Since March Madness officially began last Tuesday with the First Four, the real fun starts now. Over the next three weeks, hoops fans can enjoy more college games than they can handle, while hoping to keep their brackets intact.
Recently, I was having lunch with my brother Matt and we started talking about the best UTEP basketball starting five from the 1990s until now. Soon, that conversation became the best team assembled from the post-Haskins era, and I was quick to come up with my starting lineup.
Guard: Filiberto Rivera
To me, having Fili as my starting point guard is a no brainer. In two years, he helped lead the Miners to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments, and narrow first round losses to Maryland and Utah. Rivera was a point guard who could score and the perfect player to start my dream team.
Guard: Stefon Jackson
It would be difficult to form a team like this and leave UTEP’s All Time leading scorer off of the starting five. From 2005-09, Jackson scored 2,456 points as a Miner and was also named to C-USA first team twice in his career.
Forward: Omar Thomas
Despite being listed at 6-5, OT was a scoring machine for a small forward during his two seasons with the Miners. Don Haskins used to tell me that no undersized player he had ever watched had the ability to score like Thomas. Unfortunately, his lack of size prevented him from playing in the NBA, but he has spent the last 11 seasons starring in Italy, Russia and Serbia. He is currently playing for Hoops Club in Beirut, Lebanon.
Forward: Brandon Wolfram
Another no-brainer selection, Wolfram held UTEP’s career scoring record until Jackson shattered it in 2009. The 6-9, 240-pound power forward arrived at UTEP in 1997 and spent his first two seasons playing for Don Haskins before Jason Rabedeaux let Wolfram score at will during his final two seasons.
Forward: Derrick Caracter
The decision to put Caracter on my team was a difficult one, since he only spent three months as a member of the Miners. However, the former transfer from Louisville averaged 14 points and 8 rebounds for UTEP and helped lead Tony Barbee’s final team to the NCAA Tournament. I always felt that Caracter was the missing link in that team’s bid to make the Big Dance, and I would want the 6-9, 275-pound big man to pair in the low post with Wolfram.
UTEP stars like Randy Culpepper, Julyan Stone, Dominic Artis, Julian Washburn, Vince Hunter, John Tofi, Jason Williams and John Bohannon all received strong consideration for this list, and they would have made my bench if the team could expand to 13 players.
An interesting side note to this discussion is how many players could be part of this team five or ten years from now? Will Omega Harris and Matt Willms bump some people off of the list? Could a future Miner shine and make their way onto this team? Only time will tell Miners fans.
Since 1997, Steve Kaplowitz has hosted “Sportstalk” weekday afternoons 4-7 p.m. on 600 ESPN El Paso. Over the last 17 years, he has also worked for UTEP and NMSU as a play-by-play broadcaster, for UTEP telecasts on Time Warner Cable and for KDBC-TV and KTSM-TV as a sports anchor/reporter. You can contact Steve by emailing him at email@example.com.