UTEP Basketball Offseason Roundup: Portal Updates & Recruiting News
It’s been only one week since the transfer portal opened but both of UTEP’s basketball programs have been hit with an early share of portal activity. There's also recruiting updates for the men's basketball team. I’ll break down all the offseason activity both programs below:
Sibley and Montrose enter the transfer portal
UTEP men’s basketball forward Jamari Sibley became the first athlete to enter the portal from either program. Shortly after, women’s basketball’s true freshman guard Soleil Montrose entered the portal.
Sibley will be entering the portal for the second time in his collegiate career. The Milwaukee native was a consensus top-150 recruit in the nation to go along with his 4-star rating. He committed to Georgetown before transferring to UTEP two years ago. Despite a promising first year at UTEP that saw him start in 23-of-31 games and average 5.3 points per game, Sibley could never quite find his footing in a different role this season. He only averaged 3.7 points per game on 38% shooting, a regression from his first season as a Miner.
This move could have been seen from miles away. Sibley couldn’t find his groove throughout the season and a change of scenery could help him get his mojo back. This move will benefit both sides.
As for Montrose, she enters the portal after her true freshman campaign with the Miners. She averaged 3.3 points per game and played in 31 games this season. Montrose was highly touted coming out of the west coast powerhouse Mater Dei High School before she chose UTEP. She had initial offers from Hawaii, Loyal Marymount, UCSB, and Long Beach State.
Montrose showed some flashes in her true freshman season but did have some rough spurts throughout the season. Although she is a guard, at 5-10, Montrose played more of a small ball big for the Miners throughout the year, which could be a reason she elected to transfer, although I doubt it. This is not a huge loss for the Miners, but it stings because of how much potential she had.
UTEP recruiting snapshot & confidence level of landing the prospect
After an underwhelming 14-18 record this year, Joe Golding and his staff have hit the recruiting trail to gear up for next season. There have been various reports of UTEP "speaking" to different names in the transfer portal. Here is a list of the transfers they’ve reached out to so far based on what I found on Twitter, along with my confidence level of UTEP landing the prospect:
Clemson SG Chauncey Gibson
Gibson didn’t play for the Tigers in his true freshman season but was the 219th-rated recruit in the 2022 class, per the 247sports Composite. A native of Dallas, the 6-foot-6 combo forward attended Kimball High School where he averaged 17.6 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 5.0 assists per game in his senior season. He had offers from Texas Tech, SMU, Creighton, and NMSU. Gibson has been contacted by the following schools as well: SMU, NC State, Tulsa, Tarleton State, Texas State, UMASS, Utah Tech, and Santa Clara.
Analysis: Gibson would be one of the bigger gets in the Golding era, but with schools like SMU and NC State in the running for the talented 6’6 guard, I just don’t see it happening.
Confidence level: Low
Chicago State G Bryce Johnson
Johnson averaged 10.3 points and appeared in 23 games this season for Chicago State. Johnson also shot a noteworthy 40% from 3-point range on 5 attempts per game. Johnson will have two years of eligibility left. Here are some of the other notable schools that have contacted Johnson: Robert Morris, MTSU, Chattanooga, and Albany.
Analysis: Johnson is right in the area where UTEP lacked. A knockdown shooter. Golding talked about how this team would need shooters, and this is one right here. I would expect the coaching staff to continue to be in contact with Johnson.
Confidence level: Medium
Arkansas Little-Rock G DJ Smith
Smith averaged 10.4 points in his second season with UALR. He started in all of their 31 games this season. Smith also pitched in defensively, averaging a steal per game. Smith improved his efficiency from last year to now, shooting 40% from the field (a 4% increase from last year) and 30% from 3-point range (a 3% increase from last year). The other schools have contacted Smith: Texas A&M-CC, Oral Roberts, Southern Illinois, Queens (NC), UCA, Cal State Fullerton, Portland State, Abilene Christian, and Robert Morris.
Analysis: Smith has the athletic upside you look for in guards and is already a polished defender. He can shoot it, but he needs to be a little more efficient. It won’t be easy and it should be interesting to see if the coaching staff continues to pursue Smith.
