UTEP picked to win the WAC
RENO – UTEP, which returns three starters and Omar
Thomas, the conferenceís best sixth man, was the
preseason pick of both the coaches and the media to
win the WAC menís basketball title this season.
The Miners, who were 24-8 a year ago, received five
first-place votes and finished with 77 points the
Rice, which lost to Nevada in the WAC semifinals last
year, also received five first-place votes and 75
points overall. The remainder of the first division
includes Louisiana Tech (59), defending champion
Nevada (53) and Hawaiíi (51). SMU (45), Boise State
(32), Tulsa (27), Fresno State (21) and San Jose State
(10) occupied the bottom five spots.
In the media poll, UTEP finished with 13 of a possible
20 first-place votes for 186 points. Rice, which
returns forward Michael Harris and guard Jason
McKrieth, was next with 178 points. Nevada got one
first-place vote and 136 points. Hawaiíi was fourth
with one first-place vote and 130 points. Louisiana
Tech (127), Boise State (111), SMU (75), Fresno State
(71), Tulsa (65) and San Jose State (21) were in the
bottom five slots.
ìThis is going to be the best year of WAC basketball
in its history,î said Doc Sadler, UTEPís first-year
coach. ìBasketball has always been good in the WAC.
Anybody can win it. Youíve got to bring it every
ìItís not like I just graduated. Iíve been doing this
for 23 years. Itís not rocket science. We have a good
team because we have good players. If people come
through, we have a chance to be competitive. If Fili
(Filberto Rivera) and Omar (Thomas) stay healthy we
should be competitive.î
While itís easy to pick the Miners, the coaches
believe that four or five teams have the capability of
winning the regular-season title.
ìThe league is certainly one of the best in the
country; at least second on the West Coast,î San Jose
State coach Phil Johnson said. ìTop to bottom itís
ìItís a great league,î Hawaiíi coach Riley Wallace
said. ìWeíre already better than the Mountain West.
Weíd challenge them right now.î
(insert bullet) Riceís Michael Harris, who averaged
17.5 points and 8.9 rebounds per game, was named the
preseason WAC Player of the Year by the WAC coaches
The 6-foot-6 240-pound Harris is the WACís current
leader with 33 double-doubles and he led the
conference in field goal shooting, sinking 60.3
percent of his attempts.
Rivera, SMUís Bryan Hopkins, Julian Sensley of Hawaiíi
and Louisiana Techís Paul Millsap joined Harris on the
all-WAC first team as selected by the coaches.
The mediaís selections were almost identical except
that Nevadaís Nick Fazekas was selected ahead of
Sensley for a first-team slot.
(Insert bullet) As expected, three-time conference
champion and perennial powerhouse Louisiana Tech was
selected as the preseason pick to win the conference
in a vote among the 10 coaches.
The Lady Techsters, who were 17-1 in WAC play last
season, received eight first-place votes and finished
with 80 points. Rice, which received the other two
first-place votes, was second with 72 points. Tulsa
(61), SMU (55) and UTEP (47) round out the first
division. Fresno State (44), Boise State (35), Hawaiíi
(27), San Jose State (16) and Nevada (13) occupy the
lower five slots.
Erica Taylor, the Lady Techsters talented 5-10 guard
was named the preseason Player of the Year. Taylor is
currently seven months pregnant, and coach Kurt Budke
is unsure of when Taylor will be able to play in a
game. Taylorís teammates Lakiste Barkus and Tasha
Crain were named to the second-team.
It was no surprise that Nevada, coming off a 3-26
campaign under first-year head coach Kim Gervasoni,
was picked to finish last.
ìWeíll use it as motivation,î said Nevadaís Amber
Young, who averaged 5.7 points and 5.2 rebounds per
contest last year.
(insert bullet) This is the final WAC basketball
season for Tulsa, Rice, SMU and UTEP. The quartet is
leaving the WAC on July 1 for Conference USA, and will
be replaced by Idaho, New Mexico State and Utah State.
Hawaiíi, Nevada, Tulsa, Louisiana Tech and Fresno
State have won the most games in the past four years.
The only one of the group leaving is Tulsa.
ìI think weíll be a better basketball league in the
future,î commissioner Karl Benson said. ìIím very
confident weíll be on the national stage. Our goal is
to be one of the top 10 leagues in the country. The
WAC is not a mid-major conference. This conference has
proven itself to be a major basketball conference.î
Utah State just missed being selected to the NCAAs
last season, and has made the big dance three times in
the last five years. New Mexico State looks to be on
the rebound with veteran coach Lou Henson at the helm.
The Aggies, who were 13-14 last season, have won 20 or
more games four times in the last six seasons. Idaho
is the weakest of next yearís newcomers. The Vandals
havenít had a winning season since the 1998-99
Next yearís WAC will only have nine teams, and Benson
admitted that some coaches have inquired about the
possibility of adding a non-football member to the
Rumors swirled last year that the WAC was courting
Gonzaga, a member of the West Coast Conference. Benson
ìWe have not talked to Gonzaga,î Benson said. ìThe
only school that has approached us is the University
of Denver. They are in the Sun Belt and they are out
of geography. Weíre not evaluating any schools right
(insert bullet) Benson also said that the WAC has
extended its agreement with ESPN by six years.
ìWeíre excited about it,î Benson said. ìItís a great
opportunity for the WAC with ESPN in the future.î
Benson pointed out that the Mountain West Conference
is leaving ESPN for College Sports TV, a new cable
outfit. It could mean some national games for the WAC
if ESPN continues its Big Monday format
ìThat could be a great opportunity for the WAC to have
increased ESPN coverage,î Benson said. ìRight now,
ESPN doesnít know if it will continue its 9 p.m.
programming slot. If they do, we anticipate we would
fill that. The coaches are more than happy to step in
and play in that time slot.î
Benson also said that ESPN will launch a new station,
ESPN U in the spring. The station would be dedicated
to college sports and compete against the College
Sports TV group. It could mean more exposure for both
menís and womenís basketball next season, according to
Darrell Moody can be reached at
email@example.com, or by calling (775) 881-1281.