UNLV coaches track everything during basketball practices, charting assists, defensive rotations and even how many times a player dives for loose balls. That’s how Dave Rice knows the Rebels’ best rebounder last year wasn’t star forward Christian Wood or starting center Goodluck Okonoboh, but junior Ben Carter, a 6-foot-8 forward who had to sit out a redshirt year after transferring from Oregon. Now that Carter is eligible for the 2015-16 season, his performance at practice has likely earned him a key spot in the Rebels’ frontcourt.
“Ben is versatile,” Rice says. “He can play multiple positions; he has a high basketball IQ; he’s a very good screener; he’s a reliable scorer. He just does so many things on the floor, and more than anything, he’s a glue guy who has played his way into a very big role for us.”
Carter won’t be the only newcomer playing a significant part in the Rebels’ plans. Jerome Seagears transferred from Rutgers last summer, and although he, too, had to sit out last season as a redshirt, he also made a positive impression during practices. Rice envisions the 6-foot-1 senior as a facilitating point guard who possesses the long-range accuracy to keep defenses honest.
Unlike Carter and Seagears, senior Ike Nwamu didn’t practice with UNLV last season. The 6-foot-5 guard suited up for Mercer, where he averaged a team-high 15.1 points per game. After earning his degree, Nwamu used the grad transfer exception to enroll at UNLV for his final season of eligibility, and the Rebels are happy to have him, as he brings a much-needed slashing element to the backcourt.
When the season tips off against Cal Poly on November 13, Seagears and Nwamu could very well find themselves in the starting lineup, and Carter will likely play something close to starter’s minutes as a top reserve. Sprinkle their contributions around the team’s returning nucleus of sophomores Patrick McCaw, Okonoboh and Jordan Cornish, throw in highly touted freshman big man Stephen Zimmerman, and UNLV should have an NCAA tournament-caliber squad.
“[The newcomers] are fitting in very well,” Rice says. “Guys who have played at the college level before and have had the kind of success they have had, it can only help. And while we do have a very talented young group of players coming back, I think [the newcomers] are very important. They’ve been working all summer and building chemistry together. I just like how this group feels.”