UNLV BASKETBALL:

Through physical struggles, reaching Senior Night an accomplishment for Jasper

Rebels swingman has overcome balky left knee to remain a contributor; now eyeing life after playing days

Image

Justin M. Bowen

UNLV’s Derrick Jasper looks at the hand of a BYU defender during a game Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2011, at the Thomas & Mack. BYU won the game 89-77.

UNLV vs. Wyoming

  • UNLV Rebels (21-7, 9-5) vs. Wyoming Cowboys (10-17, 3-10)

  • Where: Thomas & Mack Center

  • When: 7 p.m.

  • Coaches: Lon Kruger is 158-69 in his seven seasons at UNLV and 476-302 in 25 overall seasons; Fred Langley is 2-2 in his first season at Wyoming, taking over mid-season for the dismissed Heath Schroyer.

  • Series: UNLV leads, 27-14.

  • Last time: UNLV won, 74-65, on Jan. 25 in Laramie, Wyo.

  • Line: UNLV by 17.

  • TV/Radio:The Mtn./ESPN Radio 1100 AM/98.9 FM

  • THE REBELS

  • G Oscar Bellfield (6-2, 185, Jr.) 11.1 ppg, 3.6 apg, 2.4 rpg.

  • G Anthony Marshall (6-3, 200, So.) 9.9 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 2.9 apg.

  • G Tre'Von Willis (6-4, 195, Sr.) 13.0 ppg, 3.5 apg, 3.2 rpg.

  • F Chace Stanback (6-8, 210, Jr.) 12.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg.

  • F Quintrell Thomas (6-8, 245, So.) 6.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg.

  • Bench:G Derrick Jasper (6-6, 215, Sr.) 5.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 2.0 apg; F Brice Massamba (6-10, 240, Jr.) 4.0 ppg, 2.1 rpg; G Justin Hawkins (6-3, 190, So.) 5.2 ppg, 2.2 rpg; F Carlos Lopez (6-11, 215, Fr.) 4.9 ppg, 2.9 rpg; G-F Karam Mashour (6-6, 200, Fr.) 2.4 ppg.

  • What to watch: Coming off of the best performance of his collegiate career, posting 19 points and 13 rebounds at New Mexico, the key is again finding consistency for Quintrell Thomas. He already has some marked success against Wyoming to draw from, finishing with 10 points and seven rebounds while keying a monster second half run in the first meeting.

  • THE COWBOYS

  • G JayDee Luster (5-9, 160, Jr.) 6.3 ppg, 3.4 apg, 2.2 rpg.

  • G Francisco Cruz (6-3, 217, Jr.) 9.6 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 1.7 apg.

  • F Amath M'Baye (6-9, 210, So.) 11.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg.

  • F Daylen Harrison (6-6, 217, So.) 3.5 ppg, 2.3 rpg.

  • C Djibril Thiam (6-10, 215, Sr.) 9.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg.

  • Bench: G Desmar Jackson (6-5, 175, So.) 14.7 ppg, 5.0 rpg; G Arthur Bouedo (6-4, 185, Jr.) 2.5 ppg, 1.2 rpg; C Brian Gibson (6-8, 243, So.) 2.5 ppg, 3.4 rpg; C Adam Waddell (6-10, 235, Jr.) 4.1 ppg, 3.0 rpg; G Joe Hudson (6-1, 180, Fr.) 2.4 ppg.

  • What to watch: Wyoming is 2-2 under interim head coach Fred Langley, and has played more like a team under him, too. They're 0-2 on the road since Heath Schroyer got the axe earlier this month, but they played both New Mexico and Utah close in those games. Remember, the Pokes led the Rebels at halftime in Laramie the last time around. They should come into this game with all kinds of confidence and nothing to lose.

Five years ago, Derrick Jasper's plans beyond high school, in his mind, were set.

As a dynamic, explosive and gifted point guard prospect out of Paso Robles (Calif.) High, he was one of the nation's elite basketball recruits. He figured he'd spend a year or two at Kentucky, and then it was off to the NBA.