Confidence level: Medium
Army G Coleton Benson
Benson is an intriguing player to watch because he can do a lot for a team offensively. At 6-foot-1, Benson may be a little short to be a combo guard but can be both a spot-up shooter or a team's main ballhandler. The freshman averaged 11.6 points and shot 37% from 3-point range on 5.8 attempts per game. He also averaged 1.5 assists per game. Here are the other schools who have reached out: Liberty, Texas State, Chattanooga, Lipscomb, UTRGV, and Texas A&M-CC
Analysis: Benson could come in and play right away due to how good of a shooter he is, but it will be hard to beat out a school like Texas State, due to its proximity to Benson’s hometown of Austin.
Confidence level: Medium/Low
Utah Tech G Isaiah Pope
After averaging only 6.3 points in his first two seasons at Utah Tech, Pope had a breakout 2022-2023 campaign. The 6-foot-5 guard out of California blossomed into a lights-out shooter this year, shooting it at a 42% mark from three, improving his 3-point percentage by over 15% from the past year. To go along with that, Pope has a natural scoring ability that resulted in him averaging 13.1 points per game. Here are the other schools who have contacted Pope: Oregon State, San Francisco, Fresno State, LMU, San Diego, Utah Valley, Montana, Portland State, and Loyola Chicago.
Analysis: Pope would be the big splash for UTEP, but I don’t see how they can compete with the schools from the west coast that have contacted him, such as San Fransico and Oregon State.
Confidence level: Low
Long Island F Marko Maletic
The lengthy 6-6 wing Maletic averaged 15.9 points this past season while shooting 38% from 3-point land. He is a smooth scorer on the wing that can create off the dribble or be a spot-up shooter. Here are the other schools who have contacted him: New Mexico, Loyola Chicago, LMU, Liberty, Valparaiso, and Indiana State.
Analysis: Maletic’s lengthy frame makes him harder to guard on the perimeter, especially against smaller guards. The only red flag would be LIU went 3-26 this year. It would be interesting to see how Maletic adjusts from being the number one option on a bad team, to possibly taking a second or third-option role on another team.
Confidence level: Low
Buffalo G Devin Ceaser
Ceaser didn’t play much in his freshman season at Buffalo, but he was a 3-star recruit coming out of St. Stephen's and St. Agnes Upper School, which is located outside of Washington D.C. in Alexandria, Virginia. He averaged 22 points in high school and gained offers from schools such as Virginia Tech, East Carolina, Towson, and UNCG. The 6-foot-1 point guard only averaged 6 minutes per game, but had a surprising 25-point performance against non-division 1 opponent SUNY Canton. That was the only game Ceaser played for more than 20 minutes. The following schools also reached out to Ceaser: UNCG, ODU, JMU, and UMBC.
Analysis: Ceaser is a very talented, athletic guard that explodes toward the rim. Although he didn’t play much, his situation really reminds me of current Miner Otis Frazier’s when he was transferring. The stats don’t jump out to you, but the tape does. I can see Golding and his staff prioritizing the PG from the DMV, which is an area they have hit hard recently.
Confidence Level: High
Longwood F Leslie Nkereuwem
On paper, Nkereuwem doesn’t seem like the type of player to garner the interest he has, but as you watch the tape, you see how much of a difference-maker he is on both sides of the ball. The 6-foot-7 grad transfer has averaged 8 points per game for three years straight and has never made a 3-pointer in his four years of playing college basketball. He is very athletic and a smart post player. He can guard any position on defense and is a very valuable role player. Here are some of the schools to reach out to Nkereuwem: LA Tech, Robert Morris, UNCG, UMBC, and Bryant.
Analysis: I can see UTEP going after a player like Nkereuwem if Calvin Solomon decides to leave the program. Although Nkereuwem may not bring as much upside as Solomon does, he has played on winning teams and helped Longwood reach the NCAA tournament last year.
Confidence Level: Medium
UTEP could have around five scholarships available, depending on the next couple of weeks, so the coaching staff will have to be picky with who they bring on. We all know UTEP needs to retool if they want to compete for a conference championship next season. Along those lines though, I would like to see some continuity from last year's team as well.
One thing is for sure, though. The transfer portal throws a lot of curveballs at players, coaches, and fans. Buckle up.