The Birch Effect: Who will take UNLV’s last open spot?

In the wake of elite Pitt transfer Khem Birch committing to UNLV, a closer look at who could be next

Khem Birch

Khem Birch

Two weeks ago, UNLV was a program with no concrete ties to Pitt transfer and former McDonald’s All-American forward Khem Birch. Dave Rice and his assistants were just trying to get a foot in the door.

On Monday, that door came off of its hinges.

Birch, a Montreal native who ranked as the No. 9 recruit in the 2011 senior class by, committed to UNLV, choosing the Rebels over Florida and a handful of others.

Birch visited UNLV over the weekend with his mother, Wendy Sparks, and AAU coach, Mike George. Now, he’ll be packing his bags and moving to the desert in time for the Jan. 17 start of UNLV’s spring semester. Birch can begin practicing with the team as soon as he’s enrolled, and will be eligible to play as a redshirt sophomore following the fall 2012 semester—A situation similar to that of current UNLV guard Reggie Smith, who just became eligible last month after transferring in from Marquette.

Birch played in 10 games for Pitt before deciding to transfer in early December. He started his last six games under Jamie Dixon, and averaged 4.4 points and five rebounds in 15 minutes per contest. But Birch, at the time, said part of his reasoning for leaving was wanting to play his natural position—power forward—instead of center, which was where he was seeing action at the time for the Panthers.

He’ll now join current high school seniors Katin Reinhardt, Daquan Cook and Demetris Morant as members of UNLV’s 2012 signing class. Also technically in that group is USC transfer Bryce Jones, who will be eligible for UNLV at the start of the 2012-13 season. Rice and his staff also received scholarship release papers from other transfers, such as Illinois guard Crandall Head and Kentucky wing Stacey Poole. But if they were going to accept a mid-year transfer, they were dead-set on making sure it was someone who could bolster their front-court moving forward.

After the whirlwind of recent activity, Rice is, at the moment, left with one scholarship to give out before the start of next season. Several things could potentially happen to create more space, such as someone deciding to leave or Moser, a surging sophomore, deciding to test the NBA draft waters if his high-level play keeps up.

But, for now, here’s a rundown of the top five candidates for that lone spot, and breakdowns of their current situations.