Since March Madness officially began on Tuesday with the First Four, the real fun starts now. Over the next four days, hoops fans can enjoy more college games than they can handle, while hoping to keep their brackets intact.

I was having lunch with my brother Matt yesterday and we started talking about the best UTEP basketball starting five from the 1990s until now. Soon, that conversation became the best team assembled from the post-Haskins era, and I was quick to come up with my starting lineup. For this blog, I will also add seven bench players to make it a 12-man team that I believe would be worthy of a Final Four appearance. Others might disagree, and even argue that the 1992 UTEP Sweet 16 team was better than this group. It makes for great debate.

My Post Haskins Starting 5

Guard - Filiberto Rivera. To me, having Fili as my starting point guard is a no brainer. In two years, he helped lead the Miners to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments, and narrow first round losses to Maryland and Utah. Rivera was a point guard who could score and the perfect player to start my dream team.

Guard - Stefon Jackson. It would be difficult to form a team like this and leave UTEP's All Time leading scorer off of the starting five. From 2005-09, Jackson scored 2,456 points as a Miner and also named C-USA first team twice in his career.

Forward - Omar Thomas. Despite being listed at 6-5, OT was a scoring machine for a small forward during his two seasons with the Miners. Don Haskins used to tell me that no undersized player he had ever watched had the ability to score like Thomas. Unfortunately, his lack of size prevented him from playing in the NBA, but he has spent the last 11 seasons starring in Italy, Russia, and Serbia. He is currently playing for Hoops Club in Beirut, Lebanon.

Forward - Brandon Wolfram. Another no-brainer selection, Wolfram held UTEP's career scoring record until Jackson shattered it in 2009. The 6-9, 240 pound power forward arrived at UTEP in 1997 and spent his first two seasons playing for Don Haskins before Jason Rabedeaux let Wolfram score at will his final two seasons.

Forward - Derrick Caracter. The decision to put Caracter on my team was a difficult one, since he only spent three months as a member of the Miners. However, the former transfer from Louisville averaged 14 points and 8 rebounds for UTEP and helped lead Tony Barbee's final team to the NCAA Tournament. I always felt that Caracter was the missing link in that team's bid to make the Big Dance and I would want the 6-9, 275 pound big man to pair in the low post with Wolfram.

Steve Kaplowitz.
Steve Kaplowitz.

My Post Haskins Bench

Guard - Randy Culpepper. You could make a strong argument that Culpepper should start over Fili at the point, but I was a little hesitant since I always felt that Memphis native was an undersized two-guard. Culpepper could jump out of the Don Haskins Center and light up the scoreboard, so there was no way I was leaving him off this team.

Guard - Julyan Stone. I'm not sure how many UTEP fans know that Stone finished his career at UTEP as the program's all-time leader in assists. He was also a 6-7 point guard and gave opposing teams fits because of his size and rebounding ability.

Guard - Dominic Artis. Last week, DA ended his college basketball career and did something that no other UTEP basketball player had ever accomplished in a single season. When you score 400 points, grab 150 rebounds, dish out 150 dimes, and steal the basketball 50 times in one season, you are something special.

Forward - Julian Washburn. You have to have a defensive stopper on any team and Washburn was exactly that during his playing days at UTEP. C-USA recognized him with the C-USA Defensive Player of the Year Award at the end of the 2014-15 season.

Forward - John Tofi. Another underrated low post power, Tofi was part of those back-to-back NCAA Tournament teams in 2004 and 2005 and had a strong season season for head coach Doc Sadler when he averaged 13.9 points and 9.2 rebounds per game for the Miners.

Forward - Jason Williams. The 6-6 transfer from Kilgore College spent three seasons at UTEP and besides nearly breaking Stefon Jackson's jaw in practice, had a great career in El Paso. Williams averaged in double figures every season, including leading the team in scoring as a senior. He was also a big part of UTEP's run to the Big Dance with Billy Gillispie and Sadler.

Center - John Bohannon. The 6-11 big man struggled under head coach Tim Floyd his first few years with the program, but hard work paid off and Bohannon had a great senior season for the Miners. He finished second in school history in blocks and second in field goal percentage.

So there you have it, Miner fans. The one glaring omission from this list is Vince Hunter. I struggled with him, not because of what he accomplished in just two seasons with UTEP but instead which player I would have to bump off of the team to make room for him. Williams played three great seasons with the Miners, so I could not take him off the squad. Although Artis only played two seasons (like Hunter), he did something that no other Miner had ever accomplished. I could also see the argument for selecting Hunter over Caracter, but I explained my thought process in his write-up. If you would make one full season with UTEP as a prerequisite, then Hunter replaces Caracter.

The interesting part of this list is how many players will be part of this team five and ten years from now? Will Omega Harris and Matt Willms bump some people off of the list? Could a future Miner shine and make their way onto this team? Only time will tell Miners fans.

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