Bracket Analysis of the 64-Man All-Time UTEP Players Part 2
Memorial Gym Region
MVP - Omar Thomas (2003-05)
Despite coming into his region as a 3-seed, Thomas was arguably UTEP's best ever undersized pure scorer. Don Haskins would marvel at how OT was able to get to the basket and always make finishing around the rim look easy. After winning the JUCO player of the year award at Panola Junior College, Thomas became an instant scoring machine for the Miners. As a junior, he came off the bench (started just 8 of 32 games) to average 15.5 points for Billy Gillespie and then 20.5 points as a senior for Doc Sadler. He played forward and dominated inside despite his listed height of 6-feet, 5-inches. If Thomas was a few inches taller, he would have had a long and productive NBA career. Instead he traveled overseas and dominated in Italy, Serbia, and Russia over 12 seasons. In January of 2016, he was honored at halftime of a UTEP men's basketball game and his #33 jersey was raised to the rafters at the Don Haskins Center.
Biggest Sleeper - Fili Rivera (2003-05)
Many people consider Rivera and not Thomas, the main reason why the Miners advanced to a pair of NCAA Tournaments. Originally recruited by Sergio Rouco, the native of Puerto Rico arrived in El Paso as one of the nation's top junior college performers. He made a smooth transition to Division 1 at UTEP and took over the point guard spot for head coach Billy Gillispie. Rivera was one of those rare players who could score at will but also distribute the ball. He was also extremely popular with the Miner fanbase and still revered today. Rivera and Thomas arguably were the best 1-2 punch to ever play at UTEP.
Best overall basketball career - Greg Foster
After starting out at UCLA and moving to UTEP for his junior season, Foster was part of a nucleus that included players like Tim Hardaway, Antonio Davis, Marlon Maxey, and Prince Stewart. Originally selected in the second round of the 1990 NBA Draft by the Washington Bullets, Foster played a total of 13 seasons in the NBA for nine different teams. He was a teammate of Michael Jordan in Chicago, Karl Malone and John Stockton in Utah, and Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neill in Los Angeles. Foster won his only NBA title with the Lakers in 2001 and he retired two seasons later after playing with his former UTEP teammate Antonio Davis while with the Toronto Raptors.
Did you know? Stefon Jackson is UTEP's current all time leading scorer
From 2005-09, Jackson carved out his legacy with the Miners and as a sophomore, he averaged nearly 20 points per game. Some fans wondered if "DJ" (nicknamed for Draining Jumpers) would stay at UTEP after Jason Williams broke his jaw during a fight in practice during his freshman season. Williams, a senior on the team, was suspended as a result of the punch to Jackson, but the two put the incident behind them as the Miners went to the NCAA Tournament for the second straight season under head coach Doc Sadler. Last May, Jackson was announced as a member of the UTEP Athletics Hall of Fame.
Remember when? Ralph Davis Shoots at the end of Kansas Game (Mar. 22, 1992)
When the Miners upset top seed Kansas 66-60 to advance to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament, Davis was third on the team with 12 points. His final basket was a baseline jump shot with 2.5 seconds left to give UTEP the six point win. Jon Teicher's classic call of that game is on YouTube and when Prince Stewart passed the ball to the Chicago native with time winding down, the longtime voice of the Miners could not believe that he did not run the clock out. "Now the front court pass to Rivera, Davis with it, Davis shoots, Why? And he hits it. The Miners Win!"
Overrated? John Tofi (2002-06)
John Tofi had terrific freshman and senior seasons for the Miners. His sophomore and junior seasons did not match up the way many Miner fans thought they would. Nonetheless, Tofi was still part of teams that made two trips to the Big Dance and a career that saw him join the 1,000-point club. A 10-seed could be considered too generous and it will be interesting to see if he can get by Johnny Smooth Melvin in the opening round of fan voting.
Just missed it - Willie Brown (1961-63)
Willie Brown had a pair of nice seasons for Texas Western when Don Haskins arrived as new head coach of the Miners. He averaged more than 15 points per game as a junior but that total dipped to 11 points per game as a senior when Jim "Bad News" Barnes arrived on campus. He was part of the Miners' first ever NCAA Tournament team along with Nolan Richardson.
