UTEP Basketball Top Needs in the Transfer Portal
UTEP head coach Joe Golding and the coaching staff are tasked with retooling most of the roster over their first true offseason in El Paso. Bottom line, the Miners will be tasked with replacing four starters in hopes of continuing the momentum from the 20-win season in 2021-22.
The Miners saw a total of 10 players hit the transfer portal or elect to play professionally over the offseason, including a pair of All-Conference USA guards in Souley Boum and Jamal Bieniemy. As Steve Kaplowitz wrote last week, the Miners will have just three players returning—Jamari Sibley, Kevin Kalu and Ze'Rik Onyema. With four players signed—Jonathan dos Anjos, Derick Hamilton, Jamal Sumlin and Mario McKinney Jr.—the Miners have six scholarships to work with.
Here are some of the Miners' biggest needs from the portal this offseason.
When Boum and Bieniemy hit the portal, along with Jorell Saterfield, the Miners lost their three best 3-point shooters on the squad. The Miners attempted 7.6 3-point shots per game in 2021-22 and they will need to find some sharpshooters in the offseason to replace what they lost.
Sometimes the high volume of 3-point attempts frustrates fans in college basketball. But college basketball has turned into a sport that relies heavily on scoring from the perimeter. UTEP's 35% 3-point percentage ranked 100th in the country by KenPom this past season. By reshaping the roster with virtually a whole new roster, grabbing a 3-point specialist will be key for the coaching staff.
Ideally, UTEP will try and recruit a player that can score at all three levels, like Boum and Bieniemy. They should still prioritize a 3-point specialist that mainly focuses on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers.
Big man (no duh)
It felt like the biggest need from last year's squad was a forward/center that could hang with the best big men that UTEP faces. And give credit to Tydus Verhoeven, who was tasked to carry the frontcourt last year at 6-foot-9. Verhoeven might have been playing out of position as someone that played the 4/5 hybrid role alongside guys like Bryson Williams and Eric Vila during his first two seasons at UTEP.
Finding forwards that are 6-foot-11 and taller is easier said than done. Golding needs to try to find his UTEP version of Kolton Kohl, who was the standout 7-foot center at Abilene Christian on the 2021 NCAA Tournament team. Most players like this are developed over years within the same system, making it tough to find these types of players in the NCAA transfer portal.
Besides providing much-needed scoring in the low post, the Miners need bigs that can rebound effectively for the squad. Last year's team was -4.1 on the rebounding margin while also struggling to grab offensive rebounds.
However, don't discount the possibility of UTEP riding the bigs they currently have—Ze'Rik Onyema, Kevin Kalu and Derrick Hamilton. They showed last season that they aren't afraid to throw out smaller lineups and be more guard-oriented.
Primary on-ball facilitator
Once Bieniemy transitioned into more of a versatile guard from strictly an on-ball creator this season, the Miners started to have success in conference play. Finding another guard that can do what Bieniemy did seems like a tall task to accomplish. Though, grabbing a primary point guard would be a start.
At 12.1 assists per game as a team, the Miners were statistically average across college basketball when it came to team assists per game. By finding a true point guard that can dish out passes and create opportunities for everyone on the floor, the Miners can improve here.
We saw the team go point guard by committee at times, asking players like Boum, Keonte Kennedy and even Christian Agnew to handle point guard duties. If the Miners grab some talented guards that have experience handling the ball, this could also be an option.
The UTEP version of Johnny McCants
Whenever the Miners faced the Aggies in the Battle of I-10, I was always so impressed with the way Johnny McCants played. Though he stood at 6-foot-7—a little undersized for his position—McCants always played like he was 7-foot-2. He wasn't afraid of anyone and he always knew how to play his best when he needed to. The Las Cruces product in McCants was honored three different times during his college career on the all-conference list for the WAC. But no award could recognize the passion and toughness he played with on the floor.
The Miners need a Johnny McCants. They could use a big man that plays bigger than he is and talks a little smack here and there—while also backing it up with his play. Could McCants play professionally? Probably not in the NBA. But he could swing a game and win you one.
Off-ball shooting guard/wing
Without Keonte Kennedy, the Miners will need to fill their wing position. KTSM's Colin Deaver reported that the team is thinking about playing Jamari Sibley more on the perimeter next year, possibly a stretch wing. Sibley shot 45.9% from the field on 4.5 attempts per game, while making 34.8% of his 3-pointers, attempting 1.4 per game in 2021-22.
In stretches when they want to go with Sibley at the 4, UTEP will need an off-ball guard to allow Sibley to work in the paint. They need to find a 2022 version of Ervin Morris—a high-level defender that can score, especially in off-ball situations. Filling the Jorell Saterfield/Kennedy role will be very important for the Miners to do this offseason.
Student-athletes that want to be in El Paso
It's hard to have continuity in college basketball nowadays. UTEP fans can't stand the transfer portal, yet it's become inevitable across NCAA hoops.
Maybe, just maybe, Golding can recruit players to El Paso that want to make UTEP their home for more than just one season. Near the end of the season, Golding kept saying he was looking for winners, guys that are proud to wear a UTEP uniform and players that will defend.