UNLV BASKETBALL:

As July AAU season kicks off, a closer look at UNLV’s top 2012 recruiting targets

The year’s most intense evaluation period is key for Rebels staff, who has five scholarships to fill this year

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Steve Marcus

Dave Rice, UNLV’s new head basketball coach, speaks during an introductory news conference Monday, April 11, 2011.

Tuesday afternoon, on the heels of a relaxing holiday weekend, the start of a crazy four weeks for the UNLV coaching staff came in the form of plane tickets, rental car keys and hotel beds.

For the better part of July, Dave Rice and his staff will spend their days seated on benches in gyms across America with a clear-cut, top priority: Identify who to pursue the hardest for their five vacant scholarships in the 2012 class.

Some prospects are right in UNLV's backyard. Some are elsewhere on the West Coast. Some are in other time zones. After evaluating them over the course of the next month, decisions will be made, and then the staff will get aggressive.

There are names on the below list that might fall by the wayside, and, chances are, after a month of scouting, some new ones will be added. But as the first flights out of town were boarded Tuesday, here's a rundown of UNLV's current prime targets from the upcoming senior class.

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Bishop Gorman's Shabazz Muhammad.

LOCAL

Shabazz Muhammad, 6-foot-6 guard/forward, Bishop Gorman HS

The Skinny: Just in time for the height of the AAU season, Muhammad on Friday was elevated to the No. 1 spot on Rivals.com's prestigious Top 150 rankings in the 2012 class. It was far from a controversial move, too, as he's been consistently stellar at every event he's participated in so far this summer. A freakish, super-explosive athlete, he can score from anywhere on the floor, defend at an elite level and always looks dominant in the process. He'll surely create even more buzz this month, taking over games left and right against top competition. His game is continually blossoming.

It's no surprise that he's the most coveted uncommitted senior prospect in the country. You can say this: Shabazz and his father, Ron Holmes, are handling his recruitment the right way so far, keeping things pretty much air-tight, without a ton of information finding its way out. Still, all indications point to UNLV being right in the thick of the race with several top programs. That should remain the case all the way until the end, which is still likely at least four months away. Expect Muhammad to take all of his allotted official visits beginning this fall and hash things out thoroughly.

Rumors regarding his recruitment are abound, such as UCLA and Memphis gaining steam and North Carolina fading slightly, but finding confirmation for any of it is tough. If you ask fans of Kansas, Kentucky, Louisville, UNLV, Duke or any of the several other programs after him, they have their own opinions, too. Amidst all of it, Muhammad is doing and saying all of the right things. Some clearer direction on where he's leaning and/or favoring should begin to emerge after this month's whirlwind tour is through.

Ben Carter, 6-foot-7 forward, Bishop Gorman HS

The Skinny: Carter's rise to national prominence, which began roughly a year ago, now has him standing as Rivals.com's No. 121 recruit in the 2012 crop. His number of scholarship offers and suitors is growing, too.

If you're looking for a local prospect that is the most likely to be the first commitment in UNLV's 2012 class, the versatile Carter could be that guy. The new staff is pushing hard for him, and he's held Rice in high regard for a couple of years now. While at BYU, Rice was the first to extend a scholarship offer to a then unproven Carter two summers ago following a Gorman trip for the BYU team camp in Provo, Utah. Even post-Rice, BYU is still pushing for Carter, along with Mountain West foe New Mexico and several others.

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Bishop Gorman's Demetris Morant.

Demetris Morant, 6-foot-8 forward, Bishop Gorman HS

The Skinny: Like Carter, Morant's ascent as a target for some top programs has been consistent over the last year since moving to Las Vegas from Tucson, Ariz. One of the more explosive leapers that UNLV is pursuing, his offensive game is still raw, but limitless loads of potential have big schools gaining interest. Two of note are Arizona and Memphis. However, UNLV's advanced interest since Rice's hire in April has grabbed Morant's attention.

