Jamal Aytes, an Early Starting Five and More Rebel Questions

The summer college basketball recruiting periods are over, most of the Rebels are on campus for early workouts, and the full 2013-14 schedule should be released any day now. Seems like as good a time as any to dip into the reader mailbag for another edition of Words With Fans (now with “fancy” graphics!). Let’s dive in.

(Note: Some questions have been tweaked to clean up Tweet-speak)


Anonymous (via Ask.fm)
Who will be the starting point guard this season?


The more I hear from early practices, the more it sounds like DeVille Smith is ready to come in and take the reins on opening night. The junior juco transfer appears to have the skill set to run Dave Rice’s offense, and Smith himself believes he was brought here to be the starter.

The questions I have about Smith are his defense and his ability to push the ball in transition. Last year’s starter, Anthony Marshall, was a tremendous asset on defense but a non-factor when it came to pushing the tempo. Smith likely won’t be the type of harassing defender Marshall was, but I think Rebels fans would accept some dropoff at the defensive end if Smith brings more punch to the running game.

Also, keep an eye on Kendall Smith. Several players and coaches have told me the true freshman has been impressive in summer practice sessions, wowing with his athleticism and scoring ability. So keep an eye on his development.


Starting five opening game?


When I did my first 2013-14 roster projection back in June, I had DeVille Smith, Bryce Dejean-Jones, Savon Goodman, Roscoe Smith and Khem Birch penciled in as my starters. The only change I’d make, having another couple months to gather information, is swapping Jelan Kendrick in for Savon Goodman.

I think Goodman will be better served coming off the bench, where the coaching staff can use him to dictate favorable matchups—accentuating his positives (defensive intensity) and hiding some of his flaws (ball handling, outside shooting). But more importantly I like the way Kendrick’s offensive skills mesh with the projected starting five, which leads us to the next question…

Anonymous (via Ask.fm)

What is your projection for Jelan Kendrick on this team, as far as role/position?


For the long answer, check out this article. For the short answer, just keep reading here. Both are fine options, but the RunRebs brass wouldn’t mind the extra click, if you have the time.

All shilling aside, I think Kendrick will end up as a starter on the wing, playing opposite Bryce Dejean-Jones. The Rebels didn’t have enough enough willing passers last year, which stagnated the halfcourt offense. But Kendrick has a point guard’s mentality, and the hope is that his pass-first style will complement the rest of the starting five.

Anonymous (via Ask.fm)

How good do you think the defense will be next season?


Even with the loss of Anthony Marshall, I’m bullish on the Rebels’ defense in 2013-14. The frontcourt looks to be extremely solid, if a bit undersized. They’ll have Khem Birch (the reigning MWC Defensive Player of the Year) starting at center for the entire season, and replacing Anthony Bennett with Roscoe Smith at power forward will be a huge upgrade defensively—Bennett’s defense was, to be kind, nonexistent at times last year, while Smith is a grinder who brings a sterling defensive reputation from his UConn days. Teams that are strong around the basket are generally strong overall, so I like the Rebels’ chances.

The bigger question, I think, is what type of defensive team the Rebels will be. Rice continues to say he wants more ball pressure and more full-court press, and he appears to have a roster capable of playing that style (Savon Goodman in particular could be a valuable weapon there, as he’s got a knack for creating havoc).

But regardless of the defensive system Rice runs, I expect UNLV to field the best defense in the Mountain West.

Anonymous (via Ask.fm)

If Jamal Aytes accepts the last remaining scholarship, does that preclude the Rebels from signing any more recruits in addition to Dwayne Morgan during the early signing period in November? If not, would Rice be compelled to involuntarily yank a scholarship to make room for the additional signee?


 I’ll try to break down the scholarship situation in a way that makes sense (or I’ll ramble for 400 words and leave everyone more confused than ever—it’s a toss-up).

If Jamal Aytes (a 2013 power forward) commits to UNLV, he’ll fill the scholarship left by Katin Reinhardt’s transfer. That would leave the Rebels with only one guaranteed open scholarship to fill for 2014-15 (replacing the only current senior on the roster, Carlos Lopez-Sosa), and they already have Class of 2014 recruit Dwayne Morgan committed to fill that slot.

But that doesn’t mean the Rebels are done recruiting for 2014. In fact, Rice said he and his staff are recruiting as if they’ll have three openings in 2014, which assumes that the Rebels will lose two more players after this season, either to the NBA draft or to transfers.

If they end up signing three high schoolers in November (for example, let’s say they land Rashad Vaughn and Goodluck Okonoboh in addition to Morgan) and two current Rebels do leave early (plus Lopez-Sosa’s departure), it’s problem solved. Three out, three in. But if, as the reader suggests, they sign three recruits and don’t suffer any other roster losses, UNLV would have more signed players than available roster spots.

That can—and does—happen. NCAA rules allow schools to give out 13 scholarships, but teams are allowed to sign as many high school recruits as they want. It’s called “oversigning,” and Indiana is one high profile school that has done it recently (there’s a good explanation of the phenomenon here).

When a school oversigns, it’s up to the coaching staff to massage the roster down to the allowable 13 scholarship players. In Indiana’s case, coach Tom Crean “convinced” an expendable fifth-year senior to leave, making room for the more talented high school recruit. It’s kind of seedy, and few coaches ever do it on purpose, but the alternative to oversigning is potentially being caught shorthanded when players leave unexpectedly. No coach wants to be scrambling for recruits that late in the game.

It’s all a part of roster management, and coaches put a lot of time into it. The nature of the beast, especially for teams that recruit NBA talent, requires the coaches to anticipate early entries and have replacements lined up. It’s complicated, but Rice and his staff seem to have things plotted out.

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