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New Mexico State Aggies add two more Toronto players to hoops roster

New Mexico State has added two more Canadian-born players to its 2010-11 roster.

Christian Kabongo and Renaldo Dixon have verbally committed to play for the Aggies and head coach Marvin Menzies. They join early signee Tshilidze Nephawe in Menzies’ latest recruiting class.

“I have been there several times, it’s a good campus with good facilities,” said Ro Russell, who coached both players for the Toronto based club team Grass Roots Canada Elite. “They are going there for the opportunity and the situation. They had a spot for a combo guard, which CK (Kabongo) will fill. They have good forwards who are about to be seniors, so that way, (Dixon) will be able to step in and play major minutes if he redshirt’. Coach Menzies is a good guy so they will be motivated to play for him.”

Russell said current NMSU sophomore forward Tyrone Watson played for Grass Roots as a younger player. Like Watson, both Kabongo and Dixon were recruited by NMSU assistant Paul Weir, who is also from Toronto.

Weir’s knowledge of Canadian players has served the Aggies well the past three years, also bringing in point guard Hernst Laroche from Montreal, Quebec. Russell said Menzies met with the players in the last couple of weeks.

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“I’ve known Paul for many years,” Russell said. “He recruits Canada very well. We met with Coach Menzies and were told what the needs were in terms of next year and we decided to give is a shot. They have always wanted to go to school together since they
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are best friends and Paul was able to work on a relationship with the kids. Coach Menzies is like a player’s coach so they hit it off pretty quickly.”

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Canada is no longer a secret for college coaches, but it is becoming more frequent for players from Toronto to play high school ball in the U.S.

Myck Kabongo, Christian’s cousin, committed early to play at Texas and is currently a junior at St. Benedict’s Prep in New Jersey. Grass Roots teammates Tristan Thompson and Corey Joseph were McDonald’s All-Americans and Thompson has committed to Texas.

Christian Kabongo and Dixon played on the Grassroots 16-under team that won the Adidas Super 64 tournament in Las Vegas, Nev.

Russell said Canadian players are eager to prove themselves at the highest level in the U.S.

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“They are appreciative and don’t really take it for granted,” Russell said. “With a lack of Division I schools, they want to make good with the opportunity. They want to make a name for themselves and take full advantage of the opportunity once they get it.”

Christian Kabongo had committed to play at East Carolina, but a coaching change in the fall led to him changing his mind.

Russell said Duquesne, Texas Christian and Marshall were also interested in Kabongo through the years.

Kabongo is a 6-foot-4 guard who can play either backcourt position.

“I’ve known CK for 10 or 11 years,” Dixon said. “We grew up in the same neighborhood and were always on the same team. We thought it would be good to play together at the collegiate level too. Lately he has been playing the point guard but he grew up playing the two. He has good court vision and can shoot the 3 from deep.”

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The 6-foot-9 Dixon made official visits to Connecticut and Saint Bonaventure and had interest from Marquette, South Florida and Western Kentucky.

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Dixon hopes to visit Las Cruces for the first time next week. He will likely redshirt his first year as the Aggies return three quality players in the frontcourt.

“I can focus on school and get a head start on my classes so I will be able to play next year,” Dixon said. “I want to work on ball handling and shooting the most because I want to eventually move out and play the small forward.”

Dixon said Weir has recruited both players for some time, but once East Carolina fell through, they realized they could continue playing together at NMSU.

“We were always trying to go to the same school,” Dixon said. “Once UConn started recruiting me, we didn’t think we would end up at the same school, but now we found one and thought we should take the opportunity and go there.”

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