By Kevin Sweeney
In the days following UTEP’s hire of Rodney Terry to replace Tim Floyd as head basketball coach, I graded the hire a B+.
I’m already regretting not going much higher.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a first-year coach with more early momentum than Terry. Since departing Fresno State this March in a move that surprised many, Terry has laid a groundwork for winning for years to come while reinvigorating a fanbase that had long been frustrated with Floyd’s inability to bring the consistent success they had come to expect during the Don Haskins era.
Terry entered a near-impossible position from a roster standpoint. 3 key senior talents graduating, younger players transferring, and the rest of the old staff’s recruiting class departing for other collegiate homes. In front of him was 9 open scholarships late in the 2018 recruiting process, with the team in need of a talent injection for both the coming season and beyond.
Yet Terry has managed the roster masterfully, with the help of a strong staff with a rolodex of recruiting contacts throughout not just Texas but the entire country (and beyond). Former San Diego head coach Lamont Smith is the biggest name on staff, a experienced recruiter who had begun a big turnaround with the Toreros before off-court trouble led to his departure this Spring. Terry also brought over assistants Nick Matson and Brian Burton with him from Fresno State, with Burton bringing strong Texas recruiting connections and Matson providing experience from his work across the country. That staff has allowed the Miners to hit the ground running on the recruiting trail.
The first domino to fall was physical big man Efe Odigie, a Houston native who elected to follow Terry from Fresno State, where he had signed originally. Next was Nigel Hawkins, a scoring guard with multiple high-major offers who committed shortly after visiting in late April. Terry then landed Deon Stroud, a former 2019 prospect with several Mountain West offers who elected to reclassify to 2018 and #JoinTheMovement a year early. The most recent prep prospect to pop for Terry and company was high-upside Canadian big man Kaosi Ezeagu, who held offers from Butler and South Carolina but chose the Miners instead. The only miss by Terry’s new staff was Rivals top 150 recruit Isaac Likekele, a former Fresno State commit who elected to head to Oklahoma State instead.
And while Terry’s ability to put together a strong freshman class in such a short amount of time deserves credit, the work he has put in on the transfer market is even more impressive. He’s earned a pair of pledges in NJIT transfer wing Anthony Tarke (15 points, 6 rebounds per game) and former San Francisco guard Souley Boum (10 points per game, WCC All-Freshman selection), and had Fresno State transfer big man Bryson Williams (13 points, 6 rebounds per game) on campus for a visit this weekend. With 3 scholarships still available, Terry still has plenty of room to add talent to the roster for this year and beyond.
One key reason for Terry’s early success and momentum has been his ability to excite and connect with the strong UTEP fanbase, one that averaged well over 6,000 fans per game in the 2016-17 season (most recent NCAA Attendance Report available). The Miners have used Twitter as their friend, with Miners fans and coaches constantly tweeting with hashtags like #BlueCollarMentality, #JoinTheMovement, and #NewEraUTEP.
Social media is a huge area that more teams need to focus on exploiting, and UTEP is the perfect example of this. Twitter is a great way to connect fans and get them excited about the upcoming season, and I expect to see a lot of massive crowds filling the Don Haskins Center for years to come. If the recruiting momentum continues, it won’t be long before UTEP establishes itself as a perennial contender for Conference USA titles and NCAA Tournament berths.
Sorry about the lack of content on the site recently, I’ve been super busy. Will be ramping things up for the summer soon!