It has been a long road for the UTEP men’s basketball team just to get to this point. But on Friday at 7 p.m., the Miners will finally play a game that counts – in the Don Haskins Center, no less – when they tip off the 2017-18 season against Louisiana College.
“We’re all excited, and we should be,” UTEP Coach Tim Floyd said. “It’s been a long course for us. [The players are] ready to get this thing kicked off, and we are too as coaches.”
The Miners actually had official practices back in August, prior to departing for a three-game tour in Costa Rica. Now, about two and a half months after returning to the States, they’ll look to get off to a fast start in non-conference play – something that eluded them a year ago.
“We need to get that established right off the bat, that we can play at a level good enough to win basketball games in non-conference,” Floyd said. “That’s going to take some new guys stepping up and playing well, and some of our older guys coming out and playing spirited. We’ve got a young guy in Tirus Smith, who has been limited because of foul trouble in the two exhibition games, that needs to get some minutes. We need to get a rotation semi-established, although it’s going to change because of the youth on our team from game to game and sometimes week to week.”
The Miners knocked off a pair of exhibition opponents, topping Sul Ross State 78-70 and Western New Mexico 98-50.
“I thought we made some great strides from the first exhibition game. And that will be the goal going into this game,” Floyd said. “We want to try to get better. Our guys were able to look at the film on Sunday. We were able to go through a lot of things that we need to do a little bit better.”
The Miners have high expectations after winning 13 of their last 17 games a year ago, and tying for third place in Conference USA. But with only five returning players and a host of newcomers, they’ll be looking to find themselves early in the year.
“I think our question mark going into the season is, ‘Are we going to be able to rebound the ball?’ We lost a really good rebounder in Dominic Artis a year ago,” Floyd said. “We are a little bit thinner on the inside right now, kind of like we were the second half of last year. We’re trying to get Tirus Smith into a rotation, Trey Wade into a rotation. Those guys are going to have to show us that they can. We really don’t know. We’ll be learning like our fans in that area.”
One thing the Miners have shown in their two exhibitions is that they can put points on the board, and likely at a more efficient level than a year ago.
“We think this team can score baskets,” Floyd said. “Early in the year we typically have had decent defensive clubs and not so good offensively. I think it may be a little bit flipped this year, in that we’re doing some nice things offensively and we’ve got to get our defense a little better.”
It all begins on Friday night. UTEP season tickets are on sale now by calling (915) 747-6150