Lee Moore Departure Is a Major Blow to UTEP Men’s Basketball Program
Late yesterday afternoon, the UTEP men's program suffered another major blow to their core lineup when junior Lee Moore announced that he was forgoing his senior season with the Miners to pursue a career in professional basketball. Moore, who led the team in scoring last season as well as most offensive categories, was a considered a major contributor for next season. In fact, head coach Tim Floyd mentioned last month that the school was going to try and petition the NCAA to give Moore an extra year of eligibility. PickAxe Social was able to get a comment from Moore on his decision to leave UTEP after just one season and turn pro.
"I always wanted to play professional basketball since I was a kid. Worked my whole life for it and went through a lot to get this far. Went to a junior college before playing D1 basketball, but I learned a lot those two years and worked hard everyday. I knew if I got the opportunity to play pro, I would take it and build a career to be successful and the opportunity came to play pro and help my family. I want to give up my last year of college basketball at UTEP to chase those dreams. I will always love UTEP, the fans, my coaches, trainers, and every one of my teammates."
Moore's departure is just the latest blow to a Miners men's basketball program that has struggled to take the step back to their glory years under head coach Tim Floyd. When he arrived back at the school that he helped build into a mid major college basketball power 35 years ago, Floyd promised the return to glory years. Unfortunately for UTEP and its fans, the last six years have not gone as originally planned. Over those years, Moore and Vince Hunter, who both starred in Miner uniforms left the program early to turn pro. Isaac Hamilton, the five-star prospect who originally committed to the Coach Floyd and the Miners, had a sudden change of heart and sat out a year before joining UCLA and Steve Alford. The program also endured a alleged gambling scandal two seasons ago when three players were dismissed from the team.
Despite all of this adversity, UTEP has won 122 games and lost just 77 games in Floyd's six seasons, but it has not been good enough to earn a trip back to the NCAA Tournament. In fairness to UTEP, CUSA has become a one-bid league with a terrible RPI that has hurt the top 5-6 teams in the conference.
When Tim Floyd first arrived at UTEP, the Miners had just gone back to the NCAA Tournament under head coach Tony Barbee and lost to Butler in the first round. The Miners led the Bulldogs at the half, but Butler came back to win the game and went all the way to Final Four that postseason. Even without Derrick Caracter (turned pro and was drafted by Lakers) and Arnett Moultrie (transferred to Mississippi State University), the Miners came within minutes of returning to The Big Dance. However, a late meltdown at home against Memphis in the CUSA championship game turned UTEP's postseason into a first round loss at New Mexico. The Miners have never been that close since.
What is the next step or solution for Coach Floyd to fulfill the prophecy he stated when he came back to the program? UTEP might need to give serious thought into changing their recruiting style. Instead of battling Power 5 conferences over three and four star prospects, the Miners should look for players who are extremely coachable, have a high basketball IQ, a great work ethic, and most importantly, want to be here at UTEP. Even if that means pursuing basketball players who are not rated as highly as some of their past recruits, the Miners should concentrate on kids that can improve every year under Coach Floyd and his assistant coaches. This philosophy is much easier said than done, considering many recruits and their high school/AAU coaches will say the right things in order to receive a Division 1 scholarship. Also remember that many of college basketball's elite players are looking to leave school early and pursue a professional career. Agents are everywhere, and many of these individuals offer false promises to young men about the attractiveness to playing pro ball oversees or in the NBA D-League. Power 5 schools have the ability to quickly restock their roster when player(s) leave their programs, but schools like UTEP face a much more uphill battle when they lose key contributors like Hunter and Moore in consecutive years.
According to UTEP Athletic Director Bob Stull, Tim Floyd and Keitha Adams are both under contract until 2020. Moore joins a list of players like Earvin Morris, Hooper Vint, Tevin Caldwell, and Christian Romine who have either graduated, turned pro, or transferred to another school. As of now, Dominic Artis, Omega Harris, Terry Winn, Matt Willms, and Josh McSwiggan will need to carry the load for the 2016-17 Miners. Miner Rush is reporting that Harris' future at UTEP could be cloudy. Will the Miners men's program ever get over the hump or will they continue to disappoint their fans every season in a one-bid conference? Only time will tell.