2024 Weststar Don Haskins Sun Bowl Invitational Teams Announced

EL PASO, Texas – The Sun Bowl Association and WestStar have announced the four teams playing in the 63rd Annual WestStar Don Haskins Sun Bowl Invitational, highlighted by two teams playing in the NCAA Tournament, with Yale, Jackson State, Akron and UTEP converging on the floor of the Don Haskins Center for the two-day holiday classic on Friday and Saturday, Dec. 20-21, 2024.

All four teams have a very deep basketball tradition and plenty of success.

“The WestStar Don Haskins Sun Bowl Invitational is a staple here in El Paso and every team that has been here before is always excited to come enjoy the great competition as well as the Sun Bowl hospitality,” said Executive Director Bernie Olivas.  “Akron and Jackson State are itching for a return visit to the Borderland, and we know that Yale, who is making its first appearance in our tournament, will leave with a great experience and memories.” 

Akron Zips

Akron won the WestStar Don Haskins Sun Bowl Invitational in 2016, its only trip to the holiday classic, defeating UC Irvine in game one and Maryland Eastern Shore in the championship game. 

Akron finished the 2023-24 season with a 24-11 record, going 13-5 in Mid-American Conference play.  Forward Enrique Freeman led the team in scoring, averaging 18.6 PPG to go along with a 58.4 shooting percentage.  He was also named All-MAC First Team and was unanimously voted as the MAC Player of the Year. Guard Ali Ali, who was also named All-MAC First Team, led the team in assists with 76 in only 27 games played.

The 2024-25 version of the Akron Zips basketball program added five transfers to the roster.  Joining the team will be Isaiah Gray (Brooklyn, N.Y.), Bowen Hardman (Cincinnati, Ohio), Josiah Harris (Canton, Ohio), James Okonkwo (Maidenhead, England) and Seth Wilson (Lorain, Ohio).

The Zips are led by Head Coach John Groce, who completed his fifth season at Akron with a 94-59 overall record, including a 63-25 mark over the last three seasons. In Mid-American Conference play, the Zips are 54-38 under Groce and 40-16 over the last three years, owning the best winning percentage (.714) in the league.

Groce has a long track record of building championship caliber teams and all-around successful young men. The program’s mission “to be impactful”, and the vision “OneAkron”, resonates with everyone involved in the program as he is notorious for saying “It takes a village.”

The 2023 season saw Groce lead the Zips to a third-place finish in the MAC where they eventually fell to Kent State in the semifinals. 

Jackson State Tigers

Jackson State is making its third appearance at the WestStar Don Haskins Sun Bowl Invitational participating in 2000 and 2006 while going 1-3 overall in the holiday tournament.  The Tigers had an All-American in guard Ken Evans Jr., who was named to the 16th HBCU Division I college basketball All-America teams powered by BOXTOROW. He was also named an HBCU National Co-Player of the Year.

Evans leads the SWAC in scoring (18.8), is tied for sixth in assists (93), averaged 5.4 rebounds per game, and shot 39 percent from three-point range. He had 11 games of scoring 20 or more points and scored 30 or more points three times including a season-high 37 points against Arkansas-Pine Bluff (3/7). Evans was also named SWAC Player of the Year.

Jackson State is led by former NBA All-Star and NBA Champion Moe Williams.  In his first season, Williams defied the odds of a predicted seventh-place finish as he led the Tigers to a tie for third place and a berth in the SWAC Tournament semifinals. The Williams era was sparked by a win over SMU during non-conference play en route to a 12-6 conference record. 

Williams spent 14 years in the NBA, averaging more than 13 points and nearly five assists per game. Drafted by Utah, Williams would play his rookie season with the Jazz before spending the next four seasons with the Milwaukee Bucks. Williams played three seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers (2008-11) where he teamed up with LeBron James and helped the Cavs post a league-best 66 wins in 2008-09 and a berth in the NBA Finals. Williams was selected to the NBA All-Star Game in his first season with Cleveland.

Yale Bulldogs

The Yale men’s basketball team had another memorable season in 2023-24 reaching the second round of the NCAA Tournament after defeating No. 3 seed Auburn 78-76 in round one. The 2023-24 season will go down as one of the most successful seasons in school history. The Bulldogs won an NCAA Tournament game for just the second time after capturing the Ivy League Tournament title for the third time, while winning 23 games, matching the most in the modern era of Yale Basketball.

This will mark Yale’s first ever trip to the WestStar Don Haskins Sun Bowl Invitational.

The Bulldogs are led by James Jones, the all-time winningest men’s basketball coach at Yale and one of the most successful coaches in Ivy League history, was named Yale’s head coach on April 27, 1999. He enters the 2023-24 season with 373 career victories, which is the second most in league history, and his 201 Ivy wins are also the second most in league history. Jones’ .624 winning percentage in Ivy League games is by far the highest in Yale history.

Jones, the longest tenured coach in the league, has guided the Bulldogs to six Ivy League championships – 2002, 2015, 2016, 2019, 2020, 2023 – three NCAA Tournament berths – 2016, 2019, 2022 – and seven postseason appearances. When the Ivy League Tournament was canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic, the Bulldogs were awarded the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament by virtue of winning the regular season title, but the NCAA Tournament was ultimately canceled as well. 

UTEP Miners

The UTEP Miners are 87-29 all-time in the WestStar Don Haskins Sun Bowl Invitational after winning two games in the tournament last year, marking the 33rd time that the Miners have won the WestStar Don Haskins Sun Bowl Invitational title.

UTEP was just one win shy of making a trip to the NCAA Tournament after falling in the title game of the CUSA Tournament. The Miners finished the year with a winning record, going 13-5 in the Don Haskins Center while averaging 72.6 points per game on the year.  Guard Tae Hardy was voted to the 2023-24 NABC All-District second team after another stellar season with the Miners.

The Miners look to improve again and have brought on NJCAA Second Team All-America selection Ahamad Bryum, who is also a former consensus top-100 player and a four-star recruit.

Head Coach Joe Golding, who led Abilene Christian to the NCAA Tournament in two of his final three seasons with the program and an upset win over third-seed Texas in the 2021 “Big Dance” was appointed the 20th head coach in UTEP men’s basketball history on April 13, 2021.

He will carry a career record of 210-192 (13 years) into the 2024-25 season, including a mark of 52-48 (three years) with UTEP.

He has enjoyed two winning seasons in three years at the helm of the Miners, including guiding UTEP to 18 victories and runner-up honors at the 2024 CUSA Championships. It marked the Orange and Blue’s first appearance in the championship contest of the league tournament since 2011. The run to the finals was unprecedented for the program for multiple reasons. UTEP’s No. 5 seed was the lowest in the 13 appearances that it has now made in a conference tournament championship game. The Miners took out the No. 1 seed, Sam Houston, 65-63, in the semifinals, their first win against a top seed at the league tournament since the 1993 WAC Championships. Furthermore, they became the first squad in school history to come back from double-digit deficits to win consecutive contests at the league tournament.

For more information on the 2024 WestStar Don Haskins Sun Bowl Invitational please go to www.sunbowl.org.