Following LeBron camp, Moser more confident than ever he can thrive as a small forward

UNLV junior heads into junior season with no regrets of not entering June's NBA draft

Mike Moser didn’t need NBA personnel to tell him what his weaknesses were this spring as he flirted with entering June’s draft.

But they did anyway, reaffirming what he already knew needed the most work this summer.

“Basically, some of my weaknesses were that they hadn’t seen me play a lot on the perimeter, so they weren’t sure if I could do it or not,”the UNLV junior forward recalled. “I’m just going to try to take this year and show I can make sure we get a lot of wins while I do it.”

From the moment Moser declared he would return to UNLV for his junior season, coach Dave Rice said that the plan would be to move the6-foot-8 forward to more of a perimeter-oriented role.

Last season, Moser played mostly as a stretch-power forward, meaning that while he was technically UNLV’s starter at the four-spot, he didn’t play the position in a traditional sense. Rather than doing most of his offensive work inside with his back to the basket, he proved to be at his best when squaring up for mid-range jumpers and either finishing or triggering theaction in transition.

Where he excelled the most, though, was as a rebounder. Moser ranked tenth in the nation in rebounding, averaging 10.6 per game. Heposted 15 double-doubles, including a memorable 16-point, 18-rebound effort in a November upset of then-No. 1 North Carolina, and ultimately was named an honorable mention All-American.

But what didn’t help Moser at all in terms of building momentum towards the offseason — and the draft — was his uninspiring finish to the season. Despite averaging a double-double on the season, Moser didn’t quite look like the same explosive player he did in February and March as he did in November and December.

A 45 percent shooter on the season, Moser shot just 36.5 percent in the team’s final eight games, and only posted double-digit rebounds in four of UNLV’s final 12 games. On the offensive end, he began forcing outside shots more and more late in the year, while not showing the same amount of movement without the ball. Meanwhile, he disappeared on the offensive glass down the stretch. Moser only posted more than two offensive rebounds in two ofthe team’s last 13 games.

Therefore, it was no surprise that UNLV went 5-6 in its last 11 games after a torrid start to the season, and was bounced in the first round of the NCAA tournament for the third straight year.

He went back and watched a healthy amount of game film from down the stretch run, but Moser already knew what went wrong for him late in the season.

“I’d just say it’s fatigue, mostly,” Moser said. “I hit a wall at the end of the season and it was really tough to overcome.”

The late swoon was likely the result of having never given so much of himself physically during a college basketball season. Moser hardly played as a freshman at UCLA in 2009-10, then redshirted and played on the practice squad in his first season at UNLV.

“He’ll be better off for having just gone through the experience,” Rice said. “It’s not an excuse, but I think I wore our guys out and we were a tired basketball team at the end of the year. We’ll do a better job this year with summer and fall conditioning, and we’ll play a few more guys.”

Moser had to wear a lot of hats for UNLV last season, and this year will have plenty more help. With newcomers Anthony Bennett and Khem Birch this season — both former McDonald’s All-Americans — Moser won’t have to carry so much of the load on the glass.

Despite playing a new position this season, Moser will have plenty of the same responsibilities on the offensive end as a small forward. That means that much of his offseason has been spent shoring up those weaknesses.

The new and improved Moser was on display for a gaggle of NBA scouts and personnel this weekend at Rancho High, as he took part in workouts and scrimmages at the LeBron James Skills Academy. He earned a spot at the event, which features 20 of the top college players in the country, with a strong showing at the Amare Stoudemire Skills Academy two weeks ago.

It also gave him the opportunity to match up against some ofthe top small forwards in the country, such as Arizona’s Solomon Hill and Georgetown’s Otto Porter.

“They play at the highest levels in the Big East and the Pac-12, and I felt like I matched up with them on the perimeter just fine,”Moser said. “(It gave me) a ton of confidence. I feel I can play with any of these guys any day.”

Moser impressed over the first two days of the camp both in workouts and in pick-up games and, as per usual, effort was never an issue. He finished strong on Sunday, too, in a highly competitive four-on-four drill. Even though most of his time as a small forward will be spent on the perimeter, he showed a much better knack for creating looks and finishing close to the bucket. In one isolation situation against Porter, he backed the 6-foot-8 Hoyas star down from 15 feet out with three power dribbles, then exploded to the bucket for a contested finish.

“After doing this camp, I’m even more comfortable than before,” he said. “I feel I got better this weekend and got to compare myself against some of the guys, some of the best (small forwards) in the country. I think I’ll be just fine this year.”

And if Moser wasn’t already on every NBA franchise’s radar, he likely found his way on to some more with a strong showing at Rancho.

Back in the spring, when his evaluation from NBA personnel came back, he was projected to be picked anywhere from No. 20 overall to the early second round.

That means there would have been plenty of risk involved had he made the jump. Guaranteed contracts only go to those taken in the first 30 picks, and the 2012 draft pool featured several players similar to Moser. As it’s projected right now, that won’t quite be the case next year.

Instead of preparing to play in the NBA summer league this month, Moser now heads back to Portland for a few weeks before coming back to town for practices in early August leading up to UNLV’s foreign tour in Canada (Aug. 16-22).

He’ll return to town without any regrets of being back for what will likely being his last year of college ball.

“Regardless, because of how the year went, I felt I wasn’t really ready to go and make that step anyway,” he said. “I feel like we’ve got a chance to make some really big things happen this year.

“I’m really happy being here. It’s going to be a good year.”

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