UTEP Men’s Basketball Season Preview: Year Two of Joe Golding Begins
When one steps foot inside the Don Haskins Center, you can see one of the richest basketball histories across the southwest. Seventeen NCAA Tournament appearances. Four trips to the Sweet Sixteen. Eleven conference championships. Plus, a number of NBA draft picks, Hall of Famers and countless professional basketball players over the years. And, most notably, a National Championship.
The problem is, the banners are more of a distant memory than a reality of where the program is today. It's been 12 years since the Miners' last tournament appearance. This spring will mark 31 years since the team's last win in the NCAA Tournament. UTEP hasn't won a conference regular season championship since 2010.
Joe Golding's mission is to change that.
Entering year two at the helm coming off a 20-win season, Golding is just as energized and fiery as he was when he was hired following a successful run at Abilene Christian. He coached last year's squad—a roster made up of a few transfers and a group inherited from the Rodney Terry regime—to the most wins UTEP has seen since 2014-15.
The 2022-23 season brings mostly a new roster for the program. The coaching staff brought in 13 newcomers, including 10 scholarship players. Despite the fresh roster, Golding is still setting the bar high for this group, with the understanding that it might take time in the early part of the season.
"(Last season) entitlement really bothered me here," Golding said. "Not that we had bad guys. I just thought we were living and acting like we earned those banners and those NCAA Tournaments up top. We acted like we deserved that attention of that when we hadn't done anything yet. I told our guys this year that (they) have to earn that right. We haven't earned that here in 12 years. So let's get to work, trust the process, it's going to take some time. And we'll continue to build this thing. No one's going to work harder. We're going to get the building blocks in year two for the way we want this to go forward."
Moving in a positive direction means competing for conference titles and NCAA Tournament appearances with this program, says Golding.
"The standard hasn't changed," Golding continued. "We have to continue to get creative. We have to continue to push the envelope. We got to quit thinking average is okay around here. Average is not okay around here if we want to be where we want to be. That was the problem with (Abilene Christian). They were okay with average. Average was accepted and celebrated. Average should never be celebrated at UTEP. When you walk into the Don and you see the history, you see the tradition, we have to get it back to that standard. To get it back to that standard, you have to have a high standard and we're chasing that."
Listen to the MinerTalk season preview podcast with head coach Joe Golding below. Listen to MinerTalk following all men's basketball broadcasts on 600 ESPN El Paso, along with Sal Montes.
Team MVP: Shamar Givance
Six months ago when the UTEP basketball program picked up a commitment from Shamar Givance, they wanted the Evansville transfer to help lead the offense post-Souley Boum. The Ontario, CA product led Evansville with 13.7 points and 3.9 assists last year. He was a four-year starter with the Purple Aces and can score at all three levels.
The coaches commend his leadership. They think he can be a floor general and make plays in the paint. "We go as (Shamar) goes," described one coach. The 5-foot-10 point guard will be called to be the veteran of this group. Amid several losing seasons with Evansville, Givance is set on finding ways to win at UTEP for his final year in college.
"We're all gritty and we all want to win," Givance said describing the team. "Our identity is definitely defense and wanting to be in people's faces. Offensively, are going to be versatile. Ball screen, movements and I feel that we're going to be very fast-paced."
Don't sleep on Calvin Solomon
The one name that has been progressing rapidly over the past months in practice is Stephen F. Austin transfer Calvin Solomon. The 6-foot-7 forward from Houston is back with his former coach Jeremy Cox, who was a bench coach at SFA with Solomon and now is coaching him at UTEP.
Solomon has gotten better each year in the frontcourt and he's coming off a productive season where he averaged 9.3 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. Against Texas Tech in a closed scrimmage, he put up 13 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. He will be asked to take on a top role in the frontcourt for the team.
Backcourt rundown: Miners flex versatility among guards
Projected depth chart/rotation:
- PG Shamar Givance / Malik Zachery
- SG Tae Hardy / Mario McKinney Jr. / Carlos Lemus
- SF Jamari Sibley or Otis Frazier III
While Givance leads the backcourt, he will have some talented players around him. Southern Miss transfer Tae Hardy is a lengthy guard that is a proven scorer at the Group of 5 level. He's coming off a shoulder injury from last season but has been participating in regular basketball activities since late summer. Look to him to be a reliable option for the Miners.
NM State transfer Mario McKinney Jr. could be an exceptional sixth man for this group. Though he's currently away from the team, he will be back to the group soon for an undisclosed reason, per sources. JUCO transfers Malik Zachery and Carlos Lemus are among the next tier of guards for the team. Zachery is more of a pure scorer at the point guard spot and will need time to adjust to the Division I level. Lemus can create off-ball on offensively. As we saw from last year, Golding is not afraid to play anyone and we could easily see them play these guys regularly.
The combo guard/forward role is my favorite position battle that no one is talking about. Entering the season, one might be inclined to give the easy nod to returning starter Jamari Sibley at this position. However, George Mason transfer Otis Frazier III is a lot closer to Sibley at this point. We could be seeing a lot more of Frazier III this year. Despite a quiet start to his college career, the Arizona native is someone to keep an eye out for.
Frontcourt overview: Let's look at the bigs
Projected depth chart/rotation:
- PF Calvin Solomon / Jonathan Dos Anjos
- C Ze'Rik Onyema / Kevin Kalu
The coaching staff feels really confident in their frontcourt compared to last year. The frontcourt has a strong mix of defensive specialists like Calvin Solomon and players that can shoot from the perimeter, like Jonathan Dos Anjos. Solomon, the more polished forward, might get more minutes to start. I could see Dos Anjos working his way into more minutes and could possibly close out games for this squad.
The battle between centers is also fascinating to me. A crowd favorite, Ze'Rik Onyema might get the early nod at the position to start the year. Onyema is known for his monster dunks and was a spark off the bench to last year's squad. Kalu, who tailed off toward the end of last season, had a great summer and is ready to show how much he's improved. If this position gets better production than the center spot did last year, that's already a major win for the Miners.
Final prediction: 17-13, Miners regress by their record but the future is clear
Like last year's slow start, this squad might struggle out of the gate. Offensively, they will have to come up with a score-by-committee approach. Some nights it will look great. But they will struggle to score in other games. Their identity, as it always is with a Golding-coached squad, is going to be defense. If they are a better defensive team than last year, they stand a good chance in a tough C-USA.
I think they are going to be just a bit short of a 20-win team like they were last year. However, the foundation will truly be in place with this coaching staff after this year. Year two might not be it for UTEP, but it could lead into a highly anticipated year three of coach Golding that might hit heights this program hasn't seen in decades.
"We want to compete for championships, we're not slipping on that," Golding said. "Can we get there? I don't know. That's the challenge. It's a brand-new team... Can we mesh by late December and put a product on the floor? That's the standard. That's not going to change."