Rosco Allen, 6-foot-7 forward, Bishop Gorman HS

The Skinny: Despite an up-and-down ride since last summer, Allen still has the interest of — and scholarship offers from — several top-flight programs, including North Carolina, UCLA, Louisville, Arizona and many more. UNLV is still interested, but there's a reality to face: If the Rebels can land Carter — who they currently covet — it's not very sensible to try and get Allen, too. The two have very similar games, and the staff will have several needs beyond just wings in the 2012 class.

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Findlay Prep's Anthony Bennett.

Anthony Bennett, 6-foot-7 forward, Findlay Prep

The Skinny: Bennett battled nagging injuries during roughly his entire junior season at Findlay, but at full strength now, no senior prospect has seen his stock rise as much as this versatile Canadian over the past two months. He excelled at both the Pangos All-American Camp in Los Angeles, then the NBPA Top 100 Camp in Virginia. Now, Rivals.com has him as the nation's No. 7 overall senior. He's big and physical, an aggressive rebounder and shot-blocker, yet pretty smooth on the offensive end. He can play the small or power forward position effectively, too, which makes him even more coveted. UNLV has been on him for a long time, but with both his stock and interest in him rising by the second, can the Rebels stay in the race? We'll have to wait and see. Expect Kentucky to be one of the top contenders here.

Winston Shepard, 6-foot-8 forward, Findlay Prep

The Skinny: The Texas native's progression continues, and UNLV is keeping pace with several big-name schools in the hunt for the super-athletic Shepard. In fact, UNLV appears to have even gained some traction with Shepard since Rice's hire. He's a bit more raw than Bennett, but might have a bit higher of a ceiling as both a player and athlete. Shepard and Muhammad are not only AAU teammates (Dream Vision), but close friends, too. That's worth keeping in mind. The connection in recent years between Texas and Findlay Prep is well known, be it with Avery Bradley, Cory Joseph, Tristan Thompson or Myck Kabongo. Shepard is from the Houston area and both of his parents played ball at Texas. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the Longhorns will be one of the top contenders in his recruitment until the time he makes a decision.

Dominic Artis, 6-foot-1 guard, Findlay Prep

The Skinny: It was just confirmed this past week that Artis will move from Richmond, Calif., to play his senior season at Findlay Prep, which puts him in immediate contention for point guard minutes with junior-to-be Nigel Williams-Goss. UNLV is attempting to gain ground with Artis, who is in the middle of a breakout summer. UCLA and Baylor are among the handful of schools to already offer Artis, with several other name programs getting awfully close. This is definitely a name to remember over the next few months, as UNLV has plenty of immediate minutes to offer to 2012 point guard prospects.

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Mater Dei's Katin Reinhardt.

CALIFORNIA

Katin Reinhardt, 6-foot-4 guard, Mater Dei HS

The Skinny: In trying to fill the role of a dangerous, consistent outside shooter in the 2012 class, Reinhardt is UNLV's top target. A former USC commit, he's admitted recently that Arizona State has pursued him the hardest — especially head coach Herb Sendek — and that he has strong connections to the program. However, UNLV is firmly in the hunt and already extended a scholarship offer. His other offers include Arizona, Baylor and Gonzaga. Reinhardt is on a mission to expand his reputation beyond just that of a perimeter gunner this summer, and if he continues to do so, many more offers are likely on the horizon.

Gabe York, 6-foot-2 guard, Lutheran HS

The Skinny: York, who plays for the same Compton Magic AAU program that produced current Rebels Justin Hawkins and Bryce Jones, recently set a list of 10 schools he's taking serious looks at. UNLV is hanging around on that list, but, according to multiple sources close to his recruitment, has some ground to make up to stay in the hunt. Still, Rice's staff has coveted the high-scoring combo guard ever since arriving in Las Vegas and will continue to push. A high-scoring combo guard, York has already taken a few unofficial visits this summer. UNLV would like to get him on campus later this summer or early in the fall if possible.

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San Joaquin Memorial's Robert Upshaw.

