To some people, Oct. 12 was a meaningless early college basketball exhibition game. After all, Texas Tech went all the way to the National Championship game last year, while UTEP won just eight games all last season.
However, Chris Beard and Rodney Terry had other ideas. Both head coaches treated the charity game with the kind of intensity you would expect from a key regular season showdown. The 4,604 fans who attended the exhibition at the Don Haskins Center got their first look at an all-new Miners lineup that has been hyped for nearly the last year.
UTEP won the game 70-60, giving hope to a loyal college basketball fan base. All of the proceeds from the contest were donated to the GECU Foundation in support of victims in the Aug. 3 mass shooting. Unlike past teams that failed to deliver on the preseason attention, this group seems to be different.
Terry has built a team that features six experienced Division 1 transfers and a collection of high-end young talent who all played valuable minutes as freshmen last season. Nearly everyone on the roster had an opportunity to practice together all of last season, making the transition a much smoother one for this Miners team.
The end result is arguably the deepest and most talented roster that UTEP fans have seen in years. Their latest addition, graduate transfer Daryl Edwards played last season at LSU and he could be one of the most valuable pieces to the puzzle.
Against Texas Tech, Edwards came off the bench to score a game high 23 points including six 3-point baskets. The addition of a reliable long-range shooter is something that has been on every UTEP fan’s wish list. Former Fresno State star Bryson Williams scored 18 points and grabbed nine rebounds against Texas Tech before he fouled out late in the game. Edwards and Williams grew up together in Fresno, and they have reunited in El Paso as Miners.
Ten UTEP players saw playing time, but only six scored in the game. However, the Miners’ defensive intensity was evident all night long as they limited the Red Raiders to just 31% shooting after 40 minutes of basketball.
For a program that has always prided itself on defense, UTEP seems poised to return to its roots under Terry. His depth at every position gives him fresh legs that he can utilize to shut down most of his opposition.
The most ringing endorsement of the new-look UTEP roster came from the opposing head coach.
“When I grew up, UTEP was the basketball school in the state of Texas, and I think that’s going to return sooner than later,” Beard said after the game.
“You’ve got a great coach. I have a lot of respect for Rodney and competed against him in basketball and in recruiting and he’s a Texas guy. I know this job means a lot to him and I know these fans will continue to rally around him.
“Last year, he obviously had a plan, in building this team and investing scholarships to sit out guys. This will be one of the best teams in (C-USA) this year. You can remember that I said that.”
Since 1997, Steve Kaplowitz has hosted “Sportstalk” from 4 to 7 p.m. weekdays on 600 ESPN El Paso. You can email him at email@example.com.