UNLV hoopsters ready to see some unfamiliar faces

Rebels welcome their closed scrimmage at Long Beach State

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV head coach Lon Kruger talks to his players after the Rebels FirstLook scrimmage Oct. 16 at the Thomas & Mack Center.

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Chace Stanback shoots over Steve Jones during UNLV basketball practice at the Cox Pavilion on Monday, Nov. 2, 2009.

Chace Stanback tried boxing out Tre'Von Willis, Willis grabbed back, among a scrum they hit the floor and rolled, they exchanged glares and Willis nearly …

It’s about time UNLV’s basketball players see some fresh faces and different places. Others might say it’s about time they start pushing each other around.

Three weeks of practices and drills and morning sessions and early-evening runs finally end when the Rebels leave town today for a closed-door scrimmage late Saturday morning at Long Beach State

Can’t happen soon enough, based on the tussle between Stanback and Willis late Thursday afternoon inside the Cox Pavilion practice gym.

“Just physical play,” Stanback said with a slight smile. “It’s just ball … nothing at all.”

Willis has always played with an edge and it’s his goal to help carry out UNLV coach Lon Kruger’s orders to play with a more physical tone this season.

Without prompting, Willis brought up the tumble.

“Me and Chace got into a scuffle, but we’re teammates,” Willis said. “That’s why we’re looking forward to Saturday, to try to beat up another team. Yeah, we’re trying to be more physical lately.”

Those were the sentiments of every Rebel.

In fact, junior guard Kendall Wallace sounded prophetic after practice Wednesday night when he said this is the toughest part of the season, right before they’re about to play someone else for the first time.

“It’ll be fun to see where we’re at as a team,” Wallace said, “and what we need to work on.”

Sophomore guard Oscar Bellfield is looking forward to seeing how the Rebels fare on defense against the 49ers, whose star is sophomore swingman Larry Anderson.

“I know our offense will be there,” Bellfield said. “Defensively, a lot of us are working together. As a whole, we’re locking up, getting steals and fast breaks.”

The scrimmage is the de facto start of the season, since the exhibition against Division-II Washburn is Tuesday and the season opener is next Saturday against Pittsburg State.

“Here we go,” said junior point guard Derrick Jasper. “It starts real quick after this scrimmage. Everything will come on real fast, we just have to practice real hard and approach every game like it’s a business.”

Long Beach defeated a roster-shortened San Diego team by a point in a recent 48-minute private scrimmage.

“Learned a lot about our team,” 49ers coach Dan Monson wrote on his twitter page after the session. “Biggest thing we learned is we are not ready yet. Gotta get some help inside for T.J. (Robinson, 6-feet-7 and 210 pounds) and ‘Gene’ (Phelps, 6-6, 220).”

In 1999-2000, Kruger’s last season at Illinois and Monson’s first at Minnesota, Kruger directed the Illini to a 73-59 victory over the Gophers in Illinois and an 89-80 win in Minnesota.

They spoke Tuesday and arranged to play a 40-minute scrimmage, followed by maybe 10 or 20 additional minutes of action.

“Maybe we’ll go over some late-game situations, up three or down three, situational stuff you can do in a scrimmage that you can’t do in a practice or exhibition,” Kruger said. “It’ll be a totally different thing against people we don’t know.”

Yes, Stanback said, it’s about time.

“We’ve been banging into each other every day, and everyone seems to know everyone’s moves now,” he said. “It seems a little boring. Now we get to test ourselves against new people.”

He and Willis had an interesting test Thursday. After they hit the floor late in the fifth and final 5-minute scrimmage controlled by officials, as Willis rose he stared at Stanback, who stared back.

Everyone in the gym seemed to pause to see what would unfold in the very next moment, and Willis ever so slightly cocked his right arm … before standing and walking away.

“He was trying to post me up. I wasn’t trying to have that,” Willis said. “We got tangled up. He fell down and pulled me down. It was kind of hot during the moment, but it’s all fun.

“We laugh on it now. We’re teammates. We love each other. We just look forward to getting after it at Long Beach State.”

The lead official pulled them together to ensure there would be peace for the final 89 seconds of the scrimmage. Afterward, the ref updated the entire squad on the ramifications of fighting in a game this season.

After the practice, Stanback was about to enter a tunnel to walk back to the Rebels’ locker room when Willis, shooting free throws, yelled after him.

“Chace, stop playin’ dirty!” Willis barked as he laughed.

Stanback turned, listened, laughed and walked away.

Both said there was nothing to the episode, that it wasn’t indicative of any sort of rift between them. It was just a heated mini-battle on a squad that needs to get tougher.

That’s directly from Kruger, and Willis agreed. He confirmed that the Rebels got pushed around way too frequently, especially under the boards, last season.

“We were one of the worst rebounding teams in the country last year,” Willis said. “We hardly got any second-chance points. That’s why this year we have a whole new mind frame.”

Of pressing it in practice to toughen the team for the rigors of the fast-approaching season, and if that occasionally spills over into a glare or a push … so be it.

“It sends a message,” Willis said. “We’re fighting for something. I kind of like that Chace fought me and we got into a little scuffle. He got right back up and we kept playing. That’s what teammates are for. We need to pick each other up.”

