Miners Launch 2009-10 Season With First Official Practice
Oct. 16, 2009
UTEP joined hundreds of men's basketball programs across the country in tipping off the 2009-10 season with its first official practice on Friday at 5 p.m. MST in the Foster Stevens Center.
"We're excited to get going," UTEP coach Tony Barbee said. "We have a lot of excitement and passion right now, but will we have the same excitement and passion a month from now? That's what makes a good team."
The Miners have improved in leaps and bounds in three seasons under coach Barbee. UTEP posted 14 wins in Barbee's first year, 19 in his second and 23 in his third, and reached the championship series of the 2009 College Basketball Invitational.
Barbee's fourth team has the makings of being his best yet - a squad loaded with experience, depth, athleticism and versatility.
The Miners return three starters and seven letterwinners from a year ago. The most notable loss is Stefon Jackson, UTEP and Conference USA's all-time leading scorer. But an influx of five talented newcomers - four of whom bring Division I playing experience to the table - should more than cover for the loss of Jackson's 24.5 points per game.
UTEP has a veteran backcourt in juniors Randy Culpepper and Julyan Stone. The only player in school history to reach 1,000 points by his sophomore year, Culpepper is already the Miners' all-time leader for three-point field goals made (170) and attempted (496).
Stone has flown under the national radar the last two years since he's not a big-time scorer, but his ability to manage a game and his defensive prowess stack up well with other point guards.
Forward Arnett Moultrie was the only non-senior to earn a spot on the preseason All-Conference USA team, and he is the only sophomore on a UTEP roster top-heavy with juniors. Moultrie averaged 8.8 points and 8.2 rebounds as a freshman, then helped the United States Under-19 team to a gold medal at the FIBA World Championships this summer.
Joining them are an impressive group of five newcomers, none more imposing than 6-9, 275-pound Louisville transfer Derrick Caracter.
Caracter was regarded as one of the top high school players in the country before signing with the Cardinals. After averaging over eight points per game in two seasons at Louisville, he now gives the Miners an inside presence that they have lacked in recent years.
Junior guard Christian Polk joined Caracter in sitting out the 2008-09 campaign. Polk played two seasons at Arizona State, averaging 12 points as a freshman in the rugged Pac-10 Conference.
Two other transfers - guard Myron Strong and forward Jeremy Williams - are Memphis natives who played together in high school and junior college. They have enjoyed tremendous success everywhere that they have joined forces. Strong averaged 10 points per game and Williams averaged 7.7 ppg in previous Division I stops at the University of San Francisco and University of Colorado, respectively.
Freshman swingman Marcus Ruppel should help shore up the Miners' outside shooting, a picture of inconsistency last season. He averaged nearly 22 points per outing as a senior at Deer Valley High School in Glendale, Ariz.
Barbee said the earliest practices of the 2009-10 season will be devoted to carving the team's identity.
"We've got to be a tough defensive team and a tougher rebounding team," Barbee said.