During the second half of UNLV’s 85-68 thrashing of Cal last Friday at the Thomas & Mack Center, the chants from students wanting to see Reggie Smith on the floor grew louder and louder.
When the Rebels (13-2) return to action at the Mack on Wednesday night against Central Arkansas (5-6), those fans will likely get their wish.
Smith, a sophomore Marquette transfer who has only been eligible for the Rebels for two games, didn’t get into Friday’s blowout until the final minute for a bit of mop-up duty. It may have come as a surprise to many in the building, but not to Smith.
“Over the past year, I grew up a lot, both mentally and physically, and I know a lot of people thought I was just going to come in and be an impact player, but the system is something you’ve got to get used to,” Smith said. “We’re a really good team and the chemistry just has to be there, and right now it’s not for me. In practice, I’m working hard every day trying to get the chemistry right. When my time comes, I’ll be ready.”
From the sound of it, Smith isn’t that far off from being the back-up point guard coach Dave Rice envisions him as.
Over the course of the last couple of weeks, he’s begun getting more reps in practice with UNLV’s rotation units as opposed to his former role on the scout team, and Rice said that Smith has made continual, consistent progress.
“I don’t think he’s very far from being able to go in the game and help us,” Rice said. “The thing is, it’s always hard to add a guy in the middle of the year. It’s always harder when rotations develop and we’ve had a relative amount of success so far. It’ll be good to have when he’s ready. His attitude has been tremendous.
“He’s obviously disappointed he didn’t get to play more in the (Cal) game, but he’s been tremendous.”
When he’s ready to handle more minutes, Smith will provide a welcomed relief for starting guards Anthony Marshall and Oscar Bellfield, who have logged extensive minutes, while Justin Hawkins and Kendall Wallace spelled them as much as they can off of the bench. In that backcourt rotation, one more capable body would give the Rebels the ideal amount of depth.
Plus, there’s the added bonus of Smith being a true change-of-pace player off of the bench, as he combines a 43-inch vertical leap with a lightning-quick first step that will make him extra valuable against teams trying to play zone against the Rebels.
Aside from the chemistry needing to feel right within UNLV’s offensive system, it sounds like Smith’s two biggest hurdles left to clear involve being reliable in the Rebels’ switch-heavy defensive scheme and getting into better game shape.
Getting off of the scout team has boosted Smith’s progress on the defensive end. As for game shape, well, that’s achieved by playing in games.
That makes the next three games, which lead into the Jan. 14 Mountain West opener at San Diego State, so important. After hosting Central Arkansas, the Rebels travel to take on Hawaii (7-5) on Saturday to ring in the new year. Non-conference play wraps up with a game next Thursday at Cal State Bakersfield (6-6).
“A couple more games, I should be in the system,” Smith said. “My progression is looking really good right now, coach likes what I’m doing.
“In the beginning, I was trying to rush everything, do everything quickly. I noticed that wasn’t gonna work. Coach talked to me and told me to take it a day at a time, a practice at a time, and that’s working much better than rushing it.”