Even if, at times, they pound each other down to the ground.

“I love stuff like that,” Willis said. “There was a little contact. Maybe we went a little too far; refs had to stop it … but it was refreshing how the coaches looked at us like we were being physical.

“Hopefully, when they watch film (today) they don’t say we weren’t being physical.”

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  1. Good to hear that they're fighting over rebounding position this year versus fighting over who is the better bowler. Seems to me like the team is working a bit harder this preseason.

  2. People love to hate on Willis, but I love the kid. That "chip on the shoulder" fire was missing from last season's team leaders. I hope he keeps it up.

    Rob- I've heard about a couple of new billboards around town advertising the team. Any chance we can get some snapshots of those on the site?

  3. I think we'd all love Willis if he didn't turn the ball over as often as he did last season.

  4. wayne,
    Willis is more of a SG..with his height (and there will be better ballhandlers, 2 of them in the starting lineup). So i wouldnt worry as much about Tre's turnovers b/c he will prolly b the 3rd option when bringing the ball up the court..

    hes just gonna play lockdown defense, score us some points, and play with a swagger

  5. UNLV v. UNR in less than two weeks (Nov. 18th) . . .

  6. Still, you don't want two of our better players getting in a fight during practice. That wouldn't be good at all.

  7. Wasn't a fight. Was it the first step toward that, maybe. It could have escalated, but both know better. Willis was right in that the coaches most likely did not mind the physical nature of that particular play. Willis knows the Rebels got pushed around often last season, and that has to change. He'll do his part ... and you'll read much more on how he thinks and what makes him tick here early next week.

  8. Honestly, I love the physical play and tough attitude. If I recall correctly, the teams back in the day used to do this kind of stuff all the time at practice.

    I am one of those guys that is not too comfortable with Willis bringing the ball up the court because he tends to be a little wreckless. He took a lot of bad shots because of this during last season. I think that this season Chace and Tre will be our top two leading scorers and I love the fact that these two are going against each other pretty tough at practice.

  9. I love that these guys got into a little bit. It shows that they have heart and are fighting to be better, both as individuals and as teammates. Could you imagine the alternative? I wouldn't want guys just laughing and skipping all over practice. I'm of the mindset that the harder you practice, the easier games are.

  10. john, good point. im sure at this time last year, the guys were just having fun and not playing with a passion like they are now.
    They need to practice as hard as they can. Anthony Marshall and others have posted on their twitters about how they are dead from practice, which is a good sign..they are working hard.

  11. Glaring, and the occasional shove, does not = in-fighting by any stretch. And don't discount KW Lenny, he has shown himself to be pretty scrappy the last few practices this year. In particular he has shown a surprising talent for collecting rebounds.

    I have been thrilled with the intensity so far this year, a welcome change to the through-the-motions practices a year ago.

  12. great points all,
    Lenny, why did I know you'd bring up rugby??? :-) Bravo. Right, rebelmom ... not even close to in-fighting. This team has its head on straight, it appears, and you'll read much more about this early next week. There will be a feature that you all should find interesting.
    First and foremost, though, be sure to check out our review of the closed-door scrimmage tomorrow ...

  13. Review? I don't think I can wait that long. Say, maybe you could get Jon S. to do the play by play. LOL.

  14. camron, im with you!

    forget H1N1(swine flu), ive got REBEL FEVER!!

  15. I remember a comment in an article a week or so back, can't remember if Rob or Ray wrote it, about how great a teammate Willis is. If this is true than there is nothing to worry about with them getting into it. Basketball is a contact sport, especially when rebounding, so that sort of thing will happen. Tom Izzo has a drill called the "War" drill. Its not a shooting or a defensive drill. Its a rebounding drill and the name says it all.

  16. Forget Rugby practice!!!! Send him to a UNM women's soccer practice! ;)

  17. yeah BBall, I think some people don't have a good read on Willis. I think his intentions are genuine and he's all about the team and winning. I'll have more on him, on that, early next week. He's pretty driven. Izzo's drills included having his guys wear football helmets, at times, too ... pretty wild. Some feistiness, and testing of teammates, is good.
    jeff, ha ha... wild, huh??? That's one mean female footballer! :-)

  18. hey i have rebel fever here in Omaha, can't wait for the season and a game at the Mack in Febuary. save me a seat

  19. Lenny,
    I would wager that Kendal Wallace would put you on your A#@.

  20. There is nothing wrong with intensity on the hardwood it is an emotional game. I have played in inner city gyms where if you were afraid you better pack up, leave, & go home or you might get jacked for your gear and especially if you didn't bring it on the court. I would rather play with someone who has a nasty streak to them because that's what you need to pull out hard fought close games.

    A lot of people don't realize basketball is an extremely physical game and some of these cats are flat out strong, so what are you going to do let them muscle you around the court or hold your own?

  21. thats right betonblack,

    cant wait for results on the scrimmage..

  22. touche betonblack... very well put. Tre has that edge and he's right that this team needs to be pushed around a little ... maybe more than a little ... so they don't lay down like they did last season at TCU and Colorado State. Zvonko Buljan, watch out ...