REBELS BASKETBALL:

Following tumultuous summer, knee issue is latest hurdle for UNLV’s Tre’Von Willis

Senior guard hoping to be back on the practice floor in next couple of weeks

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Sam Morris

UNLV forward Tre’Von Willis sits on the bench during the team’s FirstLook scrimmage on Friday, October 15, 2010.

The Rebel Room

Football winding down, hoops heating up at UNLV

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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.

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."

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  1. Just get healthy in time for the 76 Classic. Looking at our OOC schedule, winning this tournament would launch us into the top 25 if we are not already there after beating Wisconsin. This would be my starting line up until Tre gets back:
    1) Bellfield
    2) Marshall
    3) Jasper
    4) Stanback
    5) Massamba

    I think it will be similar to last year, where Massamba gets the start but not necessarily the most minutes at the 5. I think QT can go in at the 4 or 5, and have Lopez sub in for brice.

    Im just glad this team is so DEEP

  2. There will definitely be a log jam at the guard position this year.. It seems like they will need to get Tre and Marshall on the court as much as possible, but Jasper and bellfield are probably better facilitators, the former being able to jump out of the gym and the latter being probably our best 3 point threat. This also leaves out Hawkins who looked really good at the first look, as he seems bigger, stronger, and more aggressive this year. I could see the Rebels playing some time with 4 guards on the court this year.

    If Stanback can rebound like he was the second half of the season, and stay consistent with his jump shot, he could potentially be the Rebel's MVP this year. I could see him averaging 12 points and 8 rebounds a game.

    Massamba looks like he learned how to jump over the off season (maybe due to getting healthy) and this could be a huge boost to his game. If QT can stay out of foul trouble his strong inside game seems promising. I wasn't too impressed with Lopez honestly but maybe he'll look better by the start of the season.

    Lastly, Mashour looks like he could develop into something special.. They might want to redshirt him just because they are already so deep, but he looks like he's ready to play now. Should be a fun year if everyone stays healthy.

  3. Hope the rehab is going well for Willis and Wallace (almost sounds like William Wallace). We're going to need some strength this year and some aggressiveness to get those boards. Stay healthy this season!

  4. I would rather have Mashour play this year. With the possibility of injuries/academic/disciplinary problems that tend to occur with all college bball teams, Mashour could definitely be a plus this year. We are 10 deep with him and that is a perfect number. Besides he may give our perimeter shooting a boost. Runnin' Rebels!

  5. I agree, Mashour should not redshirt. Our team strength is the amount of quality players we do have and not a few select elite talent players. We have a bunch of 3 star players and a couple 4 star players that are all very good players. With that being said, having a bench that is 10 deep with well rounded and different style players, that is what will bring us wins. Players will have off nights and also not match up well against certain teams. Of course, we will see an injury or two throughout the season and will miss a player or two for a period of time. It is bound to happen so we will be 8 deep then. I am really high on our team this year and feel we have lots of talent and options to beat teams. U-N-L-V, Go Fight Win!!!

  6. How does Wallace's injury affect our scholarship status for next season? Since he was supposed to graduate this year, his scholarship would have been available next year. Does this mean we have one less available for next year now?

  7. I'm so happy that we are getting updates about basketball every few days, football is getting depressing... The depth of our team is going to cause some real problems, especially for teams like New Mexico that play their starters 35 minutes a game.
    I know this is slightly off topic, but I think our best option is to start QT at he 5 and Chase at the 4. They are our best rebounders and we all know how we struggled in that area last year! At the 3 both Marshall and Jasper can help out on the glass, I think we can excell in that area this year!

  8. All preliminary reports seem to be the following for are starting 5 and back ups:

    1: OB/Jasper
    2: Tre/AM/J-Hawk
    3: Jasper/J-Hawk/Mashour
    4: Chase/C-Lo
    5: QT/Brice

    I still think Kruger will go small ball and 3 guards quite often...considering if you label Jasper and Mashour a guards at 6-6.

    Our guards will be very interchangeable. OB will get most minutes at PG, 32-35 a game. DJ will slide and back him up. We will see times with OB, Tre and AM on the floor. Others with OB, Tre and DJ. Other times with DJ, Tre, and J-Hawk. It is going to be very interesting. Mashour will see 4-6 minutes a game at the 3 spot which will be very good for him.

    I honestly think the 4-5 punch will be the very big and powerful QT and lanky rebounder Chase starting. Super tall Brice and C-Lo backing up with DJ at point.

    It will be a very interesting year.

  9. I think that having Massamba and Lopez come off the bench together for the 4 and 5 spots would be great. They have played together for a while (Findley Prep and now UNLV). It would give us great size coming off the bench.

    I went to the groundbreaking ceremony for the Mendenhall Center this afternoon. As Livengood said, its going to be the "Cats Meow" of college practice facilities. Estimated completion of September 2011. That will be a HUGE recruiting tool for us, Go REBELS!

  10. looks like the identity verification has scared off the likes of Sufferin Succotash. GOOD RIDDANCE!