The UTEP men's basketball season is right around the corner and, although there is a ton of uncertainty around the team, third-year head coach Rodney Terry met the media on Tuesday to help provide some insight on the upcoming season.

Though the team was able to recruit some notable players, solidifying a schedule has been one of the biggest challenges for this coaching staff. On Tuesday, the team released their full 2020-21 schedule, which Terry describes as a "work in progress," suggesting the Miners might continue to add more opponents to their schedule.

Both Terry and redshirt senior Bryson Williams had extensive talks with the media on Tuesday. Here are some of the highlights:


 

Head Coach: Rodney Terry (10th Season Coaching)

Head Coaching Record: 151-144

UTEP Record: 25-36 (3rd Season)

On starting the year amid challenges with scheduling 

"We're excited to start the season. Our guys have worked close to seventeen weeks and it's probably the longest stretch for a large number of our guys without playing a game. Last year we started October 12th. It's been probably the longest stretch that I've been a part of without having competition. We had a pretty competitive schedule initially back in June and I thought it was going to be one that was going to be really challenging for us but COVID hit and just like everyone, we had to reset the dial a little bit. When you're putting together a schedule—all of us—in September, that's really challenging. Especially in terms of what we're up against with COVID. It's been extremely difficult with recruiting and schedule making the two most tedious things you have to do when you run a program."

On the likelihood of scheduling more games

"At this point right now, we talked to just about everyone. The things that there are a lot of intangible factors that affect our schedule as well with the COVID. We had a spike here. That's made it more challenging in trying to get people here and play here. For whatever reason, that's made it tough. Obviously, we know we are practicing the safe protocols, our city's doing a great job in trying to practice the safest protocols as well, so we feel that there is a sense of safety because we're here. We can't control some of the things that's put out there."

Photo Credit: Ruben R. Ramirez

Thoughts on C-USA back-to-back scheduling for this season

"I think it's smart for us if we're going to get a season. I think it's something that we have to do for the safety of our program moving forward. The biggest challenge for college basketball is we move around a lot more, especially in non-conference, than football. We're playing one game a week, sometimes two games a week and we travel to a lot of different places. You run the risk of exposure in that regard as well. It's made it challenging.

"For us to have a chance to get games in, I think it was a smart thing for them to do to have back to back ball games."

What have been the challenges in scheduling teams to come to El Paso with the rising cases of COVID-19?

"There's not one guy out there that feels comfortable with their schedule right now. There are a lot of factors. One, you had to start all over again in terms of who you're going to play. For us, we still had built-in rivalries that were uncertain in terms of what their status was going to be and what they were going to be able to do. We had a built-in tournament that was a lot of uncertainty. So for us, we had a lot to juggle and stuff to play by ear on what we could and couldn't do. And still try to schedule quality opponents. Then it went to a factor of now [El Paso] has a spike, now the people have the perception that they don't want to come play here. Sometimes it's really out of the coaches control.

"Sometimes it's the administration who says 'hey, we're not going to that city and we're not going to play there.' So it's made it really challenging. It's a never-ending cycle. One day you think you're done, the next you're back at ground zero again because maybe the president has said 'under no circumstances can you go to El Paso.' So you're back at square zero again."

What are the chances to get the rivalry games (NMSU & UNM) on the schedule this year as a late addition? 

"It's been really hard. We've been in conversations with those guys and it's been really challenging for them. Again, a lot of it is out of their control. The governor in their state is a lot different than the governor in our state. They are on major restrictions on what they can and can't do. It's really difficult to put a schedule together when you don't know where you're going to be. It's been up in the air. I talked to Paul [Weir, head coach of New Mexico] and he said 'if I had an answer, I would give you one.' They're in a difficult situation right now because so much of it is out of their control."

Is playing a home game away from the Haskins Center—similar to what football did by scheduling a game in Midland—a possibility this year? 

"I don't know. We don't have a crystal ball to January and February to see what the COVID situation is like at that point. I'm not really sure. That would be a conference call, an administration call, it won't be our call. Like to think that we are going to be able to stay here and play here in our own confines and have our home court here as well."

