What If Gary Payton Had Signed With the UTEP Miners?
Over the last few months, 600 ESPN El Paso has re-aired full episodes of the Don Haskins Radio Show. On Monday, we replayed an interview with former UTEP basketball player and NBA veteran Greg Foster from December 4th, 2007. Foster, who is now an assistant coach for the Atlanta Hawks, grew up in Oakland, California and played basketball with Antonio Davis and former Skyline High School teammate Gary Payton. During his segment with The Bear, the Hall of Fame coach shared a story of how close UTEP was to signing Payton.
What if Gary Payton played for the Miners from 1986 through 1990? Would he have been able to co-exist in the same backcourt with Hardaway? Foster had no doubt that the two would have flourished under Coach Haskins. "They would have coexisted because Gary was a better defender and Tim was more of a scorer," Foster said. Not only did the former center believe that everyone would have sacrificed their stats in order to win, but he still believes that there would be a pair of legendary Miners basketball teams. "I have no doubt that we would have won a National Championship and we all would have been first round picks," Foster added.
Instead of Coach Haskins having a dream backcourt of Payton and Tim Hardaway in the late 80s, the Bay Area star signed with Oregon State and quickly became on of the best guards in the nation. Known for his defense, Payton blossomed as an offensive threat at OSU and finished his college career with 2,172 points along with 938 assists. He led the Beavers to three NCAA Tournaments during his final three seasons with the program, although they never got out of the first round. Payton graced the cover of Sports Illustrated and was drafted by Seattle as the second overall pick in 1990. During his 18-year career in the NBA, he was a 9-time All Star, 9-time NBA All-Defensive First Team, and 2006 NBA champion with Miami. He was later enshrined into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013.
The fact that Payton became one of the greatest point guards in the history of basketball makes this story that much more painful to Miner fans. You can probably add St. John's fans to that group since Lou Carnesecca could have had Payton in his backcourt after Mark Jackson if he also did not pass on him. UTEP was a powerhouse throughout the '80s and they played in the NCAA Tournament from 1984 through 1990. As great as those teams were, imagine having The Glove, Tim Bug, and The Bear together for the second part of that run. Could they have joined the '66 TWC team as National Champions? Sadly, we will never know the answer to that question, but it makes a fascinating topic to dream about.