When Legendary UTEP coach Don Haskins offered Amarillo ( Texas) High senior Brandon Wolfram a scholarship in November 1996, Haskins had never even seen Wolfram play—in large part because Wolfram had yet to appear in a varsity game. After playing on the freshman team at Amarillo in 1993-94, he missed the next two seasons because of surgery on both knees. Miners assistant coaches G. Ray Johnson and Luster Goodwin spotted a healthy Wolfram in an AAU game during the summer of '96 and urged Haskins to grab the 6'9" forward during the early-signing period, before the rest of the world discovered him. "You want me to sign a kid with two bad knees who's never played a high school game?" Haskins asked. "You guys better be right, or they're going to run us out of town."
Four years later Wolfram has evolved into a major Miner and, with a 24.4-point average, was tied for second in the nation in scoring. "I wasn't really recruited by anyone and never thought I'd play college ball," Wolfram says. "Then Coach Haskins called and changed my life."
Haskins, who retired after the 1998-99 season, built his Hall of Fame career by discovering overlooked gems like Nate (Tiny) Archibald and Tim Hardaway. Wolfram is the latest in that line and is almost too good to be true. He's a first-team Academic All-America with a 3.89 GPA in business management, and before this season he turned down Playboy's Anson Mount Scholar-Athlete Award because the magazine offends his strict Baptist beliefs. He doesn't curse, wear earrings or have tattoos and he got married, to the former Lauren Reecer, in August. "Brandon has always been into his books, and he doesn't go clubbing on the weekends," says senior teammate Parker Vandivort. "When he told me in the spring that he'd proposed to his girlfriend, I said, 'Aren't you already married?' "
Wolfram's scoring average has risen during his UTEP career, from 6.8 to 12.9 to 20.7 last season, and he's ultraefficient on offense. Though averaging only 32 minutes per game this season, he's on pace to set school single-season records by shooting 60.4% from the floor and 85.3% from the free throw line. He's also likely to break the school's career scoring record (1,706 points, held by Antoine Gillespie). "I've shocked myself with how well I've done individually, but it really bugs me that we've been mediocre as a team," says Wolfram of the Miners' record (41-41 entering this season) during his time at UTEP. "I know how empty it feels to be voted All-WAC when your team finishes seventh in the league."
UTEP had a 12-1 record through Sunday, and Wolfram's objective is to lead the Miners to their first NCAA tournament bid since 1992. He brushes off all questions about playing in the NBA, although his solid mid-range jumper, creativity in the post and ability to run the floor have prompted league scouting director Marty Blake to predict that Wolfram will be drafted.
"Brandon is so low-maintenance that at times I ask myself, Are we underappreciating this kid?" says coach Jason Rabedeaux, who succeeded Haskins. "We may talk about him more next year because he's the kind of selfless player you don't fully cherish till he's gone."