Freedom New Mexico
It figures if the Eastern New Mexico University men’s basketball team can hang with three Division I teams, all of whom made the NCAA tournament last year, good things are in store.
ENMU, under second-year coach Andrew Helton, plays at Texas-El Paso in a 7:05 p.m. start tonight. The Greyhounds (10-16, 5-7 Lone Star Conference South last year), also visit New Mexico on Wednesday night and New Mexico State on Nov. 8.
“I’ve told people I think we might be the only team in the country to play three (NCAA Division I) tournament teams before Nov. 13,” Helton quipped.
Helton doesn’t expect to win any of the games. Instead, he wants to see just where his team is prior to the Nov. 12 opener against Northern New Mexico at Greyhound Arena.
“The bottom line is I want us to compete hard,” Helton said. “At the same time, I also want us to improve and look at some different guys.”
They figure to be tested against the Miners, who won 26 games and the Conference USA regular-season title last year before being ousted in the first round of the NCAAs by eventual runnerup Butler.
Longtime coach Tim Floyd makes his debut at the Miners’ helm tonight. He was an assistant at UTEP from 1978-86 under the legendary Don Haskins before going on to coach at places like Iowa State and Southern Cal, not to mention in the NBA with the Chicago Bulls and New Orleans Hornets.
UTEP returns eight letterwinners and three starters from last season, including senior guard Randy Culpepper, the CUSA player of the year. They are trying to replace Derrick Caracter and Arnett Moultrie, who combined for nearly 24 points and 15 rebounds last season.
Top returnees for the Hounds are senior forward Tyler Jefferson and senior swingman and El Paso native Victor Reid.
“The kids are excited,” Helton said. “It’s just a good deal for our program.”