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January 26, 2015

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Ray Brewer: From the Pressbox

Ray Brewer:

Column: Recent actions, accusations give black eye to UNLV basketball program

One UNLV basketball player fails a drug test at the NCAA Tournament. He'll never wear the scarlet and gray again.

A Rebel guard is dismissed from the team following a drunk-driving arrest in 2008. He wasn't even the legal drinking age.

Another is arrested Tuesday for choking his 28-year-old girlfriend, according to a police report. His status in the program, which should be the least of his worries, hasn't been determined.

So, here's the question of the day: Why are these young men, athletes with unlimited potential who are blessed with the fortune of playing college basketball, making — or are accused of making — such unfortunate decisions?

And, more importantly, why is it happening time and time again at UNLV?

Like several Las Vegas natives who were raised on Rebels basketball, we've lived through the hot-tub incident and a laundry list of other problems that always seemed to take away from the nationally respected product on the floor.

But even longtime fans are puzzled at the latest news: star guard Tre'Von Willis' being arrested by Henderson police and facing felony charges of domestic battery by strangulation and grand larceny and one misdemeanor count of coercion.

It doesn't take a Rhodes Scholar to realize that drugs and alcohol are prevalent on every campus and that spills over into the athletic department.

But a domestic-violence arrest — if the alleged incident is proven to be true — could leave scars on the UNLV program that would take years to heal.

I don't know why this has been such a problem-filled offseason, but here is what I do know: UNLV coach Lon Kruger is a true gentleman who has done a phenomenal job in bringing order and dignity to a Rebel program that frequently lacked those traits before his arrival.

However, Kruger's strong values, something few have challenged in his six-year tenure as coach, haven't seemed to rub off on his players.

These actions and accusations have given a black eye to not only the basketball program, but also the university and our community.

We should be remembering the players for their accolades on the court. For instance, Willis was a first-team All-Mountain West Conference selection last year and the Rebels' best player in the clutch.

It's tough to think about how this will affect the team next winter. But losing Matt Shaw (who failed the drug test) and possibly losing Willis would take the Rebels from a potential top-25 team to their traditional spot on the NCAA Tournament bubble.

It feels like it's time for Kruger to start micromanaging the program. He needs to have a better understanding of what his players are doing off the court. It's one thing to make sure they are attending classes; it's another to make sure they are following basic codes of conduct.

There is nothing wrong with enjoying the college lifestyle. It is something completely different to let that way of life interfere with what's truly important — being your best on the basketball floor and in the classroom.

It's impossible to ask Kruger, or any college coach, to know the exact details of all their players' personal lives. But it's not impossible to ask the players to bring respect to themselves, their teammates and the university.

Let's hope this is the last time the police blotter overshadows the positive exploits of these young men.

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