Jasper to take center stage at FirstLook basketball scrimmage

Junior Kentucky transfer one of several fresh faces on display tonight

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Ryan Greene/Las Vegas Sun

UNLV junior guard Derrick Jasper models the red road uniforms that the Rebels will don this season.

Lon Kruger

Lon Kruger

The Rebel Room

Make room for hoops

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Ryan Greene and Rob Miech shift to a multi-purpose approach with the latest edition of the Rebel Room, talking about both FirstLook 2009 for the UNLV hoops squad coming up on Friday night, and also the Rebels' homecoming gridiron showdown with Utah on Saturday night.

UNLV guard Derrick Jasper’s first breathless move happened in April. The season had ended in the National Invitation Tournament at Kentucky. Basketball conditioning drills began in Las Vegas.

Cleared to go after the long rehab of his surgically repaired left knee, Jasper sprawled all-out for a loose ball inside The Dungeon – the Cox Pavilion practice gym. A hush fell over teammates and coaches.

“A very aggressive play,” said Rebels assistant coach Steve Henson. “We were all a bit nervous about it. He clearly was ready to play the only way he knows how.”

The latest indication of Jasper’s resurgence occurred Tuesday morning, when he weathered chilly and windy conditions to beat every other Rebel in a mile run (in 5 minutes, 21 seconds) at Myron Partridge Stadium.

New walk-on Tyler Norman finished a second behind Jasper.

That officially capped the long and pesky conditioning stretch of the UNLV offseason. Fans will no doubt be eager to see Jasper and the rest of the Rebels tonight at 9 at the team’s FirstLook event in the Thomas & Mack Center.

“I’m just looking forward to getting out there,” Jasper said. “It’s been a while since I got some game action playing in front of some fans. The team’s been working extremely hard, and we haven’t had any setbacks.

“Every day, everyone has been leaving it on the floor.”

The 2009-10 squad and its new uniforms will be unveiled in a scrimmage – and maybe 3-point shooting and dunk contests, which Jasper smiled about – at the Thomas & Mack Center.

Jasper, the 6-foot-6 floor general whose reported dynamic play in pick-up games over the past few months drew regular rave reviews from his teammates, will take center stage.

“When a guy doesn’t play for a year, it’s good to see him play again,” said UNLV coach Lon Kruger. “Most haven’t sat out a year since they started playing. It’s hard to do, but Derrick will feel good about getting back out there.”

Until the Rebels open their season Nov. 14 against Pittsburg State, Kruger has his own list of questions he hopes his players answer.

Over the next month, Kruger wants to see a more physical team that gobbles up rebounds.

“Who’s going to establish themselves on the boards?” Kruger said. “A little rebounding is a big key for us. Being more physical than we were a year ago is important. People have to step up and provide leadership in those areas.”

The newcomers are guards Anthony Marshall, from Mojave High, and Justin Hawkins, and Carlos Lopez, who played three years at nearby Findlay College Prep and helped the Pilots win a national championship in April.

That UNLV has only one scholarship senior, in post player Darris Santee, belies the veteran nature of the squad, according to Henson.

Walk-on guard Steve “Chopper” Jones is a senior, a transfer from Arizona State whose motor and passion rival that of Kevin Kruger, with whom Jones played on the Sun Devils.

Fourth-year juniors include Matt Shaw, Jasper, who left Kentucky to be a Rebel, and former Memphis guard Tre'Von Willis. UCLA transfer Chace Stanback is a third-year sophomore whose redshirt season of 2008-09 was vital to toughening his game, especially on defense.

“So it’s not a real, real young group,” Henson said. “There aren’t a lot, technically, in the senior class, but it’s a pretty mature group.”

Since the ball figures to be in Jasper’s hands so much, the spotlight will frequently be on him. He’s soft-spoken, but his game is anything but soft. He showed that in April in The Dungeon.

In fact, a day after sacrificing his body to get the ball, he did it again.

“He knocked a player out of the way and just dove right on it,” Henson said. “I think he got everyone’s attention that, ‘Hey, I’m going to play this way. You guys better do the same.’”

Jasper won’t be shy about doling out instructions, or personal thoughts, to any teammate, either.

“He has that confidence,” Henson said. “He’s earned it. He’s worked his butt off rehabbing his knee. He’s done all the conditioning. Again, he sets the tone.

