Inside the not-so-spacious Sawyer Middle School gymnasium on Tuesday night, more than 3,000 basketball fans — most of them clad in Rebel red— packed themselves in, creating a stifling-yet-buzzing environment.
They came to see four of UNLV’s five ballyhooed incoming freshmen play on the final night of the Desert Reign Pro-City Summer League. And as each of the seven Rebels who participated entered the gym, they were met with impromptu ovations.
Yes, the chance to catch a glimpse of Katin Reinhardt, Savon Goodman, Daquan Cook and Demetris Morant in action, now that the four are each officially members of the UNLV basketball program, was the primary draw.
But a veteran stole the show.
A highly touted group of freshmen and Division-I transfers might be bringing the talent to campus that could ultimately vault the UNLV program to heights it hasn’t reached in roughly two decades. Anthony Marshall, though, sent a message to his younger teammates.
Consider it the first of many to come.
“I had to come in and make a statement,” Marshall said of both his team’s win and his individual performance. “I’m on Twitter and I’m reading everything that everyone has to say (to the freshmen). I’m keeping it quiet, but at the same time I’m taking mental notes of everything. I’m not going to let them come in here and upstage me.”
They certainly didn’t this time.
In the night’s first game, Marshall teamed up with fellow Las Vegas native and former New Mexico standout/Mountain West Player of the Year Darington Hobson in leading their Blue squad to a 116-107 victory over the Green, featuring Cook and Goodman.
Marshall finished his stellar all-around performance with 29 points off of 11-of-19 shooting to go with 11 assists and five rebounds. The Rebels’ senior leader showed the entire package, in the process.
It started with recognizing that this wasn’t your normal type of game for the All-Mountain West performer. It was the stereotypical pick-up game, with refs, foul calls and free throws sprinkled in. The fans reacted the loudest to highlights. Ill-advised shots were jacked up. Not a ton of defense was played. Turnovers were plenty.
Still, what was most impressive on Marshall’s part was that, up until the game’s closing moments, he didn’t get caught up in it.
Marshall’s constantly-developing outside shot has been criticized plenty by fans over the last couple of seasons, and even though he’s continued to work on it this offseason, he stuck with his strengths, choosing to attack the basket at will.
He also shined as a facilitator, which he’ll have to continue to do when he begins the Rebels’ 2012-13 campaign as the team’s starting point guard, working with seemingly countless weapons around him.
Marshall said that playing alongside Hobson, who last season suited up for the Milwaukee Bucks and will soon head to training camp with the Golden State Warriors, helped immensely.
“I’ve still got a lot to work on with my shot, and I looked at this as a conditioning game,” Marshall said. “Darington, he’s a player that plays at his own pace. He doesn’t let anyone speed him up. So that’s what I kind of tried to do. When I wanted to get my jumper going, I tried to catch it at the mid-post or the low-post, get some buckets and work my way out, play at my own pace and work inside-out. That’s something I’ve learned from Darington.”
As for those freshmen, though, none made a bigger impact on Tuesday than the guy who just a few weeks back became the final piece of arguably the greatest recruiting class UNLV has ever seen.
In the losing effort, Savon Goodman brought the crowd to its feet several times with acrobatic finishes at the rim. The unquestioned highlight of his night was a second half dunk off of a pass lobbed off the glass by Cook. Goodman stormed down the lane to retrieve the ball, and caught it for the throw-down more than a foot above the rim.
The 6-foot-6 Philadelphia product had a stat line at the endof the night that popped, finishing with 31 points and 12 rebounds. He scored 22 of those points in the second half.
But what was maybe most impressive about Goodman was how well he played without forcing anything outside of his comfort zone.
“You can’t force things,” he said. “Nothing happens in life by forcing it. I tried to let the game come to me, take the shots that were open. I took a couple of bad shots I shouldn’t have shot.”
Goodman, a former Villanova commit, came to UNLV ranked by Rivals.com as the No. 72 overall prospect in the 2012 class. His strengths? Elite-level athleticism, the ability to finish in a variety of ways around the rim and the ability to defend four different positions. His weaknesses? Well, the only one that stands out ishis mid-range and outside shot.
That was apparent, as he missed each of the seven jumpers he attempted and went just 1-of-7 from the free throw line. Still, he never pushed the envelope with his limited shooting.
“(Scoring at the rim) is definitely my comfort zone,”Goodman said. “But going into college at 6-foot-5, 6-foot-6, you’ve got to work on your wing game. I’ve been in the Mendenhall Center working on my ball-handling, working on my jump-shot, and just trying to stay up on things.”
Added Marshall: “That’s smart on his behalf, coming in as a young freshman. You have a lot of freshman who come in trying to do a lot of things, but he stuck to his bread and butter. When the shot wasn’t there, he backed his man down. But what impressed me the most was his quick first step. I really didn’t know that his first step was so quick. He’s so big and strong that it’s hard to recover. He can get a little bump, knock you off balance, and he’s already at the bucket.”
While the showing by the UNLV fans on Tuesday gave a glimpse into just how rampant the buzz is surrounding this upcoming season, the flashes shown by Marshall, Goodman and the rest of the Rebels who took part in the Desert Reign league showed just how competitive things will be on the practice floor when the real work begins in a few weeks.
The four freshmen all arrived on campus for this week’s start of the third session of summer school at UNLV. The only Rebel veterans who won’t be back for a few more weeks are junior forward Mike Moser and senior forward Quintrell Thomas, who are each at home for a bit after completing the second session. Meanwhile, freshman forward Anthony Bennett is still awaiting clearance from the NCAA Eligibility Center before he can join the team.
Once all of the paperwork is filed and the physicals are passed, the team is allowed to work together for eight hours a week until early August. Two of those hours can be spent with the coaches with the ball in play. The other six will be used for strength and conditioning, with much of the emphasis on the latter.
The team will be allowed to practice regularly starting on Aug. 4 in preparation for its foreign tour in Canada, which features four exhibition games from Aug. 16-22.
Marshall hopes that he was able to set a tone on Tuesday, not just in terms of his individual performance, but for a team that has plenty of work ahead in order to make all of the pieces both fit and thrive.
“We’ve really got to start out early by setting examples,” he said. “Being at meetings on time, being at the weight room on time, running that last sprint hard even when you don’t want to.
“That’s very important for me. I feel like they’re very good players, but with me, I want to set an example, come out each day and give my all. It’s not going to be easy, you have to come out here and work for everything. Being competitive like that, it’s going to make the team better.”