The Latest Scoop on UTEP Men’s Basketball Recruiting
Updated at 4:14 PM with the announcement of Kristian Sjolund transferring
Joe Golding made the rounds across the city upon being introduced as the 20th coach in team history, and now it's time for him to assemble a squad for his inaugural season as head coach.
Though the week was a bit quiet on the Miners men's basketball recruiting front, Golding has been working on roster management and assembling a coaching staff behind the scenes.
"There's players that want to be at UTEP right now," said Golding on SportsTalk, who was first introduced as the Miners' head coach last week. "We're actively involved in recruiting right now and trying to figure out our staff. I have to figure out this roster out first. Why would I want to go out and sign guys if I don't know they're good fits to what we have here? The longer I'm at practice with these guys, the longer I'm building relationships, the easier it is for me to know the fit."
If you missed the show with Joe Golding, here is the link to the podcast:
The current transfer portal outlook
There are six players from the 2020-21 roster that have jumped into the transfer portal since the season ended—Bryson Williams, Tydus Verhoeven, Kristian Sjolund, Efe Odigie, Adam Hess and Vuk Vulikic.
Odigie, a former All-Conference USA Freshman recipient, is the only one among the bunch to have already signed with a new school. The former Miner will have two years of eligibility left with the Troy Trojans program. Vulikic has earned interest from schools like Northeastern, UCSD, ETSU, Tennessee-Chattanooga, North Dakota, and UMKC, per Jake Lieberman.
On Friday, Sjolund announced that he will be transferring to Portland per his Twitter page.
Upon meeting some of the players for the first time, Golding feels good about his chances to keep guys like Verhoeven on the roster.
"We're working on that relationship each day," Golding said. "Kristian [Sjolund] and Tydus [Verhoeven] are guys that are still going through workouts with us. We're working on building the relationships. They've both had a tough journey. One went to Georgia Tech [Sjolund] and the other went to Duquense [Verhoeven]. I'd like to think I coach on relationships, it's a big part of what I do but it's hard for kids to trust right now."
"We're going to recruit those kids just as hard as anybody," Golding added. "Why wouldn't we? Everyone's recruiting over Zoom right now. I can recruit these kids face to face. If we win the battle, great; if not, we'll celebrate them and go recruit someone else."
Of course, you can't forget about All-Conference USA forward Bryson Williams.
Since entering the portal as a grad transfer, Williams has garnered a ton of Power-5 interest from the likes of USC, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Washington, Arkansas, Arizona State, Washington State and, of course, Texas where his former coach Rodney Terry is now an assistant at.
"Incredible person," said Golding about Williams. "He's still practicing with us. Not only is he very, very talented, but he's also very humble. His mom's done an incredible job with him. Rodney and his staff's done an incredible job with him. We're just building relationships. But we still have the best player in Conference USA here in El Paso. We're going to continue to build relationships with him and if we can't get him, we'll celebrate him. We're going to try to keep him."
Where the roster currently stands
Of UTEP's eight-man rotation they primarily used last season—Williams, Sjolund, Verhoeven, Odigie, Souley Boum, Christian Agnew, Keonte Kennedy and Jamal Bieniemy—the current roster appears to be guard heavy. Assuming Boum, Agnew, Kennedy and Bieniemy all stay, the Miners will return significant experience to their backcourt.
The philosophy, illustrated by Golding, is to see what he has on the current roster while also looking to add pieces. He wants to mix the roster up with transfer portal additions, high school recruits and JUCO players. One thing Golding stressed was the win-now mentality, which he also emphasized at his opening press conference.
"You can't just sign six guys that are scholarship guys that are one-year guys," Golding said. "But at the same time, I can't tell (Jamal) Bieniemy, (Souley) Boum and all those guys—I can't go sign six high school guys because they want to win right now. We want to win too."
Other Terry recruits on the current roster include guards Emmanuel White, Cam Clardy and forwards Gilles Dekoninck and Ze'rik Onyema.
The new coaching staff plans to balance developing players on the roster and also wants to build depth to the frontcourt.
