
ELKO — College basketball fans from Elko County — despite their ties to the University of Nevada — likely saw more of University of New Mexico star J.R. Giddens during the 2006-2007 and 2007-2008 seasons. Giddens routinely lighting up opposing defenses, backboards and posterizing dunks on Elko TVs.
Despite his heroics for the Lobos, Giddens’ story began long before he set foot onto the hardwood of The Pit, in Albuquerque. He built a twelve year professional career doing what he loves and learned from a multitude of mistakes — trying to improve his character and his game along his journey — something he hopes culminates into a successful coaching career at UNM while building youth and young athletes into upstanding people.
In High School Giddens’ prep days began at Yukon High School, but never really felt at home. Giddens transferred to John Marshall High School, in Oklahoma City, for his junior and senior years where he was part of 5A State Championship team his senior year. Giddens verbally committed early, choosing the University of Kansas over the University of Oklahoma.
“Kansas made back-to-back Final Fours (2002, 2003),” Giddens said. “I wanted to play for (former Kansas and current North Carolina coach) Roy Williams. I committed to him when I was a junior. Roy went to North Carolina before I got there, but Bill Self is a great coach too.
Giddens was named a McDonald’s High School All-American during his senior season at John Marshall, playing in the annual preps showcase at Gund Arena, in Cleveland, along with some notable firepower — including LeBron James.
“The game was crazy, especially since it was in Cleveland and LeBron was there, but the game had so much talent. It was a great class,” he said. “There were guys like Chris Paul, Luol Deng, Charlie Villanueva, Kendrick Perkins.”
Giddens wasted no time becoming an impact player for the Jayhawks as a true freshman. He averaged 11.3 points and 3.6 rebounds en route to earning All-Big 12 Conference Freshman honors.“We had a good season, but we lost to Georgia Tech in the Elite Eight (79-71 in overtime),” he said. Giddens battled an injury but still managed averages of 10.1 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.4 assists.“I had surgery on my knee and my ankle, so I didn’t even really have a summer,” he said.
In May 2005, Giddens was involved with an altercation that forever changed his life and his basketball career.“We were at a club and I got stabbed. A guy tried fighting me a few times and got kicked out, but he was waiting outside,” Giddens said. “He came at me and I took him to the ground, but he stabbed me in the leg. I was rushed to surgery.
Following the bar incident, Giddens and Kansas “decided to part ways. “I have no ill-will toward Kansas but that hurt me,” Giddens said. “They (doctors) told me I may walk with a limp for the rest of my life, and my basketball career was in jeopardy. God got me through that.”Needing a new school and time to rehab his injuries, then-New Mexico head coach Ritchie McKay came calling, “New Mexico told me that if I transferred that I would have to sit out a year, which gave me time to heal up and get back in shape,” Giddens said.
After sitting out the 2005-2006 season, Giddens emerged as an elite player for the Lobos during his junior year (2006-2007). In 26 games, he averaged 15.8 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.3 assists. New Mexico struggled as a team McKay was fired in February of 2007. “I started off on fire my junior year, but then I hurt my ankle,” Giddens said. Enter Steve Alford — the current Nevada coach. “Alford was a great coach — more about defense — and (assistant coach Craig) Neal was all about offense. They were a good fit together. They kept us motivated to win games,” Giddens said. “We went from last in the conference to third. It was a tough league. Individually, Giddens’ play and his leadership paid dividends for himself and his team. He was the main reason for the Lobos’ improvement to a 24-9 overall record and an 11-5 mark in the Mountain West. Giddens was named the Mountain West Conference Player of the Year after averaging career highs of 16.3 points, 8.8 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.2 blocks.
During his twelve year professional career he played for Boston Celtics, New York Knicks, Spain, Greece, Italy, Mexico as well as others.
He’s excited about his coaching future starting as head Women’s basketball coach at Northern New Mexico College. JR is married, has a son and knows God has truly watched over and blessed him.
Story by Anthony Mori
Elko Daily Free Press