The Miners start practicing this weekend. Coach Floyd fielded questions from utepathletics.com at C-USA Media Day on Tuesday in Dallas.
Q: You had the opportunity to work with your players to a much greater extent than in past years this summer due to changes in NCAA legislation. What have you learned about your team already, prior to the official start of practice?
We don’t know any more than we would’ve known without the rules, because we’re limited to two hours a week. They’re an eager group. We like our young players that we’ve added. In terms of being able to measure ability to shoot it versus pressure, ability to defend and ability to rebound, all those questions will remain until we start playing games.
Q: A late summer addition to the roster was Konner Tucker. What does he bring to the table?
We think he gives us an ability to make shots from the perimeter. He also brings some experience, being a fifth year senior, which we hope will help a very young team.
Q: At least on paper, Julian Washburn, John Bohannon and Jacques Streeter would be regarded as your top returning players. What kind of progress would you like to see each of them make this season?
They are our most experienced players. Obviously we didn’t win as many games as we would’ve liked [last year], so they’re going to have to improve. In Bohannon’s case, he needs to make fewer mistakes and get more rebounds. We’d love for Jacque to improve defensively and finish at the rim a little better. Julian needs to continue to make strides offensively in terms of the ability to come off actions and catch and score. His rebounding numbers need to improve as well, and he needs to shoot more free throws.
Q: Last year you had one of the most inexperienced teams in the nation. This year you are still young. But you have several guys coming back in a year where Conference USA has had a great deal of turnover. What are your goals for the 2012-13 season?
We want to see individual improvement and hopefully team improvement. But that may be a challenge, given that we’re still one of the youngest teams in the United States and playing one of the most challenging schedules in the country. I think we’re a year early in terms of our strength of schedule. This team, as young as it is, needs to be in a position where it can learn how to win. But we wanted to put our program in situations where we played more nationally relevant games and upped our visibility.
Q: You brought in some really sought after recruits. What do you expect from Twymond Howard, McKenzie Moore, Chris Washburn and Matt Willms this season?
Twymond is a terrific athlete. He has a chance to be a great defender. His challenge will be getting the points that he was able to score in high school to transfer to the college level. We feel like he’s versatile enough to defend three positions, and that will help us. We’ve always liked bigger guards, and he is a guy that fits the bill. I think he’s a very good rebounder for a guy his size. McKenzie is a player that we would’ve recruited at USC. He reminds me of a young man that we had by the name of Daniel Hackett. He is a 6’6” and a half point guard who’s excellent in the open floor. I think he has a chance to be a terrific college player. Chris Washburn had an excellent summer in terms of personal development. He improved his body by dropping 30 pounds, which has elevated his athleticism. We’ve always liked his ability to pass, his ability to handle the ball for a guy his size, and his low post game. He worked hard at his mid-range jump shot in the summer and we expect him to have a good freshman year. Matt Willms was declared a non qualifier at the end of the summer, so he will have to redshirt this year. If his grades are in good shape at mid-semester, the NCAA will give him the chance to practice at mid-semester. This could be a blessing, because he needs to gain 30 pounds prior to competing. But all the tools are there for him to become a tremendous college player.
Q: How is recruiting going? What have you been up to the last couple of months on that front?
We covered the United States in July. We covered the top prospects in the country. We hope that will translate into an outstanding November signing period for the Miners. Our emphasis has been on shot makers and playmakers and I feel comfortable that we’re talking to the right people.
Q: In the past you have said that your teams typically get off to slow starts. You strive for steady improvement and want to be playing your best basketball at the end of the year. How do you tackle the early portion of this year’s schedule, knowing that you’ll be facing the likes of Oral Roberts, Arizona, Oklahoma, UNLV, Oregon and NM State in the first month of the season?
The key is to try to steal some games that maybe this young team isn’t supposed to win. That will build confidence. The players are excited, but that can only carry you so far.
Q: The theme for this season is “Bringin’ Back the ‘80s” … bringing back the wins, bringing back the championships, bringing back the crowds, bringing back the atmosphere in the Don Haskins Center. While the 1966 title team gets all the attention, and deservedly so, people might not realize that the ‘80s were the best decade that UTEP Basketball has ever experienced. What are your recollections from that era?
High character, talented freshmen athletes were brought in and given the chance to grow and play early in their careers. They stuck together and created a perennial top-20 basketball team. I recall tickets being tough to get, crowds being long at the airport upon our team’s arrival from road trips, students camping out the night before ball games making sure that they received their free student ticket, and never being in fear of anybody on the schedule regardless of who we were playing or where we were playing.
Q: You worked hard to introduce a lower season ticket price for this season, and now upper reserved seats are only $160. That’s a decrease from $195 last year and breaks down to less than $9 per ticket. Why did you think this was so important?
It’s one thing to reduce the cost of the tickets, but the value comes in the talent level of the teams that are coming into the Haskins Center this year. We wanted those seats that were unoccupied in the upper rows to be filled, because having been here in the ‘80s I recognize what an intimidating place the Haskins Center can be when our educated fans are in full attendance. I’m thankful that Bob Stull and Dr. Natalicio pushed hard for our fans in bringing about this new ticket pricing plan, which I think will help create a whole new generation of Miner fans.
Q: What else can fans look forward to this season?
We plan to retire three more numbers this year and hang six more honored jerseys. We’re going to continue honoring our storied past as we continue to prepare for a bright future.