There is a new buzz around the Miners basketball team after their 70-60 win over Texas Tech in their exhibition charity opener.

Sophomore guard Souley Boum was one of five players that had to sit out the entire 2018-19 season per NCAA transfer rules. He practiced, got better with the group during the offseason and now that the regular season approaches, Boum is ready to help this team win.

The offseason featured a ton of ambiguity surrounding this team that features seven Divison I transfers and four returners.

Along with Boum, players like Bryson Williams, Eric Vila, Daryl Edwards, Deon Stroud and Anthony Tarke had not played for the Miners until the Red Raiders exhibition game last Saturday. 

"I knew this was going to be a big game," Boum said. "I knew that there was going to be a lot of people there. It was actually crazy because it was the first real game I had in a long time. It was emotions—I was hyped, I was nervous. Once the ball tipped, it was all exciting, all fun. There were a lot of people here. Hopefully, we get to see this place fill up."

The Miners went back-and-forth with the Red Raiders in the first half, where Texas Tech went into the locker room up 30-25.

"Beginning of the game, I was in foul trouble so it put me out of my rhythm and took me out of the first half," Boum explained. "Even though my shot wasn’t falling or I wasn’t really getting any open looks, I still wanted to impact the game as much as I can. I just tried to play hard on defense. I knew that Daryl [Edwards] was hot, so I wanted to just get him the ball. I was just trying to make the right play at the right time."

Timing was everything in the second half for the Miners. Chris Beard and his squad led as much as 42-35 with just over 12 minutes to go. But then the Miners led a come-from-behind campaign in the late stretch led by Edwards (24), Williams (19) and Jordan Lathon (16).

Boum contributed immensely as a facilitator, dishing out four assists, snagging three boards and taking a steal on defense. He shut down Texas Tech standout guard Davide Moretti to just eight points in the exhibition.

"When Jordan hit that second three, I knew it was over," Boum said with a smile. "There was a minute left, we were up by like 10. I knew it was over. I’m like ‘Man, we’re going to have a hell of a season’ when he hit that shot."

Then came the aftermath. UTEP won the game, but many on social media tried to downplay the results. Some argued that Texas Tech didn't play their main guys, which wasn't true, while others felt that their Big 12 opponents didn't care to win or lose.

"They are just saying that to say that," Boum explained. "I know how good our team is this year and they don’t know that, they’re just seeing it from the outside. Texas Tech was a really good team, they are coached very hard by a very good coach that coached on the biggest stage. We got guys this year that play at a high level so that was a significant win for us but it’s on to the next one. We now know what to do moving forward."

For a team that won eight games last year, this felt like more than just a sigh of relief. The win felt like a significant accomplishment for the Miners.

"Last year was a difficult year for us going through the growing pains. This year, we think this is the year for us. We have to do that to be successful. We can’t worry about who is going to be our leading scorer for the night. It’s going to be different all the time. That’s what happens when you’re on a good team. We just have to get better every day and play hard." - UTEP sophomore guard Souley Boum

"You see [everything on social media]. You see a bunch of polls that don’t have us on the radar, don’t have any of our players on any conference awards," Boum continued. "They have us finishing last so that’s just fuel to the fire. We just use that to practice hard every day, motivate each other every day and use that to get better. We know how good we are and eventually, we aren’t going to be surprised and everyone will. That’s going to be the fun thing."

Photo Courtesy of Miner Illustrated

Growing up in Oakland, Boum learned to love the sport of basketball. He went off in his first year of college at San Francisco, where he was named West Coast Conference All-Freshman after ranking second on the squad and 25th in WCC in points per game (10.9) during the 2017-18 season.

In addition, Boum led San Francisco with 121 free throws made, which was a program freshman record, and scored 394 points (second-most points by a freshman in team history).

"It was me and my mom, single parent, growing up in West Oakland, went to Oakland Tech and my freshman year I attended San Francisco and then after that I’m here," Boum said. "It was fun playing in San Francisco. My mom got to come to almost all my games. That was good."

Boum followed Terry in his move to El Paso, where he has embraced the community and made it his second home. Throughout the summer, Boum was involved in team activities across the city as a UTEP basketball ambassador, so to speak.

"It’s easy to embrace a community that wants to embrace you," Boum said. "El Paso’s probably one of the nicest cities I’ve been to. Everyone welcomed me with warm arms and they are probably the nicest people I’ve ever met. Everyone is pleasant, not rude. Just a nice, safe city and such a nice place to be."

As one of the team's guards, Boum is determined to make the people around him better. One of the leaders that he points out on this team is Williams, who scored 19 points and snagged nine rebounds for UTEP against Texas Tech.

"Bryson for sure is the best player on our team, he’s the leader of our team, everyone looks up to him," Boum explained. "He comes in every day, works hard on and off the court, and he’s a really good leader. He’s a real leader on our team. We look to him in a game. He’s a good role model, especially for our young guys. We sat out last year together so we really built a good connection."

Playing time will be the most important task to manage for head coach Rodney Terry and his squad. For Boum, the job of assigning minutes only reflects how strong this team is.

"[Depth is] really important because that’s how good your team can be," Boum suggested.  "Some guys can get hurt, some guys might be sick, so you need guys that can play. The fact that we have guys on the bench that could be starters is really good for us. Everybody just has to buy into their role, do what they are supposed to do and it’s going to be good for us down the line."

Looking ahead, the Miners will face Grand Canyon in a closed exhibition this Saturday, followed by their season opener against New Mexico Highlands (Nov. 5) and then their first home rivalry matchup against NMSU (Nov. 12).

"Even though [NMSU] isn’t the first game of the season, we are looking at that game but we really look at what’s next," Boum said. "Trust me, we know about all of these games. We know how all those guys disrespected us last year and how we’re ready for everybody this year."

Last year, the Miners were also 0-13 on the road, which is something that the team is emphasizing this year. Moreover, stats and improvements are not measured as last year.

This year, all that matters is wins and losses for UTEP. 

"I feel this team could go really far this year and bring this city back to where it has been and flip this whole script," he explained. "Brighten this city with UTEP basketball and I feel it’s really about winning this year and I feel we can do that at a high level."

Even though the win against Texas Tech was propelling for this team, they still have an ultimate bigger-picture goal down the line.

 

 

 

"Our ultimate goal is to make it to the NCAA tournament and advance in it," Boum said. "But all we can do is focus on getting better every day in practice and worry about the next game. Even though we won that game, we could have played way better and there’s a lot of stuff we could have done better. All you have to do is work on things in practice and get better."