Entering the 2020-21 season, Eric Vila is one of two UTEP men’s basketball seniors and knows the challenges ahead for the squad.
Vila completed his first season in a UTEP uniform after transferring from Northwest Florida State College. His efforts helped the Miners win 17 games, the most in four years. However, as fellow senior Bryson Williams has mentioned, that wasn’t good enough for the program.
“I’m really not happy how last year went on a personal level, but also as a collective,” Vila said. “It was a tough year for everybody. We struggled, but I think we showed flashes of how good we could be.”
The Miners got off to an 8-1 start, defeating rivals NM State and New Mexico in the process. For Vila, he opened his UTEP career with a double-double, scoring 11 points with 11 rebounds and also dishing out six assists. He also contributed with seven points, six board and three assists during a cruising 15-point victory over the Aggies on Nov. 12, while chipping in with five points, four rebounds and three dimes in a nail-biting three-point win against the Lobos. But as the season progressed, Vila’s numbers declined, while the Miners fell into a bit of a slump midseason.
But there’s optimism in the air with key new additions to the program and a solid core make their return to the hardwood. Vila is looking to make personal improvements that will help the squad with positive strides forward.
“We want to be more consistent and do everything we thought we could, even though it’s going to be a challenge with a lot of new pieces. But I think we have a chance to be really good,” Vila said. “On a personal level, I think I struggled a lot mentally. I think I showed what I can do on the court, but at the same time, I wasn’t consistent.”
Vila went to California during the summer to work on his mental health. As much as the game of basketball is physical, the mental part is a vital element to playing the game.
“One of the things that I’ve been focusing on this summer was getting my head right,” he said. “Because I think I struggled on a personal level on the court which led me to not playing the best basketball I could. During the quarantine, I had to work on my mental health. I want to make sure my head is in the right place, and be the best player I came here to be. I put a lot of emphasis on yoga, doing walks and listening the podcasts on self-improvement.”
During quarantine, athletes all over had to make the best of their situations. For Vila, however, he was fortunate to have the proper resources.
“I was blessed that I had access to be able workout on the court,” Vila said. “I’ve been working out on a court for the last eight weeks.”
The Miners reported back to El Paso at the beginning of August as preparations for the 2020-21 season went underway. For Vila, it’s the first time in his collegiate career that he’s returning in the same uniform.
Vila played one season at Texas A&M (2016-17), following sitting out a year at Fresno State (2017-18) under then-head coach Rodney Terry. Vila then played one season at NWF State College (2018-19) after Terry took the UTEP job.
“It’s something I missed my whole college career,” Vila said. “I had three coaching staff changes. Being able to return to the same team, it’s been nice. Especially being a senior with Bryson [Williams], we have to help the young guys come in and help guide them.”
Last season’s squad was basically a new team. Many of the returnees were younger players. This season, there’s a core of veterans returning for the new campaign. Along with seniors Williams and Vila, juniors Souley Boum, Tydus Verhoeven, Efe Odigie and Gilles Dekoninck will be meshed in with another group of new players.
“I think the crucial thing is getting to know each other well and building chemistry over the next few months during training,” Vila said.
Vila and Williams have built chemistry, as the pair became good friends while at Fresno State.
“He’s a competitor,” Vila said. “He proved last year he’s on the of the best players in the league. For me playing the four position, he makes my job easier, especially working with him. He’s a big target and, of course, we love to play through him because he’s that special. But I think he’s hungry to win. He’s special and he’s got a bright future.”