UTEP Basketball Roster Starts to Shape Out with Point Guard Addition
The Miners had waited and waited... and they finally got the point guard they were looking for all offseason.
With the addition of Oklahoma sophomore Jamal Bieniemy, who had started 47 games for the Sooners over his two years, the Miners have rounded out the biggest hole in their roster at point guard.
UTEP will bring back Souley Boum, Tydus Verhoeven, Bryson Williams, Eric Vila and Efe Odigie, along with sophomore guard Keonte Kennedy, who sat out last year per NCAA transfer rules. Other offseason transfer additions include Georgia Tech transfer forward Christian Sjolund, North Alabama transfer Christian Agnew and Salt Lake Community College transfer Adam Hess.
They lost six players to the transfer portal from last year—Kaden Archie (Georga Southern), Deon Stroud (Fresno State), Anthony Tarke (Coppin State), Jordan Lathon (University of Milwaukee), Nigel Hawkins (Stephen F. Austin) and Kaosi Ezeagu (Kansas State).
But with the new additions comes a glaring question: who is eligible and who will have to sit out a season?
On Wednesday, the NCAA Division I Council voted to postpone the one-time transfer waiver to 2021-22, which would grant any first-time transfer immediate eligibility without having to sit out a season. However, amid the coronavirus pandemic, some college basketball experts believe that the waiver rules will be relaxed this fall.
Head coach Rodney Terry appeared optimistic about this possibility. When asked about Agnew's eligibility for this season, Terry told Jon Teicher on the Picks Up Podcast last week, "There's still going to be opportunities for guys with waiver situations so we're not going to rule out that there's no opportunity for guys to not be able to play this year."
So let's build this depth chart out in a best-case scenario.
- PG: Jamal Bieniemy
- SG: Souley Boum / Christian Agnew
- SG: Keonte Kennedy / Adam Hess
- F: Bryson Williams / Efe Odigie / Eric Vila
- F: Tydus Verhoeven / Christian Sjolund
The Miners still have two scholarships under their belt, which they could spare on a backup point guard out of the JUCO or grad transfer ranks. But aside from getting an insurance policy for Bieniemy, the roster is starting to really shape into a nice bunch.
As Williams enters his senior season for the Miners as an NBA prospect, he will be the focal point of this team and will be called to maximize his strengths for the Miners. Williams is coming off a First Team All-C-USA selection after averaging 17.8 points per game. He's a clear C-USA Player of the Year candidate for next year.
Boum was second on the team in scoring last year (12.9 ppg) and set himself up for a prime junior season as an off-ball guard. Verhoeven's impressive late stretch last season solidified him as a day one starter for this season.
Guards like Kennedy and Angew will be fun to watch this year. Kennedy is a sharpshooter with the ability to defend at a high level. Agnew is a powerful guard that can drive to the hoop and brings experience as the North Alabama leading scorer from last year.
Odigie and Sjolund could be clawing for playing time this year in the frontcourt. Odigie might serve as a strong 1-2 punch alongside Williams at times, while Sjolund's versatility as a 6-foot-8 forward could put him in bigger lineups at the 3.
And Bieniemy rounds it out at the point guard spot. He played in every game as a Sooner during his sophomore and freshman seasons with 47 starts. Last year, he averaged 5.2 points, 4.0 boards, 2.8 assists and 1.1 steals per game.
Prior to his commitment to UTEP, last week Terry alluded to the opportunity of getting a significant addition at point guard.
"We played two years without a point guard," Terry said on the Picks Up Podcast. "Every year at Fresno, with the exception of one, we had a point guard. You feel the pinch when you don't. You're very limited in what you can do in terms of controlling games and winning games.
"We're involved with what we believe is a very talented point guard. One that is as talented as any point guard we've been involved with. It would change the trajectory of our guard play here at UTEP."
The Miners shuffled between Evan Gilyard, Jordan Lathon and Nigel Hawkins at point guard but never felt satisfied at the position. Bieniemy offers them a strong veteran presence in the backcourt which, like Terry suggested, could change the trajectory of this team.
Next, the team will have to work on the eligibility waivers for their shiny new additions. After finishing 17-15 and 10th in the conference, UTEP looks to shake off the underwhelming finish to last season with a fresh group mixed with the leading scorers of last year and strong additions from this offseason.