Three Down, More to Come: UTEP Men’s Basketball Recruiting Radar
The Tim Floyd era satisfied itself by recruiting the average overlooked prospect and pitched to top prospects across the nation to join a storied program like UTEP. But for a program that has not won an NCAA Tournament game since 1992, it was a challenge to convince recruits to come out to a West Texas city, which was more than likely far away from their hometown and family. Some, like Omega Harris and Vince Hunter, were highly sought out prospects out of high school that came to the program and excelled. While others, like top Southern California prospect Isaac Hamilton, Chris Sandifer, a four-star recruit and guard Shaquille Carr, never stepped foot on campus for multiple reasons.
Then came the growing turnover rate over the Floyd era, which saw players like Hunter, Terry Winn, Arnett Moultrie, Michael Perez, D’Von Campbell, Darius Nelson, Marqywell Jackson, Malcolm Moore, Twymond Howard, Chris Washburn, Brodricks Jones, Josh McSwiggan, Lee Moore, Kelvin Jones, Deon Barrett, Tim Cameron, among others, to either transfer out or leave the program with eligibility still left in their respective college careers.
Some blamed his old-school grit of coaching, while others simply said that it was the new culture of college basketball to find the next best thing. Whatever it was, it deeply upset the fans surrounding the program. After his sudden retirement in December from the team, the men’s basketball program waited nearly four months to name a successor to Floyd.
The keys were handed to Rodney Terry, a Texas-bred coach who had previously spent seven seasons with Fresno State, compiling a 126-108 overall record as a head coach. He was given an improbable task to fill the holes on the team quickly with nine scholarships, and also wanted to retain current players on the roster.
In under a month, Trey Touchet left as a graduate transfer to McNeese State and freshmen Trey Wade and Tirus Smith announced they would transfer from the program—all claimed personal reasons to leaving.
But as three chose to leave the program, Terry brought three newcomers on. Power forward Efe Odigie, shooting guard Nigel Hawkins and small forward Deon Stroud announced they would all sign their National Letter of Intent and play at UTEP. They are all three star recruits and were all catches for the class of 2018. UTEP also hosted top Texas guard Isaac Likekele two weeks ago, and is set to host Kaosi Ezeagu this weekend.
Odigie is a powerful, hefty big man at 6-foot-9, 275 pounds, with spurts of Derrick Caracter-like similarities.He followed Terry to UTEP, as he was recruited heavily by the coaching staff to Fresno State.
After winning a state title with Cypress Falls-Houston, shooting guard Nigel Hawkins will bring his talents to El Paso and join the Miners this season. He’s ranked in the top-25 of all Texas guards and will be a lot of help for the Miners in terms of shot creation and speed.
Deon Stroud will reclassify and graduate early from 2019 to 2018, and join the Miners’ 2018 recruiting class. He’s a 6-foot-3, 175 pound small forward that shows mature athleticism and plays well in transition.
Isaac Likekele told 24/7 Sports that he’s narrowed down his top three schools to Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and UTEP. This weekend, Likekele will visit Oklahoma State, and sources say he will make his announcement after he’s done with his visits. UTEP was early to give Kaosi Ezeagu (Cay-See Azee-agu) some attention, with teams like Butler and USC showing interest in the big man. He’s a 6-foot-11, 230-pound center that played in Canada this past season, a Bahamas native, and is an instant starter for this UTEP squad. He's coming off a monstrous Canadian all-star outing, as he finished with 27 points and seven boards.
Bottom line is Terry and his staff reached out to some big names, and they’re not done yet. Three signees means the program still has six scholarships available, with probably one or two being saved for next season. Even if Terry doesn’t land guys like Likekele or Kaosi, there hasn’t been a first-year head coach with this much success in his first season recruiting from UTEP like this.