Mountain West preview: UNLV hopes to put last year behind it
It was a train wreck in Sin City from start to finish.
The Runnin’ Rebels got a late start when it took way too long to hire Marvin Menzies last year, and that put the veteran coach behind the 8-ball when it came to recruiting.
When the smoke cleared, UNLV had compiled an 11-21 record and virtually cleaned house.
Only five lettermen — Kris Clyburn (7.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg), Jovan Mooring (12.6, 2.7), Cheickna Dembele (4.0, 4.4), Ben Coupet Jr. (1.3, 1.5) and Djordjije Slijivancanin (1.4, 0.5) — return to the squad.
And, of that group only Clyburn and Mooring played significant minutes.
Menzies signed 10 new players, including 7-foot freshman All-American Brandon McCoy, who was named preseason Freshman of the Year. McCoy was a McDonald’s All-American and an ESPN top-20 prospect.
Also coming aboard are 6-7 forward Tervell Beck, who averaged 25.2 for Central Catholic in 2015-16. He played at OnPoint Academy last season. Cheikh MBacke Diong, a 6-11 center, who averaged 14.1 points and 10 rebounds a game at Florida Prep, and 6-7 junior Shakur Juiston, the NCJAA Player of the Year out of perennial powerhouse Hutchinson CC.
There’s also guard Jay Green from Hillcrest Prep (Arizona), 6-2 freshman Amauri Hardy ranked the 22nd-best point guard in the country, 6-4 guard Anthony Smith, who averaged 20.5 a game at Feather River College, and 5-11 redshirt Jordan Johnson, who played in 2015-16.
Also now in the fold are former Bishop Gorman stars Nick Blair who transferred from Idaho, and Noah Robotham, who came over from Akron. Both will sit out this season.
“We have two solid guys returning,” Menzies said at last month’s recent Mountain West Media Summitt. “Kris has come a long way and he still has two years to play. Jovan did an outstanding job. Jovan is a good combo guard.
“I’m excited about this year’s team; excited about the season. We are looking forward to moving the needle in the right direction and create a positive vibe in the city.”
There seems to be a little more buy-in within the program.
“We are going to be more competitive,” Clyburn said. “There is more buy-in I think.”
“We had everybody here during the summer,” Mooring said. “We were 3 or 4 plays away (each game) from being a 16 or 17-win team. We just didn’t execute at key times of games.”
The media picked the Rebels to finish sixth in the conference, and Menzies said that will give his team a little extra motivation.
Getting better as the season goes on is the big key. Like any coach, Menzies wants his team to be playing its best basketball once the conference season gets under way.
“In any beginning of any year, it seems like the blemishes are a lot more dominant, so we’re going to have to work through those and hopefully get ourselves to be a well-oiled machine by the time we get to conference,” Menzies told the Las Vegas Review Journal recently. “We have to get better everyday We’ve got to get better every single day in practice. I feel like this team’s zeal for the game and I feel like the character of our kids is one they have the gym-rat mentality. When you’ve got guys like that, you’ve got a chance.”