Welcome to the big-time.
Highlighted by a victory on national television over then-No. 1 North Carolina in late November, 14th-ranked UNLV has put itself back prominently on the national college hoops radar this season because of its performance on the floor.
On Thursday, the program came even closer to bringing itself up to an elite level in college basketball’s facilities arms race.
The state-of-the-art Mendenhall Center was officially opened with a dedication ceremony that honored the several donors behind the project that was announced roughly two years ago.
Afterwards, the UNLV players had their first opportunity to tour the facility, which includes two regulation-sized practice courts, a state-of-the-art weight room, a film room, locker rooms for both coaches and players, academic support space and several other amenities.
“I think it makes a pretty big difference,” sophomore forward Mike Moser said. “It’s probably one of the biggest things we were lacking this year so far, with having to move from gym to gym (to practice). You’d be surprised how few times we were able to practice in the Thomas & Mack with all the events going on, so it’ll be real big for us to have this.
“Especially as a recruiting tool. I know that’s one of the things I always looked at coming out of high school, was who had the newest, coolest stuff that you could work out with to improve your game. The way it’s looking, it’s going to be big.”
The team will still practice at the Mack as much as possible, but the Mendenhall Center offers a permanent home away from the team’s game floor, especially for when the building is otherwise booked. During the season, that’s quite often, forcing UNLV to practice either in the Cox Pavilion’s practice gym, or across campus at the old North gym.
The Rebels likely won’t start practicing in the building for a few more weeks, according to Rice, as there are still a handful of building inspections yet to be completed.
Beyond that, it will serve as a place for the Rebels to put in work around the clock, which is the most appealing part of the whole deal for the current players.
“Just thinking that you could spend a lot of time in the gym, anytime you want to,” junior guard Anthony Marshall said. “You could be at home, with nothing to do, and you want to work on your game, you have the access. Just having that access makes things a lot easier.”
Marshall said he recalled being impressed as a high school recruit by facilities like the Mendenhall Center on visits to schools like Marquette and Miami. Now, UNLV’s hope is that recruits moving forward will be impressed by what they have to offer in that department.
First-year coach Dave Rice, whose program will benefit greatly from the facility originally dreamed up by former coach Lon Kruger, believes they will.
“To be in the situation we’re in, it already paid dividends in recruiting,” he said. “There’s no doubt it had an impact on the three guys we signed early (in the 2012 recruiting class), and it had an impact on (Pitt transfer) Khem Birch and his interest in UNLV.
“It gives us a better chance to compete at the level we’re trying to get our program to. It’s an elite practice facility, and we’re trying to build an elite program. It helps us tremendously, both from a recruiting standpoint, but also from a day-to-day functional standpoint.”