One key to reeling in top recruits is recognizing the elite talent early in the process, and UNLV coach Dave Rice knows that as well as anyone — it's a strategy the Rebels are employing with their recruitment of Class of 2014 small forward Stanley Johnson.
Johnson is currently ranked No. 23 in the nation for 2014 (No. 8 among small forwards), and his list is still long, as he's yet to even cut it down to 15 favorites. But I talked to Johnson recently, and he said UNLV is right in the middle of things, mainly because the Rebels were on him early.
"I've heard from them a lot" said Johnson. "UNLV has been recruiting me since my freshman year, and that means a lot. They've been interested since the beginning."
Johnson has elite versatility, with the ability to provide a little bit of everything on the court, and he's athletic enough to present matchup problems at the college level. By showing that he can use his 6-foot-5 frame to overwhelm opponents on both ends of the floor, Johnson's stock shot way up last season, drawing offers from schools like Kentucky, San Diego State, Arizona, Missouri, NC State and Oregon.
In addition to targeting Johnson early, it could also help that Rice and his staff have very recently landed another top prospect from the same high school — current Rebels freshman Katin Reinhardt was a teammate of Johnson's last year at Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.).
Johnson said he's been paying attention to the high-level recruits Rice and his staff have been bringing in.
"I'm really interested to see how they do this year," said Johnson. "I know they've got a lot of talent, and it seems like the team is moving in the right direction."
A natural small forward, Johnson spent the offseason working on his "situational moves" — fine-tuning his footwork, post game, pump fakes and other moves that should help him score in confined spaces, as he's likely to see more defensive attention this season.
Johnson is planning to visit UNLV in December.
2013 guard Hamilton igniting West Coast war
Johnson isn't the only SoCal prospect on the Rebels' radar — the battle for 2013 shooting guard Isaac Hamilton is shaping up to be epic, as both UNLV and archrival San Diego State are hot on his trail.
The 6-foot-5 senior averaged 26.0 points per game last year, and he's ranked No. 23 in the Class of 2013 (No. 5 among shooting guards). Hamilton's explosive scoring ability could be a perfect fit in the Rebels' backcourt, as UNLV is set to lose senior guard Anthony Marshall after this
Hamilton plays at St. John Bosco (Bellflower, Calif.), where his high school coach is Derrick Taylor. Taylor formerly coached at Los Angeles powerhouse Taft High School, which produced current Rebels guards Justin Hawkins and Bryce Dejean-Jones. I've heard that both Hawkins and Dejean-Jones have reached out to Hamilton and made the pitch for UNLV.
Hamilton has cut his list to five finalists, and he's expected to make his decision between UNLV, San Diego State, Baylor, Washington and UTEP sometime before the early signing period opens on Nov. 14.
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