Best highlight - David Lattin (1966)
When you go back in time to the 1966 National Championship Game against Kentucky, the Lattin slams set the tone for the kind of game the Miners would play that night. Coach Haskins ordered the Houston native to slam the basketball home as an early statement and Lattin obliged over Pat Riley. TWC fans saw plenty of dunks from Big Daddy that season, but none were more important than the ones he delivered on March 19, 1966.
The Bear Region
MVP - Tim Hardaway (1985-89)
If there is one position that Texas Western and UTEP has hit the jackpot on over the last 60 years, it is point guard. When Tim Hardaway arrived from Chicago in 1985, Jeep Jackson was developing into the team leader at the point. Two years later, Hardaway assumed the mantle from Jeep, who had tragically passed away during a charity basketball game following his senior season in the summer of 1987. Hardaway's killer crossover or the "UTEP 2 Step" was patented while playing for Coach Haskins. He also was a part of Miner teams that went to the NCAA Tournament every season he played in El Paso, including wins over Arizona in 1987 and LSU in 1989.
Biggest Sleeper - Antonio Davis (1986-90)
Averaging just 1.3 points per game as a freshman, the bay area native was considered a project. That was the type of basketball player Don Haskins loved to coach. By the end of his time at UTEP, Davis was a scoring and rebounding threat. It was not until he played pro ball in Europe that he refined his skills for the NBA. He played for the Indiana Pacers, Toronto Raptors, Chicago Bulls, and New York Knicks from 1993-2006. Always a soft spoken man off the court, Davis returned to El Paso in 2012 to have his number retired.
Best career - Tim Hardaway
As a rookie in Golden State, UTEP fans knew that Hardaway would be special. He helped formed the trio of Run TMC with Mitch Richmond and Chris Mullin. Later he moved to Miami and teamed up with Alonzo Mourning. He played a total of 14 seasons in the NBA. The list of Hardaway's accomplishments include NBA All Rookie first team, five All Star games, a gold medal in the 2000 Sydney games, and his number 10 retired by the Heat. He has also been a finalist multiple times for the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
Did you know? Jim Forbes played on the 1972 US Olympic Team
Under head coach Henry Iba and assistant Don Haskins, Jim Forbes was a member of the 1972 US Olympic men's basketball team. That squad also featured Doug Collins, Bobby Jones, and Tom McMillen. Team USA played the Soviet Union in the gold medal game and lost in controversial fashion by a score of 51-50. That loss marked the first time since 1936 that Team USA did not win the gold medal. The silver medals are still locked up in a vault in Switzerland, while Forbes and the rest of the team refused to accept the silver medals.
Rember when? Chris Sandle blocked Arizona's Anthony Cook in the 1st round of the 1987 NCAA tournament
Chris Sandle was a big part of the UTEP great teams over the late 1980s and his block during the 1987 NCAA Tournament set a tone in the ballgame. The reaction from Arizona head coach Lute Olson after the block, should put a smile on the face of every UTEP fan.
Overrated? Orsten Artis (1964-66)
It seems sacrilegious that any member of the 1966 team could be considered overrated. Especially Artis, since he scored 939 points in three seasons with the Miners. He never averaged more than 12.6 points per game and his four-seed could be deemed too generous. He was third in scoring behind Bobby Joe Hill and David Lattin during the 1965-66 season but he did lead the team in scoring as a junior.
Just missed it - Mark Ingles (1994-96)
Mark Ingles spent two seasons with the Miners and he developed a reputation for being one of the best outside shooters that played for Don Haskins. As a junior he shot 43% from 3-point range and he improved that total to 45% as a senior. During his junior season, UTEP beat Montana in the first round of the NIT in 1995 before losing in overtime to NMSU in the second round at the DHC. As a senior, his 15.9 points per game average was second to Kimani Jones Young. Unfortunately for Ingles, he played during the probation years for the Miners and UTEP went just 13-15 in 1995-96.
Best highlight - Hardaway's Killer Crossover
Hardaway's crossover or the UTEP 2 Step is all over YouTube and is still being duplicated by many of today's biggest basketball stars. The compilation below is some of the best footage from his NBA career.