Robert Upshaw, 6-foot-11 center, San Joaquin Memorial HS

The Skinny: Upshaw is another fast riser after a stellar start to the summer. UNLV is again contending here with names such as Arizona, Texas and Kansas, but his recruitment appears to be completely wide open at the moment. He's playing alongside Muhammad and Shepard this summer on a loaded Dream Vision roster.

Xavier Johnson, 6-foot-6 forward, Mater Dei HS

The Skinny: A long-time target of UNLV's dating back to the previous coaching regime, Johnson appears to be in wait-and-see mode with the Rebels, keeping close tabs on what happens with Shabazz Muhammad. The two play not only the same position, but have very similar games. That's a tough spot for UNLV, as other schools are gaining ground on Johnson and likely will continue to, as Muhammad's recruitment won't be ending anytime soon. Word is that Johnson likes what UNLV has pitched so far this summer, but is keeping things open at the moment.

Tyrone Wallace, 6-foot-4 guard, Bakersfield HS

The Skinny: Definitely a name to remember, as Wallace fits a major need at the point for UNLV and is from both the same hometown and high school as Rebels assistant Justin Hutson — one of the West Coast's top recruiters. He's versatile, can defend and, by several accounts, would fit in beautifully with UNLV's uptempo style on both ends of the floor.

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Ardmore (Okla.) High's Nino Jackson.

ELSEWHERE

Nino Jackson, 6-foot-2 Point Guard, Ardmore (Okla.) HS

The Skinny: Well, the first question is: When next season tips off, will Jackson still be an out-of-state prospect? Sources told the Sun last week that Jackson was in the process of trying to transfer to Durango High for his senior year, which, you'd have to assume, would help UNLV gain major ground on Kansas and Baylor, who have been Jackson's top two suitors. He visited UNLV unofficially last week and stayed a little longer to work out in town. Then, over the weekend, a story from the Daily Oklahoman had Jackson claiming he was just in Las Vegas to work out with NBDL players and that he'd play his senior year of prep ball in Oklahoma. He did point out in that story, though, that in recent weeks, UNLV has recruited him harder than anyone. Either way, he's now playing AAU ball with the Compton Magic, who the UNLV staff will see plenty of in the next couple of weeks. Jackson is more of a combo guard than a pure point, but he's an incredibly exciting player to watch operate on both ends of the floor. In other words: Stay tuned, because it appears that anything could happen here in the coming months.

Demarquise Johnson, 6-foot-5 forward, Westwind Prep (Ariz.)

The Skinny: Think of another player in the mold of Shabazz Muhammad or Xavier Johnson in terms of size, athleticism and ability in transition. UNLV is one of several West Coast programs in hot pursuit of Johnson, and his recruitment should also look much clearer after July. However, expect UNLV to be there until the end with him, too. He's already done wonders for his stock so far this summer, and is likely going to be making an unofficial campus visit in Las Vegas during the first week of August.

Daquan Cook, 6-foot-1 guard, Digital Harbor (Md.) HS

The Skinny: Right now, Cook is a scoring-minded point who is at his best when putting the ball on the floor and driving. Think of him as a little bit like current UNLV guard Reggie Smith. The Baltimore native is a little raw, but plays a tough brand of basketball that has caught the staff's attention from afar. Definitely a bit of a sleeper, Cook is an intriguing prospect who could really blossom soon.

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Southport (Ind.) High's Michael Ramey.

Michael Ramey, 6-foot-5 guard, Southport (Ind.) HS

The Skinny: Along with Katin Reinhardt, this is someone who UNLV really likes as a guy who can really fill it up from the perimeter. Ramey isn't as well-known by most scouts as Reinhardt, but could be soon, as they have both similar builds and outside shooting skills. Schools from all corners of the country are beginning to catch on, and, barring a sudden loss of interest this month, UNLV could be trying to get in close before many of them actually do.

Calaen Robinson, 6-foot-2 guard, Corona Del Sol (Ariz.) HS

The Skinny: Like Cook, Robinson is an up-and-coming combo guard prospect who right now is a better scorer than distributor. Also, as is the case with Cook, UNLV is very much in the evaluation stage here.

