We are now a few years removed from the decade that was the 2000’s (2000-2009). Whether we realize it or not, now is the perfect time to draw up those cliché lists of all-decade teams. Think about it: the sports memories remain still very fresh in our minds, and yet the few buffer years that have passed by have ensured that emotional attachment to particular players does not play too big of a factor. At least they SHOULD ensure our emotions have subsided some. (I may need another decade to get over that brutal loss in the championship to Memphis last year though...)
All this being said, it is about time somebody compiled an all-time UTEP Miners team in anything. I’m too young to make up an All-80’s team (which by the way would probably be the best of all the All Miners Decade teams), or even an All-90’s team, but I challenge anyone out there who can, to come up with these.
This was a good decade for our Miners. If I had to, I’d rank the 2000’s as the fourth best decade overall for Miner hoops, behind the 1960’s (9-3 in NCAA tourney play and 1 National Championship), the 1980’s (6 NCAA appearances, 2 NIT appearances, 3 NCAA tourney wins), and the 1990’s (only 2 NCAA and NIT appearances, but this was the decade of that iconic win over Kansas to make the Sweet Sixteen). The 2000’s by comparison featured 2 NCAA tourney appearances, 2 trips to the NIT, and 2 CBI invitations (if everyone’s okay deeming the CBI a notable accomplishment). The decade also featured an astounding four different head coaches (Jason Rabedoux until 2002, Billy Gillespie 2002-2004, Doc Sadler 2004-2006, Tony Barbee, 2006-2010), and 2 different conferences (WAC and Conference USA). For a program that was so used to the safety and consistency of the Bear roaming the sidelines, the 2000’s was a decade filled with great turnover and uncertainty. This only makes the accomplishments of our Miner program all the more impressive.
So without further ado, here's my choices for All-2000's Miners team. These are the players who deserve the most praise for making the decade so great.
Julyan Stone, 2007-2011.
Technically, Julyan’s last season with the Miners was in this decade, not the last one. But I’m bending the rules ever so slightly to give my favorite Miner player possibly of all time his due. Not enough people noted that Stone was the glue of those great Tony Barbee teams. Sure Culpepper was the most exciting player in the Southwest, sure Caracter was unstoppable that one year we had him. But no one in a Miner uniform has ever had a more well-rounded game than Julyan Stone. He is the all-time assists leader, would game-in and game-out guard the opponent's best player (most of the time locking him down), was a great rebounding guard, and possessed an underrated ability to get to the hoop.
Stefon Jackson, 2005-2009
The All-Time leading scorer in UTEP and Conference USA history. His senior season in 08-09 was downright bananas. Jackson had the sweetest mid-range game of anyone in recent memory and was an absolute lock to give the Miners 20-30 points each night. I just wish he had gotten the opportunity to go dancing.
NOTE: UTEP was loaded at the guard positions in the 2000’s. Rivera and Culpepper deserve to be All 2000’s team 1B.
Omar Thomas, 2003-2005
Thomas scored 1,211 points in just two years as a Miner. To give you an idea of how good that is, Stefon Jackson scored 2,456 in four years as a Miner. It's not outrageous to believe that O.T. could have been up near Stefon's record had we had him for 2 more years. He's also the only other player aside from Randy Culpepper to have his first name chanted by the Haskins Center crowd during a game, at least to my memory.
Jason Williams, 2003-2006
Hopefully most Miner fans remember him as the ice-cold competitor, solid rebounder and defender that he was instead of “that player who broke Stefon’s jaw.” Williams was a consistent and relatively unsung star for the three years he played at UTEP.
John Tofi, 2002-2006
Derrick Caracter was by far the most dominant and talented center I’ve ever seen in a UTEP uniform. But Tofi gets my pick for Center of the decade for a few reasons. One, he set the fiery, emotional tone, along with Fili, for those tournament teams mid-decade. Two, he spent four years in a Miner uniform compared to Caracter’s one and experienced the highs (2 NCAA tourney appearances, 1 NIT), as well as the lows (Billy Gillespie’s miserable first year). Let’s not forget that gutsy performance at the FedEx Forum in Memphis when he was noticeably injured.
Filiberto Rivera, Randy Culpepper, Roy Smallwood, Derrick Caracter, Jeremy Williams, Giovanni St. Amant, Kevin Henderson, Miguel Ayala