Dave Rice and his staff would much rather be preparing for a Sweet Sixteen game this week.
However, the UNLV coaches hardly had any time to sulk around following last week’s 68-64 loss to Colorado in their NCAA tournament opener in Albuquerque, N.M.
Almost immediately after returning to Las Vegas, Rice turned around to go watch star 2012 signee Katin Reinhardt play over the weekend in California, and now is spending some time this week in the midwest. He and assistant Heath Schroyer are in Hutchinson, Kan., at the NJCAA national tournament checking out some potential junior college prospects, as they still have a scholarship to fill in the 2012 class.
Rice & Co. will be back on campus next week to tie up some loose ends from the 2011-12 season before heading to New Orleans for the Final Four.
And even though UNLV’s season ended sooner than many expected, this next month should be very interesting in terms of developments in the recruiting world.
Here are some updates on UNLV’s top targets and signees heading into the offseason …
UNLV’s top 2012 target? Findlay Prep’s Anthony Bennett
For now, at least, UNLV has one opening for next season. With that said, the staff’s first objective is to fit a need.
The staff is still pursuing pursuing long-time targets Shabazz Muhammad — the Bishop Gorman star and top prospect in the 2012 class — and Matt Willms — the 7-foot Canadian whose game has made major strides in his first and only season at Findlay Prep.
Several of the nation’s top programs are making their all-in, last-second pushes at Muhammad, while Willms might be a bit of a long-shot to end up at UNLV at this point. A fourth target lingering in the background is 6-foot-8 wing Anthony January from Woodland Hills (Calif.) Taft. It’s the same high school program that produced current Rebels Justin Hawkins and Bryce Jones, though January, a former UTEP commit, is being pursued heavily by several West Coast programs.
The top target right now, though, appears to be 6-foot-8, 235-pound Findlay forward Anthony Bennett, who Rivals.com ranks as the 7th overall prospect in the 2012 senior crop. The powerful Canadian is still considering five schools: UNLV, Oregon, Washington, Florida and Kentucky.
“I’ve been going up there a lot, just to see their campus, their games,” Bennett said of UNLV. “It’s a really good school. I feel if I go there, I could make a huge impact right away, probably start freshman year, so that’s something I think about sometimes.
“Every time I talk to coach (Justin) Hutson, he always says we play fast, run in transition and we like to shoot. That’s my game. I like to shoot and run up and down.”
Bennett can indeed shoot, but UNLV especially loves how strong of a finisher he projects out to be around the rim, and how much his large, athletic frame could help the Rebels on the glass right away. He has the potential to be every bit as dominant and versatile at the next level as Muhammad, especially if he can avoid some of the nagging injuries that have sometimes held him back at Findlay.
What also helps UNLV in the race for Bennett’s services is the presence of Khem Birch, a former McDonald’s All-American and fellow native of Canada who Bennett has been close with for a couple of years now. Birch transferred in from Pitt this winter, and the 6-foot-9 forward will be eligible at the end of the upcoming fall semester.
“If I go to UNLV, I have someone there to support me, who’ll have my back — That’s my boy, Khem,” Bennett said. “We’ve been talking to each other for a while now. I’ve seen him a couple of times since he’s been out here. He just says it’s a great spot for him and he would prefer if I come, too.”
UNLV isn’t the only Bennett suitor that has a friend of his on campus. At Kentucky, there’s freshman forward Kyle Wiltjer. At Florida, it’s junior wide receiver Stephen Alli, who is a former AAU teammate.
Whether any of those connections helps in Bennett’s ultimate decision won’t be known for a few more weeks.
His busy schedule will see him leave with Findlay teammate Brandon Ashley and Muhammad for Chicago this weekend for next week’s McDonald’s All-American game. Then, he’ll join his Findlay Prep teammates in Bethesda, Md., for the ESPN Rise National High School Invitational. Following that comes the Jordan Brand Classic on April 14 in Charlotte, N.C.
Bennett said he sees himself hammering out a decision, and possibly taking a couple of his official visits, after that.
“All of this recruiting stuff, I just want it to be over, to be honest,” he said. “It’s cool that all the coaches are calling, wanting me to come to their school, but at a certain point, it just gets too crazy.
“But I don’t have a certain timeline for my decision.”
Katin Reinhardt toughing it out
During Mater Dei’s current run through the postseason, Katin Reinhardt, ranked 45th in the 2012 class by Rivals.com, got his thumb caught in an opponents jersey, resulting in a broken thumb and ligament damage in his shooting hand.
