A week after Anthony Bennett's commitment left UNLV with one vacant scholarship heading into the summer months, another one has suddenly opened up.
Junior-to-be Reggie Smith is the second member of the program to be granted his release since the end of the 2011-12 season, the school announced on Monday afternoon. Earlier this offseason, little-used reserve wing Karam Mashour left the program in search of a better shot at substantial minutes.
Smith, who transferred to UNLV from Marquette mid-way through his freshman year, will attempt to land closer to his hometown of Chicago, citing his ailing grandmother back home as his reasoning for heading back to the Midwest.
Following his initial meeting with coach Dave Rice and the UNLV staff after the season ended, Smith came across as optimistic regarding his future in the program, facing a crucial summer stretch that would likely help make or break his career as a Rebel. But Rice said that talks of Smith opting to transfer began to surface about 10 days ago.
"I think the biggest factor for him is being closer to home," Rice said of Smith, who starred at Thornton Township High in Chicago's south suburbs. "I would say that he'll be looking for a school where he can be closer to family, but also a situation where he can be a potential starter and play a major role."
DePaul, a one-time powerhouse program that is making strides in the Big East under third-year coach Oliver Purnell, is believed to be one possible landing spot for Smith, who was ranked by Rivals.com as the No. 112 overall recruit in the 2010 senior class. Several other Division-I programs are within a short driving distance of Smith's family as well, and his options should be plenty.
Calls and text messages to Smith on Monday afternoon and evening were not returned.
After becoming eligible at the conclusion of the fall 2011 semester, Smith struggled to crack UNLV's regular rotation, averaging 2.5 points in 6.1 minutes in 20 games played. He scored a career-high 13 points in a 124-75 blowout of Central Arkansas on Dec. 28, but only twice played more than seven minutes during Mountain West Conference action.
"I believe it's extremely hard to become eligible in the middle of the year when you're a point guard," Rice said. "Especially when you're playing behind two guys with the experience of Oscar Bellfield and Anthony Marshall. The analogy I always give — it's a football analogy — is that it's a lot easier to add a wide receiver or offensive lineman in the middle of the year than to change your quarterback. (When he became eligible) we were playing well, and Reggie just didn't get much of an opportunity. Yet, I believe he'll have a great career wherever he ends up."
Prior to landing at UNLV, Smith started five of his eight games played at Marquette during the 2010-11 campaign, and chose UNLV over Nebraska, Arkansas, North Carolina State and Florida State. His recruitment by former Rebels coach Lon Kruger and staff came a bit out of the blue, as it was on the heels of UNLV losing UCLA transfer Matt Carlino to BYU in a tight race.
The 6-foot Smith has the speed, athleticism and incredible leaping ability that could one day make him an electrifying college basketball player, but at UNLV, it never quite clicked for him. Under Kruger, he struggled to grasp the offense as a redshirt. This season, he again had trouble getting up to speed in time to seriously threaten for playing time on a team that, at the time, was nationally-ranked and rolling heading into league play in mid-December.
To Smith's credit, he did improve overall as a player in his brief time at UNLV, despite what his stats said. Most notably, he leaves Las Vegas as a much better shooter than he was when he arrived. His ability to get to the rack and score in a variety of ways was never in question, but now he heads back onto the market as a much more well-rounded scorer.
In the end, Smith fell somewhat victim to a numbers game. He could still turn into a strong Division-I player, but he likely wasn't going to get the playing time moving forward that he desired at UNLV.
Senior Anthony Marshall is pegged to be the starting point guard on what should be UNLV's deepest team in 20 years next season. Behind him, fellow senior Justin Hawkins can play both guard positions, as can highly-touted incoming freshman Katin Reinhardt. Sophomore USC transfer Bryce Jones appears destined to start at shooting guard for the Rebels, while Smith's departure also makes it appear less likely that incoming freshman guard Daquan Cook will redshirt the 2012-13 campaign, giving UNLV a young developmental prospect as its fifth guard.
"We're excited about (Daquan)," Rice said. "I've said that I probably will redshirt a couple of guys, but I truly don't know who those guys are. We'll make those decisions when we have to."
When asked about Smith's departure decreasing the chances of Cook redshirting, Rice said "Absolutely, without question."
"We love his future," he added. "And the fact that he can play point guard gives him a chance to be a contributor right away."
UNLV now has two open scholarships heading into the summer, and the most likely candidate to be added to the roster in the coming weeks is UConn transfer Roscoe Smith, who took an official visit to campus last week. If he commits, Smith would likely redshirt the 2012-13 season and have two years to play afterwards. That also means that UNLV will most likely carry one open scholarship into the season, and it could be used on either a mid-year transfer or for another prospect in the 2013 prep recruiting class.
As for Smith, wherever he lands, he'll be able to play two seasons before his eligibility expires. The looming unknown there, though, is just when he's allowed to play.
Given his family situation, Smith will apply for a hardship waiver through the NCAA. If it is granted, he'd be eligible immediately. Otherwise, he would redshirt the 2012-13 season and be able to play as a junior in 2013-14.
"I like the chances (of immediate eligibility)," Rice said. "The thing about it is the NCAA has been very progressive in terms of these sorts of situations.
"It's a positive for him to be closer to home, closer to family, but yet to be able to pursue his degree and continue to play."