Thursday, Oct. 22, 2009 | 2:30 a.m.
When Kendall Wallace popped off of the bench last season for the Rebels — for 14.8 minutes per game, to be exact — just about everyone in the gym knew what kind of spark he was set to provide.
UNLV's most consistent 3-point threat in the 2008-09 campaign shot an impressive 41.1 percent from deep as a sophomore, averaging 4.6 crucial points per game as a reserve.
Never was his knack for giving a pick-me-up three points at a time more apparent than in a 59-38 victory at Air Force on Jan. 31, when he lifted the sluggish Rebels with five treys off the bench, turning a potential upset into a runaway laugher.
"For the most part," Wallace said when asked if he thought he was seen as primarily a shooter. "In high school, I used to drive a little more. I feel like I can still do both when it's called upon, but I'm more of a shoot-first guy, and that helps me drive, because people come out, respect my shot, I'm able to pump-fake, drive to the bucket and create for others."
This season, the part of Wallace's hoops persona, which showed up more in high school, will be more prominently on display. At Mountain View (Ariz.) High, he broke school records in points, assists and steals while leading the Toros to three consecutive 5A state titles.
The competition for minutes at guard with all of the new faces involved on the Rebels' roster has something to do with that.
"It's gonna be tough," Wallace said. "You've got to come out here every day to compete in practice for those minutes in the game.
"I think it all depends on these first couple of weeks of practice and those first couple of games to gain that confidence from all of the coaches to put you out there in pressure situations."
Wallace proved in several other clutch moments as a sophomore that he can be depended upon. Those included hitting two key threes in each of the Rebels' closely contested victories over BYU, plus another pair of long balls in a 79-64 triumph over Arizona at the Thomas & Mack Center in December.
But being pigeon-holed as solely a long-range specialist is not something Wallace wants. He'd rather have his marksmanship seen as just another strength.
"Practice is a time to work on things that aren't your strengths," he said. "I try to drive more and create for other people so I feel more comfortable in games when I do that.
"I feel like I caught a couple of people off-guard last year. They were respecting my shot and I was able to get around them. It might not have been the quickest move, but I was still able to get around them. And I feel like I got a little quicker this year. I feel like I should be able to drive a little bit more."
A couple thousand Rebels fans saw last Friday at the Mack during FirstLook in a 20-minute scrimmage that Wallace was more than willing to mix it up inside with his larger teammates. He's continued to show it so far in practices since then and, according to teammates, it was there all summer long in pick-up ball.
"With all the talent that we have, everyone has to step their game up, and Kendall's one of the guys who really stepped up this summer, working hard," sophomore guard Oscar Bellfield said. "It's gonna pay off.
"We've got a lot of people that can take people off the dribble and create for others. Kendall's gonna have a lot more shots than last year. He's gonna knock them down, but people sleep on the fact that he can take it to the basket also and finish, so it's kind of difficult to figure what he'll do. There will be a lot of opportunities for him to do that."
Aside from the return of Bellfield and junior Tre'Von Willis, the Rebels' deep corps of wing scorers now also consists of ballyhooed transfers Derrick Jasper and Chace Stanback, plus athletic freshmen in Anthony Marshall and Justin Hawkins.
Instead of backing down in the crowded battle for backcourt minutes, Wallace stepped up and now thinks everything will run smooth in turn.
"I know (opponents will) have me down as a shooter," he said. "But it'll be tough for them to just shadow me the whole game."