He's not the first high-profile prep athlete to see the blueprint change, and he certainly won't be the last.

Now 22 years old, Jasper's was altered largely due to circumstances that were out of his control, and he's ready to make the most of what he has left on the court.

His final home game at UNLV will take place Saturday night, when the Rebels host Wyoming for a 7 p.m. tilt.

"It can definitely be tough when you're expecting to play professional basketball and you don't," Jasper said. "I'm happy to even get an opportunity to play college basketball.

"I love UNLV. It's been a great overall experience for me. We beat a lot of ranked teams, won a lot of games, now I want to advance in the (NCAA) tournament. It's my last year. I want to go out with a bang."

Jasper's doing as much as his left knee has allowed him to do in the last six weeks to try to make that happen.

That knee has limited him since his freshman year at Kentucky.

Jasper underwent a risky microfracture surgery following that season and came back too soon as a sophomore, playing for then-first-year coach Billy Gillispie.

Carrying a prominent role with essentially one leg down the stretch of the 2007-08 campaign, he quickly realized it was time for a change of scenery. Jasper was then recruited to UNLV by long-time friend Tre'Von Willis, who had come to Las Vegas a year earlier after leaving Memphis.

"The plan was that we were supposed to go (play together out of high school) originally," said Willis, who will also get his send-off in a pregame ceremony Saturday night. "It didn't work out that way, but it was karma, I guess. I was his host (on his visit). I had to get him to sign. I got him that day. I had him at hello."

Jasper's redshirt year at UNLV was spent working daily with strength and conditioning coach Jason Kabo and head trainer Dave Tomchek, essentially rehabbing the knee all over again.

Last season, Jasper's junior year was cut short by 13 games after a freak collision with teammate Matt Shaw during a home win against Air Force led to a sprained MCL in his left knee. He was helped off of the court while choking back tears, thinking at that moment that his playing days were toast.

Jasper got over the mental hurdle of hurting the knee for a second time, but he's struggled as a senior to keep it strong, losing some of the explosiveness he'd built back up along the way. Now, he's contributing any way he can, which mostly includes rebounding, defending and running the point for short periods of time.

He's still living up to the reputation that he earned at Kentucky as a guy who can provide a little bit of everything. Jasper is currently averaging 5.6 points, 4.5 rebounds and two assists per game.

"I'm trying not to think about it," Jasper said of the knee that is packed in ice following every practice and game. "I'm just trying to win some games. We've been peaking at the right time, playing some good basketball."

Jasper scored his first bucket in four games in Wednesday's 77-74 overtime win at New Mexico, which improved the Rebels to 21-7 overall, 9-5 in the league and all but secured the program's fourth NCAA tourney berth in five years.

He played 32 minutes, which were his most by far in 10 outings, proving that he still had plenty to offer in a tough game in a hostile environment. Jasper also added five defensive boards, three assists and committed no turnovers.

In UNLV's last 12 games, he's only attempted 17 shots in 250 minutes played, but Lon Kruger has stuck with him in the rotation through it all.

"Derrick's never made any excuses; he's never pouted about his injuries; he's never had his head down," Kruger said. "With those injuries, that pain takes its toll after a while, yet Derrick's played right through it all."

The injury will likely hold Jasper back some for as long as he decides to play basketball.

Before this season, saying he felt healthier than he had at any time since high school, Jasper still had aspirations of playing pro ball. Just a few short months later, he's made peace with the reality of the situation.

After graduating last spring and beginning to work toward a second bachelor's degree, he interned over the summer at the Cannery Hotel and Casino, learning the business side of the gaming and hospitality industry.

Jasper is also considering embarking on a coaching career, which he said he's dreamed of for quite some time. Kruger believes Jasper will make a solid coach someday, and with his connections, could surely get the 6-foot-6 wing set up for success on the sidelines.

Just coming to terms with a situation that many athletes struggle to ever live down at such a young age is enough of an accomplishment to be proud of.

Everything Jasper gets the rest of this season is gravy.

