By: Hubble Smith, Sports Editor
It was a turbulent and disappointing year for UNLV Rebels basketball fans, who were calling for coach Dave Rice’s scalp by the end of the season.
Picked among the favorites to win the Mountain West Conference, the Runnin’ Rebels failed to live up to preseason billboard hype. First of all, they didn’t run very much, except to the lockerroom after some stinky losses.
They finished tied for third in the conference at 10-8 and were shut out of postseason tournament play for the first time in Rice’s three-year reign.
Several key players jumped ship. Khem Birch, two-time MWC Defensive Player of the Year and the nation’s second-leading shot blocker, declared himself eligible for the NBA draft. Roscoe Smith, the conference’s leading rebounder and No. 6 in the nation, also surrendered his senior year of eligibility and bolted for the professional league. Bryce Dejean-Jones, UNLV’s leading scorer, transferred to Iowa State.
Rice was already at a disadvantage after last year when blue-chip recruit Anthony Bennett left for the NBA and All-MWC senior forward Mike Moser transferred to Oregon.
These are the perplexities facing big-time college basketball programs. Young men from disadvantaged backgrounds are lured by million-dollar NBA contracts and the stigma once associated with transfer athletes has gone the way of divorcees. Any cow will tell you the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.
The Rebels may be better off without Dejean-Jones, who became combative with teammates after losing a couple key games down the stretch. He was benched after one incident and never quite lived up to the leadership promise he showed in his first two years at UNLV.
Amid all of the player distractions, Rice created further uncertainty about UNLV’s basketball program when he interviewed and was offered the head coaching job at South Florida University. Maybe he’s learned how to raise the stakes in Las Vegas. The Board of Regents extended Rice’s contract through the 2018-2019 season with an incentive package.
The upside for the Rebels going into next year is they have talented recruits coming in like Rashad Vaughn, a 6-foot-6-inch shooting guard from Findlay Prep in Henderson and the nation’s No. 7 ranked high school prospect.
Patrick McCaw, a 6-6 guard from Montrose Christian High School in Rockville, Md., just announced his intentions to enroll as a freshman at UNLV this summer. He averaged 13 points a game during his senior year at Montrose and sank 42 three-pointers.
“We are pleased to announce Patrick’s signing,” Rice said in a prepared statement on May 7. “He is a versatile player and a relentless competitor. Pat is a terrific shooter and is also a very skilled passer and ball handler. He can play multiple positions and is a great team player.”
Also coming to Las Vegas is 6-2 point guard Cody Doolin, transferring from University of San Francisco where he graduates in May with a bachelor’s degree in finance. He played three full seasons at USF before playing in just four games last year.
UNLV’s 2014 recruiting class is ranked fourth-best in the nation by Rivals.com, behind only Duke, Kentucky and Arizona.
UNLV also hired assistant coach Ryan Miller, whose resume includes time at Auburn, New Mexico and Memphis.
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