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UTEP’s Matt Willms works to return to full strength after playing last season with a torn labrum

Jul 6, 2014, 8:06 PM EDT

UTEP v Washington State Getty Images

After redshirting in 2012-13, UTEP center Matt Willms entered the 2013-14 campaign hoping to have an impact for the Miners in his first season on the floor. Willms proved to be a solid contributor for head coach Tim Floyd, starting the last 17 games of the year and posting averages of 5.4 points and 3.5 rebounds per game on a team that won 23 games and a share of the Conference USA regular season title.

However Willms’ impact wasn’t as great as he’s hoped, with health being the reason why. Willms played the 2013-14 season with a torn labrum in his left (shooting) shoulder, suffering the injury in September before practices began. Willms played through the pain, undergoing surgery in early April.

Now rehabbing the shoulder, Willms hopes to improve on his numbers of a season ago. And in a story written by Bill Knight of the El Paso Times, Floyd touched on Willms’ importance to a team that should have the pieces needed to once again contend in Conference USA. And the 7-footer is hoping to be cleared by doctors upon his return to campus after he spends some time in his native Canada.

Floyd said, “Matt is such a big part of where we want to go. He’s got to get stronger and he’s got to continue to get stronger down in the low block. He has more God-given ability at his size than any player I’ve ever coached in terms of being able to run, jump, catch, pass, touch. Now it’s up to him. Now it’s a matter of dedication.”

Willlms said, “Right now I can do individual work. No contact; light weights. They told me everything is going great. By the time I get back from Canada, I should be cleared to do everything. I’ll do my physical therapy, the light weights, the individual work while I’m home. I’ve been fortunate … never had a major injury before this.”

UTEP returns guard C.J. Cooper (9.6 ppg, 3.0 apg) and forwards Julian Washburn (13.1 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.5 apg), Vince Hunter (12.3, 6.5) and Cedric Lang (6.5, 5.4) from last year’s team, in addition to the recuperating Willms. But Willms’ development is important due in large part to the fact that John Bohannon (11.9 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 1.7 bpg) is out of eligibility.

Bohannon led the Miners in rebounding and blocked shots last season, earning third team All-Conference USA honors as a result. That’s an important loss to address, especially when considering the fact that the Miners ranked 14th in Conference USA in defensive rebounding percentage (66.8%) with Bohannon.

For this reason, Willms’ health and development will be something to keep an eye on as the season approaches for UTEP.