Visit the online store for UNLV and other editions of the 2012-13 Athlon Sports College Basketball annual.
The first practices of college basketball season begin in mid-October, and Athlon Sports 2012-13 preview annuals are starting to arrive on newsstands all over the country.
To prepare for the start of college basketball season, we will preview one team each weekday, counting down to the first official day of basketball practice on Oct. 15, or for some teams on Oct. 12.
We continue our countdown with a preview of No. 13 UNLV.
Back in the 1980s and early ‘90s, when Jerry Tarkanian was chomping towels and a great white shark hung from the rafters at the Thomas & Mack Center, there was no hotter ticket in Las Vegas than for UNLV basketball. No, not even Wayne Newton, Engelbert Humperdinck or the Chairman himself, Frank Sinatra, could match the drawing power of the Runnin’ Rebels, who went to three Final Fours over a five-year span and won the 1990 national championship.
That excitement began to dwindle, however, after the popular Tarkanian was forced out following the 1991-92 season after a lengthy and at times ugly NCAA investigation. The Rebels, once one of the premier programs in college hoops, haven’t even won a conference title since sharing the Mountain West championship in 2000.
But entering the 2012-13 campaign under second-year coach Dave Rice, a reserve on Tarkanian’s NCAA title-winning team, it appears that the buzz is finally back for Runnin’ Rebels basketball in Glitter Gulch.
Part of the reason for enthusiasm is the entertaining, run-and-gun dunk-filled play — welcome to “Lob” Vegas — that Rice incorporated during a 26-win debut season that included a 90–80 upset of then-No. 1 North Carolina. Another reason is a highly decorated group of transfers and a recruiting class ranked in the top 10 in the nation by ESPN and No. 12 by Scout.
When some of the newcomers showed up to take part in a summer league game at a local junior high school on a record-breaking 116-degree July afternoon, over 3,000 fans crammed into the gym. And the games were streamed live by a team fan site for those who couldn’t make it.
Yep, you could say the fever is back for Runnin’ Rebel basketball.
On paper this has the makings of the school’s best front line since the Larry Johnson-Stacey Augmon-David Butler era. The big news is that forward Mike Moser, the Mountain West Newcomer of the Year and the school’s first honorable mention AP All-American since Marcus Banks in 2003, decided to return for his junior season after going through the NBA evaluation process. The versatile 6-8 forward had 15 double-doubles while leading the team in scoring (14.0 ppg) and rebounding (10.5 rpg) and also leading the MWC in steals (1.9 spg).
Starting center Brice Massamba and third-team All-MWC forward Chace Stanback, a three-year starter, must be replaced. But Rice has more than his share of options, including a pair of former McDonald’s All-Americans — 6-9 sophomore Khem Birch, a transfer from Pittsburgh who becomes eligible in December, and 6-8 freshman Anthony Bennett from nearby Findlay Prep. Bennett is projected as a first-round pick in some 2013 mock NBA Drafts.
There’s more. Both senior Quintrell Thomas, who began his career at Kansas, and 6-11 junior Carlos Lopez return. After the NCAA denied Connecticut transfer Roscoe Smith’s request to play immediately, the Rebels turn to a pair of highly touted freshman — Savon Goodman and 6-9 shot-blocker Demetris Morant— for depth.
Although steady point guard Oscar Bellfield, a four-year starter, departs, the Rebels have good depth and experience at the position. Athletic senior Anthony Marshall, a second-team All-MWC pick and also a member of the league’s all-defensive squad, returns after finishing third on the team in scoring (12.2 ppg) and steals (1.5 spg) and second in rebounding (5.1 rpg) and assists (4.5 apg). Marshall, a local product nicknamed “The Mayor,” is a fan favorite for his acrobatic highlight-reel dunks. Senior Justin Hawkins, arguably the league’s top lockdown defender and sixth man, also returns.
Three newcomers are expected to expected to make major impacts — sophomore Bryce Dejean-Jones, a transfer from USC who starred in practice while redshirting, and true freshmen Katin Reinhardt and Daquan Cook. Reinhardt, the Los Angeles Times’ 2012 Player of the Year, has been compared by Rice, a former BYU assistant, to ex-Cougars’ star Jimmer Fredette for his long-range shooting and playmaking abilities.
There is little doubt that big things are on the horizon for the Runnin’ Rebels under Rice, who guided UNLV to the NCAA Tournament in his first year and followed that up with one of the nation’s top recruiting classes. The big question will be how long it takes for all the new faces to jell. The rebuilt Rebels figure to battle a veteran and talented San Diego State squad for the Mountain West title.