Yesterday, UTEP held a press conference with Coach Tim Floyd in order to announce a rekindling of an old flame with the University of Arizona. But, in a way, that press conference revealed more than just the announcement of a mere basketball game. Whether intended or not, it was a commitment to taking the Miners back to the glory days of the legendary Bear. And it was a proclamation that UTEP basketball is back on the map.
In 1977, a 23 year old Tim Floyd arrived at UTEP to be an assistant under the great Don Haskins. The Miners were just over a decade removed from their historical NCAA championship season, and had returned to the NCAA tournament only twice since then. But, they wouldn't be held down for long.
Beginning in the 1979-80 season, UTEP went on a stretch of making 3 out of 4 NIT tournament appearances. Immediately after the third, the Miners made it to 7 straight NCAA tournaments, advancing past the first round in three of those seven years. With a combination of talent, coaching, and preparation, and a commitment to excellence, UTEP made a run of nearly 15 years as a strong contender in college basketball.
Now, with a similar combination of talent, coaching, and preparation, today's Miners seem to be back on the same track as those UTEP teams of the first Tim Floyd era. The latest announcements in recruiting and scheduling are a testament to that.
But, the roots of a successful team and program, run far deeper than just talent and coaching. Its about buying into a belief system, an ideology, that says "we are that good" and "we do belong". Its that overall commitment to excellence. Multiple times yesterday, Coach Floyd made that very apparent. Concerning the program, he said:
"I've never considered [UTEP] a mid-major. I've always considered this a top 25 program. That's my history with this school. Our school was Gonzaga, 40 years before Gonzaga became Gonzaga."
When asked about the type of player we're looking for, he answered:
"Some guys might not feel like they're quite good enough to play against those kinds of people, [that's] not the kind of guy that we want....I want a guy that can play for Arizona. I want a guy that can play for Gonzaga, Florida, or Georgetown."
And when speaking on scheduling he said:
"[In order to] elevate our program, and make it relevant nationally, we have to play nationally regarded teams...We wanted to play a schedule that we thought was reflective of who our program should be nationally."
Over the last two years we've seen flashes of the Miners potential return to glory. While we haven't made it to the NCAA tournament under Floyd just yet, no one can deny that with CTF at the helm, it just feels much like it did when the Bear was roaming the sidelines.
That commitment to excellence that had been somewhat absent for a while, has been (re)introduced in every aspect of the UTEP basketball program. And that commitment, has this community buzzing with excitement about Miner basketball once again. We've seen where this program has been, and after a brief absence, we are seeing where this program is heading. Its gonna be a fun ride.
While the entire non-conference slate has not been completed, it has been confirmed that the Miners will play home games against Idaho, New Mexico State, Oral Roberts, Oregon, and UNLV, and will also take on Arizona, Colorado State, and New Mexico State on the road. In addition, the Miners will take part in the Old Spice Classic which features Clemson, Davidson, Gonzaga, Marist, Oklahoma, Vanderbilt, and West Virginia, and will also host the Sun Bowl tournament, with a field to be announced in the coming week or so.