Without Isaac Hamilton, What Will UTEP Basketball Team Look Like?
Since news broke on Saturday that UTEP star recruit Isaac Hamilton is seeking a release from his Letter of Intent to play closer to home, many Miner fans are wondering what kind of an effect this will have on the team. From the instant reaction on Twitter, the rest of the UTEP basketball team seems comfortable with Hamilton's decision. Senior John Bohanon tweeted Hamilton to call him if he wanted to talk about it. Other players on the team have also reached out to him. It made me wonder what the Miners will look like on paper without their McDonald's All American.
Point Guard: UTEP will more than likely use a rotation of 6-6 junior McKenzie Moore and 6-0 junior C.J. Cooper to handle the backcourt duties. UTEP also has 5-11 freshman Josh Brown, but I don't know how many minutes he will be able to steal from Moore and Cooper. The Miners are solid at point guard and Cooper was one of the team's most improved players at the end of the season. If he can deliver a consistent perimeter game to his offensive arsenal, UTEP will have a big weapon to utilize.
Shooting Guard: This is where the potential loss of Hamilton could really sting. He was penciled in at starter immediately and without him, the Miners will need to rotate Moore, junior Jalen Ragland, junior Julyan Washburn, and freshman Jake Flaggert. I actually like the flexibility that the Miners will have at the 2-spot without Hamilton and believe players like Ragland and Flaggert will benefit most. Ragland was rumored to be redshirted, but Hamilton's pending departure could change that. Senior Tyler Tafoya, a local fan favorite will receive limited minutes.
Small Forward: Washburn has shown the ability to dominate a game and just needs consistency. He struggled to find his offensive game for the first few months of last season, but had a torrid stretch late in conference play. Newcomer 6-7 Vince Hunter has a chance to be the next great UTEP player, and he might not have a long transition to the D1 game. Ragland and Flaggert could also see minutes at the 3-spot for the Miners.
Power Forward: Cedrick Lang might lack the talent of other power forwards, but he never gets outworked. The 6-9 junior has logged plenty of minutes for the Miners, and Lang gets the most out of his ability. Senior John Bohannon and 7-1 freshman Matt Willms could also rotate at power forward for Coach Floyd. They both possess athleticism and a perimeter game to give the Miners some extra flexibility at the 4.
Center: Bohannon and Lang will lay much of the center position for UTEP, with an occasional appearance from 6-11 sophomore Hooper Vint. My biggest concern with UTEP's big men is the lack of a physical presence in the paint. Lang is the team's most physical player, but at 6-9 he will not be able to put a body on some of the league's top big men. The Miners have the size to play with anybody, but will they be able to avoid getting outrebounded on a night by night basis?
Final Thoughts: although the news of Hamilton's request is a blow to the team, the Miners still have plenty of talent to win 20-plus games and return to the postseason. They need to find some reliable shooters, improve their rebounding, and play better away from the Don Haskins Center. UTEP also hosts the C-USA Tournament next March, and that is a huge home-court advantage for the Miners. One final note: Kevin Scarbinsky from the Birmingham News wrote a tremendous piece 18 months ago on Letters of Intent and college athletes. It is a must read for anyone following the Hamilton story.