A disappointing end to a promising season left a sour taste in the mouths of Miner fans, and it also left them asking plenty of questions about the future of the team, and perhaps more than anything the future of star forward Vince Hunter.
Throughout the season, flashes of excellence left some thinking he'd definitely be turning pro. However, with the Miners missing out on the NCAA tournament for a 5th consecutive year, and Hunter being unable to showcase his talent on the biggest of college stages, it seemed as though there was a real chance he'd be staying.
It wasn't meant to be. MinerRush broke the story late last week that Hunter would not be returning for his junior season, and would be declaring for the NBA draft. We got the chance to talk to Vince, and were able to ask him some questions regarding his decision.
"I was just following what I wanted to do, and what's one of my biggest dreams which is to play in the NBA. I feel like I have a huge opportunity this year, and I talked to my family and my circle and they're behind me 100%."
Concerning the thoughts and input of Coach Floyd and his staff:
"They just said that it was a big decision, but that it was my decision. They gave me their input, and they might not think I'm ready to go to the league right now. I took all that into consideration, and still came up with my decision, and I'm pretty comfortable with it."
Of course, most outside of Hunter's circle have had their opinions too, with perhaps the most resounding one being the he just isn't ready for the next level.
"It just gives me motivation, and a mindset to work harder. I already know I have to work on a lot of stuff. People tweet at me and tell what I have to work on, but I truly know what I have to work on, and I'm just trying to get better every day."
Whether or not Vince Hunter is ready to immediately make the jump into the NBA is still yet to be seen, but the truth is there's no denying his talent. And, as we've said many times before here at MinerRush, in this day's NBA, it isn't always about being ready right away.
Teams, more and more, are drafting and signing players based on potential, and Hunter has plenty of that. Perhaps one of the misconceptions about his decision was his understanding of that, and his chances of getting drafted.
We asked Vince his mindset about how things may play out for him come June's draft, and whether he will get drafted or have to work his way on to a team as an undrafted free agent:
"I think it can both ways, going into these workouts. I just really have to work hard, and work for what I want."
Those predraft workouts could certainly play a huge role as to whether or not he does get drafted. Most outlets currently project him to either be a late 2nd rounder or to go undrafted.
All that could change though as teams get an opportunity to work him out 1 on 1, and have a chance to see the tools and skills that he possesses. According to Vince, he currently does not have any workouts lined up, and he still has not retained an agent.
Technically, because he has not retained agent, the door remains open for him to return to UTEP, but based on the conversation that we had, that does not seem to be an option for him at this point.
Hunter has certainly had some good preparation for the next level, as he played under a group of coaches that have coached not only at this level, but at that next level as well.
"I learned that you've just got to work hard, and be able to play multiple positions, which should carry over to the league. [Coach Floyd] talks about that a lot, playing multiple positions, and just playing hard every possession."
Hunter did confirm that as of right now, he is still enrolled in classes at UTEP, and has not made a decision on whether or not to leave the school without finishing the semester. Should he do that, that could have a negative affect on the school's APR, a measure used to determine how athletes progress academically.
Concerning academics, one thing that should be cleared up is that his academic standing did not play a factor in his decision to leave. While some speculated that Hunter's grades were an issue, and eligibility could be as well, we confirmed not just with him, but with other sources that he was in fact in good standing, and was not in danger of being declared ineligible.
Regardless of that though, and whatever happens with the APR, this is a loss that will hurt a program that was already looking to reload. Gone are three seniors from a 22 win team, and now gone is that team's leading scorer and rebounder as well. Tim Floyd and his staff will have their hands full trying to replace the production lost.
In the end, while it may be a goodbye that for most came too early, we do wish Vince the best and truly hope he does succeed at the professional level. In a somewhat selfish way, his success will only help to improve the program.
Hunter did leave us with a message for Miner fans, his teammates and the city of El Paso:
"I just want to say to El Paso and my teammates, I had a great two years here. I met so many great people and families that treated me like I was family. I truly am appreciative of El Paso for treating me the way that they did. I really can call this my home city. I really love El Paso."
Make sure to stay tuned to MinerRush for coverage of all things UTEP sports. Also, make sure to Follow @sbnminerrush on Twitter and as always don't forget to like our Facebook Page. Picks Up, and Go Miners!