When you look at the University of Texas – Pan American basketball roster or statistics and the name of leading scorer, the name Javorn Farrell might stand out as vaguely familiar. He should. The 6’5” shooting guard Farrell spent his first three years at UMass scoring almost six hundred points for the Minutemen before getting hurt his senior year and electing to transfer as a graduate over the summer. He had a wide range of coaches targeting him including Larry Eustachy from Colorado St but he elected to make a run for the border to play in Edinburg, TX.
Located just outside of McAllen, the UTPA campus sits roughly twenty miles from Mexico and eighty miles up river from the mouth of the Rio Grande. Presumably, a college in football – crazy South Texas would seek gridiron glory, but the Broncs enter their first year in the almost unrecognizable WAC with basketball as their flagship. Previously, they played in the doomed Great West conference. If they manage to keep finding talent like Farrell for the new and watered down Western Athletic, they mind find a niche pretty quickly in the middle or upper third of the conference.
In the heavily romanticized stories of the Old West, outlaws and rugged tough guys would head for the Mexican border for a second chance or an opportunity to quietly make a name for themselves. Farrel fits the billing but it would seem that coach Dan Hipsher does too. His track record as a Division I head coach is mixed having had some success in the late 90′s at Akron before losing his job in 2004 and kicking around the assistant coaching ranks for the past ten years with stints at Arkansas, South Florida and most recently Alabama. His credentials as a mentor shine brighter than any of his actual performance at the helm and his coaching tree includes Shaka Smart, Keith Dambrot and his former Tide boss Anthony Grant.
The Dukes have faced two other programs still transitioning from Division II but clearly, the UTPA Broncos are quite a bit futher along in the process. Already Hipsher and his associate head coach and son Andy have made an impact having lured Farrell away from bigger offers while adding an additional seven players in the first class. Hipsher’s lineup includes fairly impressive size for an unestablished program with two 6’7” and two 6’5” players in the starting lineup. As one might expect they’re a gifted offense rebounding team, but surprisingly weak on the defensive glass. Overall, the Broncos play respectable defense, but the offense has often let them down. They rank among the worst five three point shooting teams in the country but have the sense to not shoot a ton of them. They sit 338th in effective field goal percentage.
Only two of Hipsher’s recruits start but combine for over 40% of the teams offense. Farrell leads the team in scoring with 16.2 points per game to go with an impressive five boards. His back court partner and heavily pursued JUCO transfer, Shaquille Boga, runs the point and tops the Broncos in assists and steals. Prior to heading to junior college, Boga spent his freshman year at University of Wisconsin Milwaukee.
Three holdovers hold down the front court. Expect the lanky Shaquille Hines to play a lot of minutes and provide the Broncs with their most efficient scoring threat down low converting 52% of his two point baskets. He leads the team in rebounds and is their biggest threat to find follow up baskets. Justin Leathers is the best three point shooter on a bad three point shooting team and gives UTPA a strong rebounding presence on the wing. Finnish import Lauri Toivonen doesn’t get too involved on offense but doesn’t make a lot of mistakes either with only six turnover in 279 minutes.
Depth is a concern for the Broncs with no one past the top three scorers averaging more than six points a game. 6’6” Josh Cleveland gives the Broncos decent rebounding off the bench and is particularly productive on the offensive glass. With Farrell and Boga averaging better than thirty minutes a game each, there isn’t much playing time left for the primary reserve guards LJ McIntosh or Jamal Dantzler. Neither will win any awards but they at least eat mistake free minutes as both have an assist to turnover ratio greater than one. Alex Majewski should also make an appearance at forward.
UTPA have generally floundered towards the bottom of Division I basketball since they made the jump, and they lose their best weapon following the season. However, getting Farrell and to a lesser extent Boga shows some resourcefulness on the part of the coaching staff. The road to the NCAA’s out of the WAC could prove a difficult one as long as New Mexico St languishes in the once proud conference, but the Broncs could theoretically carve out some success against a number of programs in the same boat as them. They may have gotten started under Dan Hipsher but they have a long way to go.
**EDIT: I made a mistake earlier when I stated that this was UTPA’s fifth year in the D-I. I was incorrect as they’ve played top tier basketball for a pretty long time.
Duquesne vs UTPA links: