From the Department of the Obvious: Not everything has gone right for the UNLV basketball program this season.
The team, despite a 17-8 record, has gone through often inexplicable starts and stops, alternating good play with bad losses. As a result, the Rebels could miss the NCAA tournament for the first time in head coach Dave Rice’s three-year tenure.
The rocky season—and a sluggish style that has left the Rebels scoring 71.2 points per game, eighth in the 11-team Mountain West Conference—has led to some sparse crowds at the Thomas & Mack Center and an undeniably lower level of local buzz.
But on February 11, the program got a jolt of good news when one of the nation’s best and most exciting high school prospects announced that he’s joining the UNLV program for the 2014-15 season.
Rashad Vaughn is a consensus Top 10 player in the Class of 2014, and by all accounts he’s just what the Rebels need. He’s an elite shooter, he’s got NBA athleticism and he’s capable of making an impact on the floor as a freshman. As a bonus, he’s already familiar to hardcore UNLV fans, as he’s been playing his senior season a few miles away at Henderson’s Findlay Prep.
While it may not help the team on the court this season, Vaughn’s commitment has already energized the fan base, which took to Twitter with a surge of pent-up pride the day of the announcement. Vaughn gives the Rebels three incoming freshmen who are ranked in the Top 40 nationally, and the group has a chance to be UNLV’s best recruiting class ever.
Vaughn, small forward Dwayne Morgan (Baltimore) and center Goodluck Okonoboh (Woburn, Massachusetts) will all see significant playing time as freshmen next season, and the three fit together about as well as one could hope for in a single recruiting class. Vaughn is the dominant scorer, while Morgan (a 6-foot-8 jack-of-all-trades) and Okonoboh (a 6-foot-9 shot-blocker) are happy to do the dirty work at both ends of the floor.
And with this recruiting class, Rice has covered himself nicely in case of early departures. The Rebels have three players who could potentially leave for the pros after this season, whether it’s the NBA or Europe or elsewhere: junior guard Bryce Dejean-Jones, junior forward Roscoe Smith and junior center Khem Birch. All three are on the NBA Draft radar, according to multiple pro scouts, and all three are starters and big contributors. So losing them would leave a void in terms of minutes and production.
The incoming class is exceptionally positioned to fill those potential holes. And if the juniors end up staying for one more year, then Vaughn, Morgan and Okonoboh will provide remarkable depth and internal competition. In terms of roster construction and pure talent, Rice and his staff couldn’t have done a better job in locking down this recruiting class.
Perhaps most important, for now at least, are the intangible benefits of the recruiting class: In a season that hasn’t gone as planned, Vaughn’s commitment has injected Rebel basketball back into the national conversation—and into the hoop dreams of a hopeful Valley.