The UTEP Miners mens's basketball team held their first practice of the 2013-14 season on Tuesday with eight returners and eight newcomers. Five of the teams top scorers and four of the top rebounders return from last year's 18-14 season.
COACH TIM FLOYD:
"We are going to have demanding practices, lengthy practices. We're going to maximize our 20 hours of work. We are going to maximize time in the film room. Now its time to get to work."
At the end of last year, some were already penciling in the Miners as the automatic bid from the new look C-USA lineup. However, after an off-season of ups and downs filled with transfers, coaching changes, players not qualifying, and even a key part not keeping his commitment, the Miners have lots of questions heading into the season.
FLOYD ON OFF-SEASON:
"Its very fair to talk about who is not here. There was so much coverage of this class which was ranked top 10 in the country, its unfortunate. Three guys that were projected starters in our coaches mind aren't here. By all accounts Jacob Thomas and Isaac Hamilton were projected starters in the back court. We lost our starting back court so that's the biggest void we have to fill. I think we were all excited about what could have been."
What is known is that Miners do have a solid and proven returning core in Julian Washburn, McKenzie Moore, John Bohannon, Cedrick Lang, and C.J. Cooper, who all bring lots of experience and leadership.
While Floyd and the players were silent about the starting lineup and rotation, McKenzie Moore should and will see a lot of time at the point, mixed in with Cooper.
Moore looks chiseled and already in game shape, limiting turnovers and mental mistakes will be the key for him as the Miners point.
He really makes the Miners better as the point, his passing looks drastically improved and sharp, match that with his play making and scoring abilities and you have something really special
Cooper is better suited as a scoring guard. With that I think he should be the starting 2 guard as his shot really came on towards the end of last season and that confidence will carry over into what should be a breakout year from the Miners junior guard.
Moore, Cooper, and fellow junior Julian Washburn will likely be your starting backcourt. Washburn, who is an elite NBA level defender, will need to improve consistency in his mid-range jumper, along with that beautiful turnaround jumper, and will need to become more aggressive driving the lane and finishing at the rim if the Miners want to go dancing.
The biggest weakness for this Miner squad is the guards coming off the bench. Floyd brought in senior Justin Crosgile from Eastern Washington to either start or play significant minutes at the point guard spot, but his eligibility with the NCAA is still in question.
Crosgile's situation has been a hot topic of discussion nationally, as the 5th year senior is appealing to the NCAA so he can play right away and not have to sit this season.
Floyd did say the appeal process has begun but does not know when a decision will be made. That explains why the Miners open the season with 16 guys.
Down low the Miners return Bohannon and Lang who will figure to be the starters, along with the improved and more athletic Hooper Vint and super freshman Vince Hunter. This group could be the best front court in the C-USA before its said and done this season.
SENIOR JOHN BOHANNON:
"The expectations are as always, you know UTEP Basketball. We are trying to take to it one day at a time and get better every day but I think all ya'll know what the expectations are up here. Obviously we haven't had the best results so I'm just trying to get better and hopefully I can become the best leader I can be this year."
Bohannon has huge expectations heading into his senior year after being one the Miners leading scorers the past two seasons. How well he plays will dictate how the Miners win games. After a rough start last year he really came on and became a leader and I expect him to have a chip on his shoulder this year.
The one guy who will be a difference maker on this team, not only this year but for years to come is Vince Hunter. Yes folks the hype is true, the kid is a player. While its hard to gauge where his role will come either off the bench or as a starter, the 6-8 beast from Detroit should lead the Miners in rebounds and poster dunks.
FLOYD ON HUNTER:
"He's our best athlete, he has a great motor, and he is an instinctive rebounder those three things we do know. Now whether or not he can make a pass, or shot against pressure defense, whether he can think and execute what we are trying to do in terms of our actions and our offense we don't know those things. I know one thing when I look up here and watch him play a little pick up ball I like what I see, I'm glad he his here."
7-1 center Matt Wilms who red-shirted last season and was expected to contribute in the paint as well suffered a shoulder injury and is considering surgery.
The coaches are letting him practice so his status is in question and a decision will be made at some point whether he plays this year or not. That adds another disappointment for the program, as the kid has worked hard and has done everything he we was supposed to do and asked to do, but its just out of his control at the moment.
This year's team will also feature 3 El Pasoans; Tyler Tafoya (El Pash High), Tevin Caldwell (Burges), and Darnell Vandivort (Franklin). Not much is known outside Tafoya but Tevin Caldwell looked good in the first practice showing great athleticism, hustle, as he drew constant praise from assistant coach Phil Johnson during a rebounding drill.
The Miners will make their public debut coming up on Oct. 26 in their annual orange and white scrimmage which should answer the questions of who will fill the holes left by what could have been for the Miners.
The excitement and anticipation is building as Floyd enters this season with high expectations and a very favorable home heavy schedule, possibly adjusted in the wake of the crazy, to say the least, off-season which is finally over.
Stayed tuned to MinerRush for more on the UTEP mens basketball team as well as everything UTEP athletics.