‘No Panic’ for UTEP Basketball; Team Has ‘More Than Enough’ for C-USA
In the span of a 48-hour period, the UTEP men's basketball team went through a whirlwind of emotions.
The program first saw sophomore guard Nigel Hawkins enter the transfer portal on Saturday. Then, unexpected news came Sunday with starting point guard Jordan Lathon also entering the transfer portal. Following the news, Hawkins withdrew his name from the portal and will remain on the team.
There had even been rumblings about other players leaving over the weekend, but the only player absent from practice on Monday was Lathon, as expected.
And with less than a week before the team travels to Miami to start C-USA play against Florida International (Jan. 2) and Florida Atlantic (Jan. 4), head coach Rodney Terry met with the media on Monday to talk about, well, everything.
The transfer situation: 'Sky isn't falling. We're ready to go'
Lathon was one of the key players on this team as a sophomore point guard and the lone returner from last year that started every game for the Miners this year. He led the team in assists (37), averaged 6.1 points and 4.4 rebounds per game.
Now, following his departure, the Miners will look to Hawkins as the team's new starting point guard.
Hawkins averages 3.8 points, leads the team in steals (18 total) and is second in assists per game (26), averaging 15.9 minutes off the bench. Per Terry, Souley Boum and Daryl Edwards, respectively, will alternate with Hawkins at point guard.
"All the turmoil and stories—you can make it whatever you want to make it. We're not painting that picture," Terry said. "The picture we've had from the last 48 hours is we have a good team, a team that is ready to compete and leave it out on the floor."
"We have more than enough to get done what we need to get done. I'm excited about my group. No panic. Sky isn't falling. We're ready to go. Every team in the country is going to deal with some stuff." - Rodney Terry
Of Terry's recruits, he has seen Kaosi Ezeagu and Lathon decide to leave the program. Brendan Wenzel and Jesse Zarzuela, two signees in the class of 2019, never came to campus. And, Evan Gilyard and Kobe Magee—two players recruited by Tim Floyd—left after their first year under Terry.
The topic of college players leaving is something that Terry believes is a reflection of college basketball in general. According to the NCAA, 40 percent of Division I players leave their first school by end of sophomore year. That number has increased by more than 47 percent in under a decade, per the report.
"If you look around right now, it's not just college basketball, it's college football too," Terry said. "You have to adapt and adjust with that. It's the sign of the times, you can't be afraid of it, you have to embrace it. It used to be guys that weren't playing. Now, it's guys that are playing in both football and basketball. That's been happening for the last five years at an unbelievable rate."
"Every semester you will have roster management. That's just what it is. You can't worry about it, you can't lose sleep about it. You got to be who you are and deal with what you can deal with. You deal with the guys that want to be in, that are bought in and who will go to battle with you in terms of competing." - Rodney Terry
"We don't hit a panic button. Sky's not falling. We're going to stay the course."
Diamond Head Classic: 'We got so much better on our trip'
Following a 1-2 showing in the Diamond Head Classic, with a win against Ball State (71-70) and losses to Hawaii (67-63) and Boise State (72-67), the team feels that they took a lot of positives from their competition.
UTEP was able to get their first win away from the Haskins Center this season against Ball State.
"We got so much better on our trip to Hawaii. Even in Houston. We played a really good schedule up to this point," Terry said. "We started with 18 guys, which is a lot of guys. Not one guy that is going to win a championship for you. We're a team."
Through UTEP's final non-conference road trip, the team warranted more minutes off the bench from the likes of forward Anthony Tarke and guard Kaden Archie.
Tarke gets the start: 'When the opportunity came, he made the most of it'
Here's a big piece of news out of practice from Monday: redshirt junior forward Anthony Tarke will start for the Miners at the 4. That means UTEP's new starting lineup will consist of Hawkins, Tarke, Boum, Edwards and Bryson Williams.
Tarke has played in just eight games this year, having sat out all of last year. After a nice road stretch in Hawaii, Tarke is averaging 3.4 points and 4.4 rebounds with 10 turnovers caused on defense in 12.8 minutes per game.
"Just [been] sticking to it and having unwavering confidence in myself," Tarke said. "Not worried about what people say and believing in myself, believing in my team. That's why I'm here now."
Prior to UTEP, Tarke led NJIT in scoring (15.7 ppg) and ranked second in rebounding (6.2 rpg) during the 2017-18 season, where he was named first-team All-Atlantic Sun Conference.
"For me, I have a lot of ambition and a lot of confidence in myself and the higher power. If I was all-conference there, why not aim for it now?" Tarke said. "The past is behind me, looking forward to each game and FIU moving forward."
Terry commended Tarke's progression, raved about his attitude and thought he—along with Archie—seized playing opportunities in Hawaii.
"Tarke got off to a slow start because he got injured, missed a week and quite frankly, wasn't playing with the motive that we needed him to play with in practice," Terry explained. "He changed that. He never had a bad attitude, had a great approach, became a great teammate. When the opportunity came, he made the most of it."
The starting forward position is one that the Miners have shuffled Eric Vila, Tydus Verhoeven and Efe Odigie around at.
"Everyone is going to shuffle with guys right now," Terry said. "This time, everyone is trying to figure out their team. You're going to play all types of lineups. It's a team sport. I don't get caught up in the lineups. I want the guys on the floor doing their jobs, doing their roles and being stars in their role."
C-USA Road Trip at FIU (Jan. 2), FAU (Jan. 4)
Miners will officially tipoff C-USA action this week on the road in Florida, facing Florida International (9-4) on Thursday, Jan. 2, and Florida Atlantic (8-5) on Saturday, Jan. 4.
"I think it's big for us, especially coming off this rough stretch and a lot of the turmoil," Tarke said. "We're now looking past that and we're excited for our next challenge. Starting off fast would be a boost before coming back home."
"Our guys are really excited. FIU has gotten off to a great start," Terry said. "We know it's going to be a high-possession game. This is a good, confident group and we've gained valuable experiences to this point right now."
"For one, it's the furthest [travel]," forward Bryson Williams said. "We are going to have a lot of confidence in our backcourt and be ready to play. Everyone's ready to rock and roll. It's conference time, it's all about wins."