“He did last spring when he stepped on the court that first day and dived on the court like that. I think it got everyone’s attention.”

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  1. It begins.

    Restless tonight. So much anticipation.

    Tomorrow might be the longest Friday I've ever experienced.

  2. Couldn't agree more, True_Fan. Excited to see which "big" is going to step up and make a name for himself.

  3. As a UK fan, I can say only that I (and most UK fans) wish we still had Jasper. We understand why he left Billy G's hell. He is a great kid and really good player and UNLV fans will love him.

    Good luck, unless you play UK.

  4. GO BIG BLUE! Make us proud Jasper!

  5. Hey Rob,

    Chace is a sophomore (a 3rd year sophomore), right? Not a 4th year Junior? Just checking, but I'm fairly certain that he transferred after his freshman year at UCLA in 2007, sat out last year per NCAA rules - using a redshirt. That should make him a sophomore.

    Great work, though Rob. I love the Rebels section here. Keep the stories coming!

  6. Chace is a sophmore. That is correct. I am pretty excited for tonight as well.

  7. Here's to what will hopefully be a great upcoming season. Go, Rebs!

  8. Chace is a sophomore gents. thanks ...
    October is the preseason for everyone, right? :-)
    It should be very exciting tonight. Unlike last year, there will be few peripheral introductions. Tonight will be all about hoops.
    Enjoy

  9. Thanks for the coverage, Rob and team. You helped us through the off-season. Am really enjoying the freshness of this basketball season. Can't wait for tonight.

    Very thankful for Wink, Joe and Rene, but they had a ceiling. Just realizing this morning how special that 2007-08 team was. They had no right winning 27 games that year. Behind Terry and the coaching, did amazing things. Last year - with our talent - was probably closer to reality than the 07-08 year. We got spoiled really quickly with those two runs in the NCAAs. I know I did. But didn't realize it at the time.

    Times are so different entering a season with this program than they were just 5 years ago. So excited to be excited about basketball again in Oct. It matters again in Vegas and we need something like this right now. Keep it up, Rebels. This longtime fan is proud.

    Sure we will have some growing pains early, but definitely enjoy having hope for good things and the legit possibility of returning to the NCAA Tournament in March.

  10. I'm excited and this team is flat out talented. If they can gel and maximize their talent like the 06-07 and 07-08 teams, they have the potential to go even further.

  11. I am a little worried, sounds like the team is out of shape if the fastest guy on the team runs the mile in 5min 30secs. I am in moderate shape and am kind of a big guy (6' tall) and can best that easy. When I was training (for boxing) daily a time like that would have warranted a redo.
    What the hell.
    Other than that".
    GO REBELS
    Please bring the running back

  12. I think what we will see tonight in the scrimmage is a lot talented cats who can score from anywhere on the court and off the dribble. That is something we lacked last year. Looking forward to seeing Stanback, D-Jazz, Marshall, Hawkins, & Lopez in a UNLV jersey tonight. I hear that D-Jazz is a serious dime dropper. Should be a fun season, I can hardly stand the anticipation.

  13. GREAT comments all. The anticipation is warranted. That's a better word than expectation, maybe? It's a flexible group that has it all, and Jasper is the leader that has been lacking.
    5:21 in the mile? Hey, I'm just an average Joe, but that's damn good in my book. Remember, this ain't no marathon. These guys are sprinters. If you can beat that, congrats to you. You're doing a lot of things right.
    Look forward to seeing all tonight. Pop in and say hello if you want and can ...
    and check us out on live blogs tonight and at twitter ... I'm at twitter/robmiech (I think, however that works) ...
    c ya

  14. Good stuff Lenny. Yep, you can look for that piece very soon. It's a natural.
    hey Lenny and all, you can follow other happenings and thoughts on UNLV at twitter.com/robmiech
    I'll be doing some special stuff there throughout the season, and we'll continue satisfying your unlv hoops jones every day, hour and minute... will be a very fun season...
    like Lenny, submit any questions you might have or ideas or features you'd like to see ... we're here for you...
    thanks

  15. Wish I could be there! Stuck in Nebraska, but going to see the Huskers beat t-tech tomorrow

  16. Jasper looked great in the skill drills last night!

  17. Go Jasper - UK could use the experience at the point this year when we win it all.