EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – After months of uncertainty, the 100th season of UTEP men’s basketball will tip-off on Wednesday night.
The Miners will play host to UT-Permian Basin in an empty Don Haskins Center, as fans will not be permitted to attend the game due to the on-going COVID-19 pandemic.
UTEP head coach Rodney Terry and his squad, after months of practice, will finally see outside competition rather than each other.
“This will be our 18th week and we’ve had our guys back on campus for an extended period of time,” said Terry. “Usually we’ve played a couple scrimmage games and maybe an exhibition game to get ready for the start of the season. We go straight into game one, but we’ve had plenty of time to prepare. Our guys right now are ready to play against anyone. It really doesn’t matter, they just need some competition outside of themselves. Our guys have done a great job during this pandemic and with all the new protocols that we’ve had to do this year with the testing and keeping each other safe. But we’re eagerly excited about the start of the season come Wednesday night.”
Terry enters his third year as Miners head coach and his 10th overall as a collegiate head coach. Terry returns seniors Bryson Williams and Eric Vila, as well as juniors Souley Boum, Tydus Verhoeven, Efe Odigie, and Gilles Dekoninck (redshirted during the 2019-20 season).
The Miners have nine newcomers to the roster as transfers junior Jamal Bieniemy (Oklahoma) and sophomore Kristian Sjolund (Georgia Tech) were recently announced immediately eligible to play this season. Transfers junior Emmanuel White (Coastal Bend College) and sophomore Adam Hess (Salt Lake CC) are also eligible to play, while junior Christian Agnew (North Alabama) is awaiting the NCAA to rule on his status for the upcoming season. Sophomore Keonte Kennedy transferred to UTEP from Xavier prior to last season and is eligible to play after redshirting last year. A trio of freshmen also made their way to the Sun City. Vuk Vulikic is a 21-year old freshman from Belgrade, Serbia, while Cam Clardy (Bridgeland HS – Cypress) and Ze’Rik Onyema (John Jay HS – San Antonio) stayed in Texas to continue their basketball careers.
“I’m excited about his team,” said Terry. “We’ve had a chance to work with these guys for 18 weeks now. When you recruit guys, you have a certain feel for them. Once you’re with them day in and day out, you really get a great feel for the intangibles they bring to the table. We have some newcomers who came in and will be impact guys for us this season.”
The Miners are coming off a 17-win season in 2019-20, which was the biggest improvement of any team in Conference USA. While bonus play, which has since been removed from the league’s scheduling model, played a major part in the team’s success at the end of last season, it was the most wins UTEP has had in four years. The Miners also returned to the C-USA Championships for the first team in two years.
Look for UTEP to lean heavily on Williams and Boum early in the season. Williams, a 2020 All-C-USA first team and NABC All-District performer, led the Miners in scoring (17.8 PPG) and rebounding (7.2 RPG). He was the only player in C-USA to rank in the top five in both categories, ranking third in points per game and fifth in rebounds per game. Boum led C-USA in free-throw percentage, hitting 87.8 percent from the charity stripe. He ranked second on the team in scoring (12.9 ppg).
The Miners last faced UTPB on Nov. 6, 2018, Terry’s first game as the program’s head coach. UTEP defeated the Falcons, 90-63, in the Don Haskins Center. Odigie also opened his UTEP career that night, scoring 23 points and grabbing nine rebounds.
The Falcons, coached by Josh Newman, lost four of their top five scorers from a season ago. Senior Jordan Horn ranked second on the team in points last year, averaging 13.7 points per game. Horn averaged 2.0 assists and shot over 48 percent from the field. Senior Adam Rivera also returns after averaging 8.2 points per game and 5.3 rebounds per contest.
TIp-off is scheduled for 5 p.m. at the Don Haskins Center. The game will air on C-USA TV, a subscription based platform.