Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2010 | 2:15 a.m.
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Ryan Greene, Ray Brewer and Case Keefer take a few minutes to talk about the continuing downward spiral involving the UNLV football team, and then switch gears to preview the highly-anticipated 2010-11 Rebels hoops season. The guys talk some self-made Vegas odds and who to keep an eye on this year.
- Notebook: UNLV big men showing tenacity on the glass (10-17-2010)
- UNLV freshman Mashour makes big splash, creates buzz at FirstLook 2010 (10-16-2010)
- Three key storylines as UNLV’s 2010-11 hoops season begins (10-15-2010)
- UNLV picked fourth in MWC preseason hoops poll, Willis honored (10-12-2010)
- Unveiling the Sun’s 2010-11 MWC hoops preseason poll, honorees (10-6-2010)
- Tre’Von Willis reaches plea agreement, suspended at least three games (9-28-2010)
- 2010-11 UNLV Schedule
- 2009-10 UNLV Schedule/Results
- All Sun UNLV men's basketball coverage
It goes without saying that this off-season has not given UNLV senior guard Tre'Von Willis much of a reason to smile.
However, just the start of official practices and being back in the routine of the basketball season appears to have been therapeutic of late for the Fresno, Calif., native, whose future with the program was in jeopardy until just a few weeks back.
Now, the next order of business is getting back on the floor.
On top of his legal issues this summer, which were put to bed three weeks ago upon his reaching a plea agreement and pleading no contest to misdemeanor domestic battery charges, Willis has battled physical woes, too.
In his first two seasons actually playing at UNLV after transferring from Memphis, be it his back, knees or ankles, Willis has not been able to shake a trend of nagging injuries.
He underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee in August, then just after getting back on the floor was shut down again when the knee gave him more trouble. Willis has yet to take part in the Rebels' first week of practices, and is biding his time until he's at 100 percent.
In the meantime, Willis has spent his time at practice joking around on the sidelines with fellow wounded senior guard Kendall Wallace and simply enjoying the atmosphere.
He's even managed to crack a few smiles.
"Basketball, my whole life, has been an escape for me," Willis said. ""I haven't been fully healthy since I've been here. I've never had to rehab so much. I've never had to sit out this many practices."
When Willis gets back on the floor, which should be at some point in the next couple of weeks, he'll still face a 3-game suspension stemming from his off-court issues this summer. That punishment includes the Rebels' two exhibition games on Nov. 2 and 9.
Once his 2010-11 season actually begins, Willis said he's out to atone for a staggering finish to his junior campaign.
An ugly 55-45 loss to San Diego State in the title game of the Mountain West Conference tournament, followed by a 69-66 setback against Northern Iowa in the first round of the NCAA tourney meant that a 25-9 season ended with back-to-back losses.
For so much of the season, Willis was UNLV's one constant rock while others around him fluctuated. But in those two defeats, the first team All-MWC selection was a combined 9-of-27 from the floor for just 24 points, hitting only two of his nine 3-point attempts.
A lot of his struggles could be tied to the fact that Willis's body was limiting him by the end of the long season.
The aforementioned ailments had caught up with him and limited his explosiveness. It was most noticeable in his shot, as Willis didn't have his normal lift off of the floor.
"I died down at the end of last year," Willis said. "I want to be the steady player who still does everything the team needs from me for us to win."
Everything was pretty much what Willis did a year ago, averaging a team-high 17.2 points per game to go with his averages of 3.9 rebounds and 3.5 assists an outing.
This season, despite being tapped as a preseason All-MWC selection, Willis won't have to carry quite the same load.
Sophomore guards Anthony Marshall and Justin Hawkins both look improved and ready to make big leaps, while senior Derrick Jasper is back from a left knee injury that cost him the final 12 games of the 2009-10 season. Also, 6-foot-8 Chace Stanback will be able to see some time at his natural position — small forward — thanks to the additions of sophomore Quintrell Thomas and redshirt freshman Carlos Lopez inside.
It's the deepest team that coach Lon Kruger has had since Willis arrived, and is more than capable of weathering the storm without its senior leader.
"Last year, our depth, a lot of it was pretty young," Kruger said. "This year, that same depth is a year more experienced, bigger, stronger, and that's more preferred. And we only have two senior again now, so that's a good combination."
Willis said that once he's back on the floor, he hopes to continue to evolve his game as a senior, specifically pointing out a want to improve on his 29.5 percent 3-point shooting from a year ago.
For now, he's settling for just being around the action after an off-season to forget.
"It's helped a lot," Willis said. "Any time you can be around your friends, teammates, it helps. Just seeing basketball helps me smile, and I can't wait to get out there with them."