On C-USA All-Conference redshirt senior Bryson Williams: 

"Bryson is one of those guys that has been a lead-by-example type of guy. There are times where I challenge him to be a leader. I've allowed him to being that guy. You have to lean on someone else to be that vocal leader. He works hard and is the hardest working guy in our program since he got here."

On the health and safety measures the team takes to try and avoid the virus: 

"It's never changed since day one. Our first zoom call with our team was about how important it was to be the most disciplined team. We have to be disciplined as a program. I give our guys a big kudos. We haven't had one positive. We've done a really great job in trying to stay within our bubble that we've tried to create. Our administration has done a great job with the testing piece. We have as good a testing process as anybody in the country."

How do you plan to recruit knowing that the players will have an option to return next year per the extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA?

"I don't think that's a bad thing. I think you always have to have contingency plans in recruiting. When you look at basketball and there were a lot of guys that weren't allowed to play in the NCAA Tournament. I think it was really deserving of these guys to have an extra year of eligibility. As you approach that, I emphasize to the guys to embrace with what they have right now. We still have guys that have experience, we have guys that are trying to gain valuable experience and I think a lot of times the best teams are when you have continuity with your team. When you're able to have a team for two to three years when you have guys that are really familiar with each other.

"I think it was positive for the student-athletes to get another year. In terms of recruiting, we will continue to recruit no matter what, it never stops. You have to recruit all positions at all times."

Photo Credit: Ruben R. Ramirez

Who is someone that has been putting in the work all summer that has taken a step forward over the offseason? 

"I think Tydus [Verhoeven] has really improved for us. We challenged him to be more offensive-minded. He's a guy that can do more in terms of the scoring piece. He has the mentality that if he gets the ball, he's going to be more aggressive to want to try and score this year. I think Keonte is a really young player for us and can be an x-factor. He's a redshirt sophomore but hasn't really played extended minutes at this level. As he continues to gain some experience, I think he will help our team."

Overall thoughts on this year 

"I like this group. I think they have a good opportunity to be a high IQ group. Like a lot of teams, I think our offense is further along than our defense. Our defense has improved in the halfcourt and in transition. I think you'll see a team that has a chance to be the most skilled team since we've been here."


Bryson Williams - Redshirt Senior Forward

C-USA First Team All-Conference: 17.9 ppg/7.2 rebounds per game (2019-20)

How do you begin to evaluate what you'll be doing after this year—stay for another year with the added eligibility or pursue pro-ball aspirations? 

"I haven't really been thinking about that too much. I heard the eligibility being granted to the players and I think that's a good thing they're doing for players, especially with the situation at hand. I haven't really thought about that. I've been locked in on this season at hand and winning games that are scheduled in front of us."

With such a talented league in C-USA, how do you feel UTEP stacks up against the competition?

"There's a lot of talented teams. A lot of the teams we played last year have full rosters coming back with additions. It's going to be a really talented team but I like where our team stands. How we've been in practice and the energy; the focus on defense and the chemistry. Just the blue collar mentality to work hard and get better in areas where we need to. I really like our chances."

Photo Credit: Ruben R. Ramirez

On the newcomers:

"I feel like they meshed right in. Jamal [Bienemy], him coming from Oklahoma, he's a really talented player, a really good point guard. [Adam] Hess can shoot the lights out. Big Kristian [Sjolund] can shoot the lights out too. The young freshmen are coming too. They're getting better every day. Emmanuel [White] is coming along really well too. They're all coming along really nicely."

On playing Arizona & St. Mary's in non-conference:

"Those are two very talented teams [Arizona and St. Mary's]. I actually played St. Mary's my first year at Fresno State. I never had a chance to play Arizona but it's a Pac-12 school so that will be a highly touted game. We're excited to play those guys. We had basketball taken away from us for five months so we're ready to see anybody at this point.

On what he worked on during the offseason:

"The majority of what I worked on was my defense, my ball-handling and passing. On the defensive end, being a better defender and getting more rebounds. That's a big goal for me is to get more rebounds this year."

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