Lathon Out, Hawkins Back In? Unpacking the UTEP Basketball Transfer Dilemma
The trip to Hawaii for the UTEP basketball team is quickly becoming the trip to hell.
At least that is the consensus outside the program following the news of starting point guard Jordan Lathon entering the transfer portal, one day after sophomore guard Nigel Hawkins did the same. Now, reports have come in saying Hawkins has pulled his name out of the transfer portal and will stay on the team.
Bizarre series of events, to say the least.
To make matters even more strange, Bret Bloomquist of the El Paso Times reports that freshman guard Deon Stroud could join Lathon in the transfer portal. Stroud played in seven games for UTEP where he averaged 8.3 minutes, 4.0 points and 1.3 rebounds per game. In a similar move as the other two entering the portal, this choice by Stroud could stem from a crowded and talented backcourt.
What we know
Hawkins averaged 3.8 points, led the team in steals (18 total) and was second in assists (26). He averaged 15.9 minutes off the bench in a crowded backcourt, consisting of Lathon, Daryl Edwards, Souley Boum, Kaden Archie and Anthony Tarke.
This season featured a dramatic depreciation of minutes for Hawkins. Last year, he started in all 27 games for the Miners and was third on the team in points per game (12.6). Hawkins led last year’s team and was sixth in C-USA for free throw percentage (79.5) and made free throws (97). He received a C-USA Freshman of the Week award on Jan. 14.
Simply put Lathon is—or was—this team's quarterback. As a sophomore point guard and the lone returner from last year who started every game for the Miners this year, Lathon was looked to as one of the key players on this UTEP team. He averaged nearly double-figures in scoring through the first four games. Then, he was held to six points or fewer in the eight games of December, including three scoreless outings (Arkansas Pine-Bluff, East Central and Hawaii). He scored 13 against UC Irvine and 10 points against Boise State, but the month of December saw a bit of a decline in Lathon's performance.
Still, Lathon leads the team in assists (37), averages 6.1 points and 4.4 rebounds per game and started every game this year (13-of-13). He was going to be a crucial asset to the Miners moving forward in C-USA play.
Last year, Lathon started in all 27 games played, earned C-USA Freshman of the Week twice, led the team in assists (74) and averaged 10.9 points per game. He was a four-star prospect from Grandview (Missouri) High School that attracted attention from the likes of Louisville, Virginia, Northwestern, among many other Division I programs coming out of high school.
Stroud, a Fresno, Calif. native, was one of Rodney Terry's highest-graded prospects out of high school. At Trinity International High School, Stroud was rated a 3-star prospect by ESPN, having averaged 20.5 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists per game. He received looks from Cal, Fresno State and decided to sign with the Miners.
What we don't know
What happened in the last 24 hours to warrant a Lathon transfer and a Hawkins comeback?
Lathon was the starting guard on the team and Hawkins usually came off the bench to relieve him. Statistically, both players had up-and-down performances on the four-game road/neutral stretch to Houston and the Diamond Head Classic:
- vs. Houston (L, 77-57):
- Lathon: 3 pts (1-of-6 FG), 2 reb, 2 turnovers, 1 assist - 21 minutes
- Hawkins: 9 points (3-of-8), 3 reb, 0 turnovers, 5 assists, 2 steals - 25 minutes
- vs. Hawaii (L, 67-63):
- Lathon: 0 pts (0-of-1), 6 reb, 5 turnovers, 2 assists - 27 minutes
- Hawkins: 0 points (0-of-2), 1 reb, 1 turnover, 1 steal, 1 block - 15 minutes
- vs. Ball State (W, 71-70)
- Lathon: 6 pts (3-of-8), 4 reb, 1, turnover, 0 assist - 25 minutes
- Hawkins: 2 pts (1-of-2), 2 reb, 2 turnovers, 3 assists, 1 steal - 19 minutes
- vs. Boise State (L, 72-67)
- Lathon: 10 pts (4-of-10), 4 reb, 0 turnovers, 3 assists, 3 steals - 30 minutes
- Hawkins: 0 pts (0-of-2), 1 reb, 2 assists, 1 turnover, 1 steal - 10 minutes
Lathon told this to Colin Deaver of KTSM:
Could it be as simple as a family decision? Is there something more to this? Lathon is a true point guard and he's never wavered from the position. He was recruited as a point guard and always appreciated coach Terry in allowing him to play the position. Hawkins played a variety of positions in the backcourt, often bringing up the ball as a point guard and could also guard the wing position defensively.
There's a lot we don't know. A lot of unsolved mysteries. Maybe we'll find out more on Monday's UTEP Basketball Radio Show with Rodney Terry and Jon Teicher on 600 ESPN El Paso (shameless plug) starting at 7.
Bottom line, if you're UTEP, you obviously don't want to lose any of these players. Lathon was a proven scorer, determined leader and could have been the future of UTEP's basketball program. Hawkins, who appears to be staying, is a fierce competitor with raw athleticism that the Miners need in their rotation now more than ever.
And with just days away from C-USA action starting against Florida International on Jan. 2, Rodney Terry and the Miners (9-4) will have to regroup and put behind this dreadful end to the month of December.