Last season things around the UTEP men's basketball program felt a bit different than years past. Most of that could be attributed to its youth. In 2011, the Miners had 8 incoming freshman to start the season, and only one senior. The good thing was, it was clear that the lone senior, Gabriel McCulley, would be the hands down leader of the team.
But, with McCulley now graduated, and one of the most experienced players in Michael Perez transferring, the UTEP basketball team for 2012 will have to find its leaders elsewhere. I'd expect junior C John Bohannon and senior PG Jacques Streeter to be a couple of those leaders on and off the court, but I'd really expect sophomore Julian Washburn to take the reigns of this team.
Washburn was one of those freshmen in 2011, but he had an advantage that others didn't. That was, a extra year prior to last. After graduating high school in 2010, the 6'7 G/F made his way onto the UTEP campus and was able to learn the ropes from the likes of Randy Culpepper, Julyan Stone, Christian Polk, and others.
As a prep, Julian was a big time prospect. He was rated as the no. 24 SF in the country and overall top 150 player by Rivals, and was considered the no. 6 prospect in the state of Texas by Texashoops.com. He was recruited, and offered by the likes of Arizona, Baylor, Kansas, Texas, and Texas A&M just to name a few.
At Ducanville, his team was rated as one of the best in Texas, and even the nation. He played alongside guys like Perry Jones and Roger Franklin, and was a big time contributor. He was one of the leaders on a very good team.
Now, in his third year in El Paso, its time for Julian to assume that leadership role once again. In his one season last year, it was clear that the kid has all the talent in the world. From high flying dunks to shut down defense, Washburn showed he has the ability to lead this team, and now its time for him to really take hold of that idea.
In the media day on Monday, Julian talked about stepping into a new role as a leader for the Miners. Here's what he had to say:
"I'm really going to have to step up because you know, we lost [Gabriel McCulley] , we lost a great scorer in Michael Perez. I'm going to have to carry the load more. I'm going to have to score more. I'm going to have to defend better players, and just encourage my teammates to just keep going. I'm going to have a big jump from my freshman year."
It's great to see that Julian understands his place on this Miner team. In order for them to be successful he will have to play a huge part, and that may be an understatement considering the road that lies ahead. As we all know, coach Tim Floyd is making an conscious effort to take the UTEP basketball program back to the prominence of decades before.
And the first step in doing that, is raising the bar on the level of competition that we play. That will undoubtedly help prepare such a young team for an extremely successful future. I had a chance to ask Julian his thoughts on what coach Floyd was doing, and here's what he told me:
"It's great. I think he's a doing a great thing, we're playing against great competition, we're bringing great opponents into the Don, and I feel El Paso should be very excited about this upcoming basketball season. I feel we're going to do a lot of great things on the court."
Now, its clear as day, that this UTEP team as a whole is as talented as any we've seen for quite some time. But, talent can only go so far. It takes a great work ethic, and even better leadership for a team to truly thrive, and succeed at the highest levels. The sooner we figure out will take control and lead this team, the sooner we'll have a chance for them to reach their ultimate potential.