Five Observations from the UTEP Orange and White Scrimmage
I spent part of my Saturday afternoon at the Don Haskins Center watching the annual Orange and White scrimmage. It was the first time the UTEP men's basketball team had the opportunity to play under the lights at the DHC and this year's team features seven new faces. The Orange team defeated the White team 70-61 in front of about 1,000 fans at the Don. Here are five observations following the game:
1. Omega Harris looks better than ever. The junior guard exploded for 34 points on 12-17 shots, but it was his 3-point shooting that impressed me the most. Harris drilled 8-11 shots from downtown in 35 minutes of action. As long as Omega stays on the court, the Miners will have a chance to stay in most games this season.
2. Paul Thomas suddenly has an offensive game. This was perhaps the biggest surprise takeaway from the scrimmage. The sophomore forward looked more confident than he did as a freshman, and his 16 points and 10 rebounds could be a sign of things to come.
3. The Miners' low post game will be a key. I was happy that junior center Matt Willms was able to play 28 minutes in the scrimmage. The better news was that he did not get hurt. Willms scored 14 points and grabbed four boards, but he is still nowhere near game shape. His offensive moves in the paint seemed to be in slow motion at times, but he will only get better as he works himself back into form. Freshman Kelvin Jones has a body that does not need extra time in the weight room. He will be a force on defense for the Miners, but do not expect many points early on.
4. The youngsters need time to develop. Like many UTEP fans, I was hopeful that one of the newcomers would look to be advanced enough to contribute immediately. That did not seem to be the case on Saturday. Tim Cameron, Deon Barrett, and Adrian Moore all have potential, but the three freshman all looked like a work in progress.
5. Thomas played in the game wearing number 22. If that sounds strange, it should. He is the first UTEP player in nearly 30 years to wear that number. That's because UTEP great Hernell "Jeep" Jackson also wore #22 for four years when he starred as the Miners popular point guard. Just a month before the 1987 NBA Draft, Jackson was playing in a benefit pick up basketball game at Fort Bliss when he suddenly collapsed and died. Jeep was buried in his uniform and then UTEP head coach Don Haskins (who wanted Jeep's #22 retired) had said no Miner would ever wear his jersey number again. Apparently, that quote from The Bear was either forgotten or some other special arrangement was made to give Thomas #22 this season. As someone who attended every UTEP basketball game in the 1980s, I'm not happy at all that Jackson's number has been reissued.