"Of course, it didn't go how I expected it to go, but I got a college degree, played a lot of college games and won an (NCAA) tournament game. I'm looking to build on that," he said. "There were a couple of times when I didn't think I'd be able to bounce back from it.

"I just want to enjoy life and the next chapter."

More on Senior Night

Willis's home swan song comes just as he became UNLV's 20th all-time leading scorer. The senior's season-high 25 points on Wednesday night at The Pit gave him 1,245 for his career.

That number bumped him past Tony Smith (1,204; 1976-79) and has him behind Jackie Robinson (1,258; 1973-78). It's realistic that Willis could climb a few more spots before his season ends.

Joining Willis and Jasper in the pregame pageantry will be senior walk-ons Tyler Norman and Mychal Martinez — a pair of Las Vegas natives who joined the team at the start of the 2009-10 season.

Wallace is back

On Friday afternoon, redshirting junior guard Kendall Wallace took part in live, full-speed team drills at practice for the first time since suffering a torn ACL in his right knee late in the summer.

Wallace adds a body to the scout team that has been down a body of late with the absence of junior walk-on Todd Hanni.

Hanni won't be back with the team during practice or at games for the rest of the season while working on some academic issues. Kruger said recently that the door is open for Hanni to be back with the team next season.

Fans urged to take part in White-Out

UNLV is encouraging all fans to wear white to Saturday night's game. The first 6,000 fans in attendance at the Mack will receive a free white UNLV T-shirt.

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  1. Would have loved to see Jasper at 100% in a Rebel uniform. There were glimpses where he looked mighty smooth. At times, it seemed he could be the best player on the floor. But those times were few and far between.

    Glad to hear he's put things in perspective at this point. I hope things go well.

  2. Having Jasper has been great in my eyes. He;s a good defender, and other players have to respect his ability to drive. Thank you for coming to UNLV and giving us your all. I wish you luck after the season is over.

  3. As a University of Kentucky fan, I very much appreciated Derrick Jasper. I regret, as I am sure he does, that he had to suffer through the pains of being coached by Billy Gillispie. He is remembered with a great deal of respect and appreciation by Kentucky fans and we wish him the very best of success and happiness.

  4. Tough kid, bad break with the knee. Jasper is a prime example of why the college game is so much more compelling than the NBA. He is the antithesis of the spoiled (Melo) NBA athlete of today. Best of luck and thanks for the three years in the scarlet and grey.

  5. It really is a shame that Derrick has fallen into the role he currently has. If you go back and watch the game against Wisconsin, and the three games in Anaheim, Derrick was terrific. He was attacking the rim, setting up teammates and hitting the occassional outside J. In my opinion that is when we were playing our best basketball. Now he is so timid offensively that when he and Hawkins are in the opposing team does not even have to guard them. I wish the coaches would explain to them that they have to be a threat. Neither are great offensive players but they are much better than what they are showing right now. Hope we can continue to play well and hit shots. We shall see.

  6. Great article Ryan.. I agree that sometimes Jasper is the best person on the court. Bad deal that Matt Shaw was at the wrong place at the wrong time. sigh. I hope D Jazz doesn't regret coming to Vegas and playing for the Rebels. He will be missed.

  7. Great article...Jasper, thanks for being a Rebel!!!

  8. I think we'd all agree that Jasper's deal in college basketball has been tough. Its such a shame because if he hadn't had the injuries, he had the potential to be a big star. We saw some of that last year and he was just rounding into form when he got reinjured. I think his injury was a reason we hit a bit of a skid at the end of last year. Jasper doesn't do any one thing particularly "great", but he does well enough in every area, with the exception of scoring lately, to make an impact. Whether its defending, rebounding or running the point and setting guys up, DJ does whatever he needs to do to help the team.

  9. Let's see one more alley oop tonight for old times sake.

  10. I had high hopes at the beginning of the season that Jasper would finally turn the corner and realize all potential he has. He was, by far, the best athlete on the team (followed by Marshall), and it was a shame that injuries took away his confidence. That said, I would rather he take J-Hawk's minutes to give us a big defender and rebounder.