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UTEP Basketball: Miners open 2016-17 season with first practice

New faces, returning producers, along with some new defensive hope highlighted UTEP’s first practice of the 2016-17 basketball season.

“My guess is we should be very good in the backcourt.” Tim Floyd said. “And it’s a great place to start in college basketball with Dominic and Omega. These guys have played a lot of basketball. They really understand what we’re trying to do.”

With Matt Willms back healthy, Floyd feels he’s the reason UTEP’s defense will be improved along with freshman Kelvin Jones.

“We’ve got the potential to be a much better interior defensive team, a team that can protect the paint with Matt at 7-1 and Kelvin at 6-11.” Floyd said. “We’ve got the potential to be a better rebounding team than we were a year ago.”

Floyd continued to give Willms high praise, but was weary about his early prospects for this season due to some conditioning he needs to catch up on.

“Matt is a guy who, in my opinion, could be the best big guy in our league if he’s healthy.” Floyd said. “He has not been able to have any activity at all on his foot. Last Thursday he got to play in his first pickup game. I’m not in very good shape, and I’m in better shape than Matt Willms right now. He has not been able to run at all, put any pressure on that foot at all. All he has been able to do is some halfcourt drills, trying to catch the ball in the low post and try to remember some of his low post moves. I don’t think this first semester we can expect great things. We’re hopeful that he’ll play himself into shape with practice and he’s going to be able to endure what are going to be very taxing practices.”

While Floyd feels UTEP will be better defensively, looking to replace scorers like Earvin Morris, and Lee Moore seems like a concern despite some solid shooters returning.

“Now where the points are going to come from, I’m not sure.” Floyd said. “We lost some scoring. But I think we have guys that can shoot. We’re going to have to be clever at times in terms of where we are getting guys shots. But being picked sixth in the league, hopefully the people are wrong about that.”

Floyd has some confidence in the six returners who all saw significant minutes last season, along with the core four returners.

“We’ve got four guys that have played quite a bit for us in Matt Willms, Terry Winn, Dominic Artis and Omega [Harris]. It gives you a core.” Floyd said. “There are other guys like Jake Flaggert, who haven’t started, that might have an opportunity. Trey Touchet has been around for a while. They give us six veteran-type players. Paul Thomas got minutes a year ago, that’s seven guys. You’re always going to have some newcomers that you hope are going to be able to provide help. I don’t know who those guys will be. That’s going to be determined over the next four or five weeks that we play.”

There was a new face on the floor in JUCO transfer Brian Long who transferred from McLennan College but is ineligible to play this season, but will practice with the team all season.

Here are some quotes from Matt Willms, and Dominic Artis.

Willms on returning from injury

“Coming off an injury last year that was pretty devastating, there have been many players with my foot injury that haven’t been able to play again. As of right now I’m very grateful that it’s held up. Hopefully I can help out this team at a position we didn’t have last season. I’m really excited to be back.”

On his personal goals for the season

“I’m not worried about how I really play. I just hope as a team we can get a lot better. Last year, we weren’t very good on defense so I’m hoping to help in that area. If the points, rebounds or blocks come, that will make me happy.”

Willms talked about the Miners lack of size this year, and how UTEP will look size-wise this season

“The one play that I remember clear as day was when we played Marshall and they had that easy layup right to the lane to finish off the game in the conference tournament. I just look at that and it was lack of size. The guys still performed their hardest last season. I’m not going to take that away from them. But I feel with more height this season, it’s going to be a lot harder for teams to get into the lane.”

Dominic Artis

On being the leader of this squad

“Just being the point guard, I’m going to have to be a leader. Just being here last year, I kind of know what coach wants and I’m trying to implement that for the younger guys.”

Artis knows he has to score a little more, but wants to score more efficiently

“I feel like I can score a lot more within the confines of what the coaches want. I need to limit my shots but shoot a higher percentage.”