With the start of the season just 10 days away, I turned to Twitter to take the pulse of Rebel Nation. I’ve gotten a lot of questions over the past few weeks, and since my long-winded responses could never fit in 140 characters, I present a sampling of the questions and answers below. (Some questions have been tweaked to clean up Tweet-speak.)
Words with Fans
Depth at the point? I know Marshall and Katin will be splitting duty, but does anyone trust Cook if one gets injured?
Freshman Daquan Cook may be the least-heralded of the Rebels’ incoming freshman class, but he’s been solid in practice – especially recently. He may even be the best “natural” point guard on the roster, as I tend to slot both Anthony Marshall and Katin Reinhardt as combo guards. Cook has good vision on offense and he’s been knocking down open shots. I just think he needs to get bigger and stronger. Would I trust him to be the full-time starter on a team with legit Final Four aspirations? Probably not. But he’s going to be a player down the road.
Can they improve their play on the road?
All nine of the team’s losses last year came away from Thomas & Mack, and I wouldn’t expect the Rebels to transform into road warriors this season. If anything, the team will be even younger, relying on freshmen to fill several key roles. And with Khem Birch becoming eligible in mid-December, the rotation figures to be in flux for the better part of the season. That kind of instability doesn’t usually lead to road success, but stranger things have happened. I will say that this team does appear to be very tight-knit already, so that could help.
Can Rice keep the recruiting going as strong as he has been?
That’s a tough task. Very few programs can pull in Top 5-caliber recruiting classes year after year, so it may take Rice some time to build up that kind of currency with high school players. Next year’s class of Dantley Walker, Christian Wood and Jelan Kendrick doesn’t look as flashy as the Bennett-Reinhardt-Cook-Goodman-Morant haul, but the Rebels should still have at least one more scholarship to offer, and they’re still in the running for a couple of Top 25 players. Overall, Rice and his staff have a good reputation in recruiting circles and they probably haven’t landed their last elite player.
What’s the word on 2013 targets like Isaac Hamilton and Jermaine Lawrence?
Hamilton and Lawrence are the aforementioned top-25 players. Hamilton is a 6-foot-5 combo guard from California who can absolutely score the ball, while Lawrence is an athletic power forward in the Demetris Morant mold. From talking to sources both at UNLV and at the high school level, I’d have to say that Hamilton is the more likely of the two to end up in Las Vegas. I know that current UNLV players have been in contact with Hamilton, and the Rebels are in his final five (along with San Diego State) as the early signing period approaches. It seems like the Lawrence buzz has cooled a bit, but I think the Rebels feel like they have a real shot at getting Hamilton.
Other than Reinhardt, who’s outside shot do you think will be the most consistent early in the season?
It’s hard to gauge this just from watching practice, but so far Justin Hawkins has looked like he’s locked in. The senior guard has a consistent release, and you can see the confidence he has in his 3-point shot. I expect him to play a huge role this season, and his outside shooting is one of the reasons. Also, don’t be surprised by Anthony Bennett’s outside stroke — the big man is going to hit his share of 3’s this year.
Biggest question is, will all this talent work?
Balancing minutes, usage, egos, etc. is not going to be an easy task for Rice. But his up-tempo philosophy should help, as that’s usually the best way to get players to share and buy in to the concept of team ball. There are also questions about how well these players will fit together on the court, as there are some overlapping skillsets, but I think that concern is secondary. Too much talent is better than not enough talent. I think this collection of players is well-suited for this system, so yes, I expect things will come together without too much of a problem.
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