"Obviously, we need some size," Golding said. "If you look at our roster, there's no secret to that. We're hitting that market hard in all three areas—transfer portal, JUCO, and high school. There's no secret; if you're old, you win. But we also want to develop some kids. (Ze'rik Oneyma) is a young kid in our program. We recruited (Oneyma) when I was at ACU and ended up not going in on him. He's definitely talented enough to be here at UTEP. He looks like a completely different player than what I saw a year ago."
We'll know more about how this roster gets finalized as the weeks roll along.
Prospects and potential recruits
Though recruiting players outside of UTEP has been hushed, there have been a few names that have popped up across the country who the Miners are targeting. If Verhoeven stays with the team, the Miners will have about seven scholarships available.
Two names that have popped up this week are Maryland forward Jairus Hamilton and IUPUI forward Jaylen Minnett. Hamilton (forward, 6-foot-8) was an off-the-bench forward that averaged 6.5 points and 2.4 rebounds, and shot 43% from 3-point range for the Terrapins. As a senior captain for IUPUI, Minnett (combo guard, 6-foot-1) averaged 16.4 points, 2.1 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game.
Sources tell 600 ESPN El Paso that UTEP is actively targeting several players from the Power-5 ranks that are currently in the transfer portal.
Prior to taking the UTEP job, Golding recruited Loyola Chicago forward Franklin Agunanne to Abilene Christian. Agunanne recently reopened his recruitment following Golding landing the UTEP job, but sources tell 600 ESPN that the Miners are not actively targeting Agunanne.
And then there's the wonderful fantasy that El Pasoans are trying to manifest down the line—keep local 5-star prospect KJ Lewis home. The Chapin Huskies shooting guard is ranked as the 20th overall prospect in the class of 2023, the second overall in the country by position and the third overall recruit in Texas. He's garnered offers from the likes of Kansas, Texas, Texas A&M, TCU, Houston and most recently, UTEP.
"There's a pretty good player here in El Paso. He's young and we're going to recruit him. I think those are the battles you have to get into and you'll win some of them," Golding said indirectly regarding a person-not-to-be-named (*cough, KJ Lewis*).
The takeaway here is that Golding isn't afraid of recruiting the best prospects out there and wants to win these recruiting "battles" down the line.
A pair of recruits that were supposed to join Terry's squad—Keith Fisher III (Pepperdine) and Shemar Wilson (UT-Arlington)—both recently altered their plans and committed to different schools.
Golding's recruiting philosophies
When speaking on the topic of the ideal timeline to finalize his roster, Golding preached flexibility and adaptability. He has been conducting mostly Zoom, FaceTime or phone interviews with players until their staff is allowed to visit prospects in person, per the NCAA recruiting restrictions due to COVID-19. Coaching staffs across the country could have the opportunity to hit the road and recruit as early as June.
"Who knows, we might have our roster done by then," Golding suggested.
"There's good players out there," he continued. "There's going to be good players a week from now. There's going to be good players a month from now. Transfer portal is nuts. The JUCO route, the high school kids—we're all navigating this and trying to figure this out."
Over the course of the three years Terry was at the helm, the program saw 18 players enter the transfer portal. The new coaching staff will prioritize retention to establish continuity within the roster, despite the ever-growing transfer portal.
"Retention is a big deal," Golding stated. "Look at North Texas. I've studied Grant (McCasland). He had the job at ACU, left for Baylor and I got the job, so we go way back. Grant's retained a lot of that roster. That's why they've won. Western Kentucky has retained some and that's why they've won. I don't subscribe to the idea that you're going to lose 10 guys to the portal. Yeah, the portal has changed. Yes, kids are going to leave.
"One of the best players we had at ACU that I had an incredible relationship with, Joe Plesant. I looked at him and said if you stay one more year here, you're going to be in the Hall of Fame and ACU will do anything for you for the rest of your life. He looked at me and said, 'coach, I've done it all here. I can't sit here and chase UTEP.' He wanted to go play at a higher level so he goes to Witchita State. So there's situations like that. There's situations where a player needs to move for other reasons. I still think we can retain some players. We had retention at ACU and we had consistency, which is why we won."