He’s led his team to a 33-2 record, a No. 2 national ranking, co-CIF Player of the Year honors in Southern Section Division 1AA, a CIF Southern Section title and now a shot at a large-school state title this Saturday in Sacramento against Sheldon High. He’s already signed with UNLV. Reinhardt could have called it a season.
Instead, he returned last week with a soft cast on his shooting hand.
And went for 21 points and 10 rebounds in yet another victory.
Rest and time to heal will come in about a week or so. Reinhardt said his doctor doesn’t believe the injury will require surgery, but they’ll know for sure when the soft cast comes off following his high school season.
“After the season, I’m gonna just take a few days off,” Reinhardt said. “I’m excited that I can start working out again (individually) and work on my game. Now that I’ll be playing college basketball, I’ve got to get ready for it. I’ll have a weight-lifting program, I want to put on some weight. I just want to be in shape so I can be on the floor and able to play, not having to get subbed out because I’m tired.
“I’ll have to earn it, but they expect me to play a lot, do a lot of things right away, which is good.”
Reinhardt will contend right away for time at the starting point guard job vacated by graduating senior Oscar Bellfield, and said he’ll be on campus both in April for another visit, then in either June or July for good, taking summer classes and working out with his future teammates.
Nothing yet on jucos or transfers
Rice and his staff will again keep their eyes open for any intriguing Division-I transfers as guys around the country begin to look for new homes over the next few weeks. That could especially be the case if UNLV has a second scholarship become available.
In terms of immediate help, there’s a chance that some guys could stand out to Rice and Schroyer this week in Kansas.
The only junior college prospect UNLV has formally recruited to this point, in terms of someone who could be on campus next season, is 6-foot-8 College of Southern Idaho sophomore forward Luke Cothron. He could become a much more legitimate target if things fall through with the high school seniors the Rebels are after.
Cothron has taken quite a twisting journey since being ranked as the 45th overall prospect in the 2010 class by Rivals.com. However, like Bennett, he’d fill a need, especially as a rugged rebounder and low-post offensive threat. For CSI this season, he averaged 14.7 points and 8.5 rebounds per game.
As for the 2013s …
UNLV currently only has one scholarship left to give in the 2013 class, with Findlay Prep junior wing Chris Wood and Lincoln County guard Dantley Walker currently in the fold.
Walker signed after graduating last season, and is still set to join the team following a two-year mission in time for the 2013-14 season. He’s serving his mission in Spokane, Wash.
As for Wood, since moving to Las Vegas last summer from Palmdale, Calif., he’s benefitted greatly from a year at Findlay Prep. Though still pretty wiry, Wood has taken advantage of Findlay’s weights program, beefing up from 180 to 200 pounds. Though still thin, he’s noticeably stronger. It’s made him a much more confident player on the floor while not affecting his smooth outside shot.
Wood will likely play a much bigger role for the Pilots next season, especially following what could be a big summer for him on the AAU circuit. He said he’s not sure yet who he’ll play for this summer, either.
The most high-profile target with that final scholarship, though? It’s Findlay point guard Nigel Williams-Goss, who committed to UNLV and former coach Lon Kruger as a sophomore, but opened his recruitment back up once Kruger and his staff left for Oklahoma. The current UNLV staff has grown to be just as interested in his services, especially as Williams-Goss has emerged as a legitimate star at Findlay this season.
Williams-Goss, one of the more mature and balanced point guards you’ll see in the prep ranks, hasn’t put too much focus on his recruitment during his junior season, but sees himself focusing on it more this summer and next fall.
He said that the schools pursuing him the hardest right now include Washington, Missouri, Oklahoma, UNLV, Providence, Arizona and Harvard. He said he’s still wide open and has no favorites.
What does UNLV have going for them in the race?
“I like what they’re doing over there,” he said. “Obviously they had a tough one in the tournament, but that didn’t take away from the year they had and the job coach Rice did. I think it’s interesting what could happen over there, and I’m looking forward to developing my relationship with the coaches over there.”
Plus, he’s the first guy to come through Findlay Prep during its five-year existence who can truly be labeled as a local, with the entire William-Goss family relocating to Las Vegas from Portland, Ore., before Nigel’s freshman year.
And he’s only grown more and more comfortable with calling Las Vegas home.
“Anytime you’ve lived somewhere for a period of time like this, it starts to feel like home,” he said “I kind of feel like I have two homes now. I really like it out here, I’ve enjoyed it since Day One and I feel like the community’s done a good job of embracing me.”