UTEP Athletics officials have been notified by the NCAA that 7-1 center Matt Willms has been granted a sixth year of eligibility and will return for the 2017-18 season.
“We think this is a big deal,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “It gives Matt his first offseason in five years to actually be able to work out, lift and improve his game. This is when players get better. He has enormous potential and getting him back is huge, both for him and for us. I’d like to thank the NCAA for their thorough review of his case and for making the right decision.”
Willms has played only three full seasons (2013-14, 2014-15, 2016-17) in a career wracked by injuries. He has undergone two major surgeries, one for a torn labrum in his shoulder and another for a fracture of the nevicular bone in his foot.
Last year, coming off the foot surgery, Willms enjoyed his finest season as a Miner, averaging 11.4 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.3 blocks while leading Conference USA in field goal percentage (.591). He scored in double figures 18 times and was named Conference USA Player of the Week on Jan. 30 after averaging 26.0 points and making 24-of-31 shots (77.4 percent) on the Miners’ road trip to WKU and Marshall.
Willms will enter his senior year with career totals of 693 points, 416 rebounds and 98 blocked shots with a .571 (274-for-480) field goal percentage. He has played in 95 games and ranks ninth in school history in blocks.
NCAA rules permit players five years to play four. Willms redshirted in 2012-13, meaning he has been on campus for five years already. UTEP officials had to submit paperwork to the NCAA detailing Willms’ situation and requesting the sixth year, but nothing was a given.
“When I first found out that I may not get my eligibility back next year, it started going through my head. What if I can’t play? Where do I go from here? Do I go overseas? Would I even have an option there,” Willms said. “Once the process started, they said it’s difficult [to get the sixth year] and it put more doubt in my mind. I got a call from coach today telling me that I’ve been accepted. The first thing I thought about is the amount of talent we have next year, and being a senior and being able to lead the team. It means a lot to me to come back and wear the Miner jersey for one last season.”
Willms is already mapping out his offseason goals.
“One thing that I want to do is put on at least 15 pounds,” he said. “Another thing is to work on my foot speed, get my foot speed back, work a little more on my post moves, moves I can counter and go from there. Those are my goals, just to try to get better and once the new guys come in, give them some pointers on what to work on and what to expect.”