UNLV’s Mike Moser opts to hold off on NBA draft, return for junior season

Expectations will be high again with first team all-Mountain West forward back in the fold

It’s common knowledge that players are selected in the June NBA draft based on potential just as much as what they actually accomplished in college.

Next season, UNLV’s Mike Moser will be further tapping into his potential in Las Vegas instead of as maybe an NBA reserve.

The Rebels’ star forward announced on Sunday that he will be returning for his junior season at UNLV, which, if he develops in certain areas, will likely be his last.

“I went through the process, talked with my mom, my AAU coach and coach Rice and the staff at UNLV,” Moser said in a statement released by the school. “We looked at all of my options, and in the end I decided it would be best for me to stay in school. We have a great team coming back and a great fan base. I believe in our program and I love playing in Las Vegas and for UNLV.

“Two big factors were also for my mom to see me graduate and to have a chance to win a national championship. I know I can improve and am looking forward to putting in the necessary hard work.”

In his first season of eligibility at UNLV following his transfer from UCLA, Moser led the Rebels in scoring (14.0 ppg) and rebounding (10.5) ppg. He started the season on a tear, with his most impressive stretch coming in late December, when in back-to-back games he posted 16 points and 18 rebounds in an upset of then-No. 1 North Carolina, then had 34 points and 10 boards in a double-overtime victory at UC Santa Barbara. Moser had 15 double-doubles, and was both a first team all-Mountain West performer and honorable mention All-American — UNLV’s first since Marcus Banks in 2003. His 369 rebounds were the fourth-biggest single-season total in UNLV history, and the most posted by a Rebel since Larry Johnson’s 380 in 1990-91.

Moser displayed many qualities that have him pegged as a future pro. He has a nice mid-range jumper and can hit the 3-point shot when left open. He’s a maniacal defensive rebounder, and has the unique ability at 6-foot-8 to not only grab boards, but then push the fast break on his own, creating matchup headaches for opponents. He also is an incredibly quick leaper, with a second jump that’s as good as you’ll find in college basketball. On top of it all, he was an outstanding teammate and displayed a consistently strong work ethic. His tenacity and flair for the highlight-worthy play also quickly made him a fan favorite.

But he also has things to shore up.

In his first season playing heavy minutes since his senior year of high school in Portland, Ore., Moser’s legs wore down some towards the end of the season. Also, he’ll need to develop a stronger offensive repertoire with his back to the basket and become a much more sound on-ball defender. In the NBA, Moser likely projects out as a small forward, and while he has the game to score as a small forward, he needs to grow defensively to be able to defend NBA small forwards.

Following UNLV’s semi-shocking first round NCAA tournament loss to Colorado, Moser and Rice requested an evaluation of his current draft stock from NBA personnel. The info came back to them last week, and after being evaluated as a pick likely somewhere between the late first round or mid-second round of the two-round draft, Moser opted to return, knowing that another big season with fewer potholes could greatly improve his standing entering the 2013 NBA draft.

“I think a big part is just experience,” Rice said. “He had a terrific sophomore year, and will make dramatic improvements having gone through a (collegiate) season. I think one of the things for us is we plan to play him some at the small forward and also work on his post-up game.”

Moser likely has an intense offseason ahead of him, and not only does next season project out to be huge for him individually, but also for UNLV as a whole.

On top of adding two stars in the making on the perimeter in sophomore USC transfer Bryce Jones and freshman Katin Reinhardt, Moser should have much more help on the glass, especially with sophomore Pitt transfer and former McDonald’s All-American Khem Birch becoming eligible following the fall semester’s conclusion.

UNLV is also still in the running for Findlay Prep senior Anthony Bennett, who Rivals.com ranks as the No. 7 overall prospect in the 2012 class. Bennett, who after playing in the McDonald’s All-American game helped lead Findlay to its third ESPN Rise National High School Invitational title this weekend, will choose in either April or May from a list that includes UNLV, Florida, Kentucky, Washington and Oregon. If he does in fact choose the Rebels, UNLV could enter the season as a Top-15 team nationally.

Bennett or no Bennett, though, Moser’s decision to return is huge, and expectations should still be high entering the second year of the Dave Rice Era.