Matt Willms, 6-foot-10 forward, Consortium College Prep (Mich.)

The Skinny: A very interesting prospect, Willms could prove to be an option for UNLV as a true big man. The lefty has legitimate height, but right now, most of the interest in him is coming from schools closer to his home in Detroit. If the Rebels get serious on him, though, there are good connections between the UNLV staff and his AAU coach, Tyrone Lofton.

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  1. Interesting group of players. Lots of PG's and forwards it seems. I have a bad feeling that if UNLV waits too long for some of the players closer to the top of the list, they could jeopardize getting some of the others that want to make decisions a little bit earlier. The July madness begins...

  2. I agree that waiting could jepordize some of the lower profile players, but that's the risk we will have to take to reach the next level. The lower guys are what will help us maintain that 20-35 national ranking. But if we want to jump to that 1-15 mark then we have to take some risk. It is a fine line though because to much time = a lose of current talent.

  3. Ryan, thanks for the article. But I was wondering, does the Rebel Net Recruit Hotlist ring a bell?

  4. Funny no quotes from anyone. All hearsay

  5. I've got a feeling that a commitment or two should be landed by the fall, which would help the staff get the ball rolling. Five spots to fill in one class is quite a bit. If I had to make a prediction, I'd say the Rebels are able to snag at least one 'elite' level recruit, then a couple of the solid guys in the middle of the pack who are able to play right away and then a couple of guys who will take a year or two to blossom. Just my guess, but there's about a million different ways that this class could shape up.

    And yes, RpI, I've seen it before. This wasn't lifted from it, though, if that's what you're getting at. This was compiled based on information from people close to these kids' individual recruitments. It's not much of a surprise if it's the same information in some cases that is provided to others. This one, however, is free.

  6. Information given to me, that is.

  7. @rebelwithacause: There can be no quotes because the NCAA rules will not allow coaches to comment on recruits.

  8. Exciting times, these next few months will give us an idea how the new coaching staff does. After the first signing of 2013, I am very optimistic on who they can land. There are some very interesting recruits listed here, as well as those yet to be found during this offseason. I believe this could be the beginning of the rise during the Rice era but if we don't get every high recruit it won't be the sinking of the ship.

    GO REBELS!! IT HAS BEGUN

  9. Great piece, Ryan. Very thorough. Thank you.

    And I do like how the new staff seems to be deeper in the mix on quality guys that the previous staff. Be interesting to see what results they yield.

  10. Thanks for the info. Keep it up, can't get enough REBEL news!

  11. These are the kind of articles that get me stoked for UNLV basketball! I'm hoping this is the first of many articles, because I check "The Sun" everyday looking for any and all UNLV information to keep me going though the summer months!

  12. Allen and Carter may be very similar players, but if there is any chance of getting all 4 from Gorman, I doubt the coaching staff is going to pass that up.

    That being said, Mr. Muhammad, if you choose to go to Kentucky or Kansas no one will hold that against you. UCLA and Arizona might sting a little just based on proximity, but those are ok too. Please, please don't go to Dook.

  13. Canadian transfer Matt Willms is actually 7' tall. There is a lot of growing interest in this big right now during the AAU circut. Good hands works the ball well equally with both left and right, really good speed down the court for a 7 footer.
    Tyrone is the connector here.

  14. We will definately see the talent level rise under Rice & his staff, you cannot win anything without good to great players. My hunch is the Rebels will get at least one Gorman player, hopefully Shabbazz and one or two more recruits highlighted in this article. UNLV basketball is on the rise again, it might take a couple years to get back to an elite level but I can see it happening under this staff. Good times to be a Rebel & a fan...

  15. The rebels we got have already lifted us to an elite level. The problem is they are only elite in November and December. But to be fair I think that was LKs fault because he couldn't adapt his coaching style fast enought to stay with the change. A solid coach (not saying LK isn't solid, OU thought he was) will fix that problem.