REBELS BASKETBALL:

Emerging Canadian big man Matt Willms likes what he sees in Las Vegas and UNLV

6-foot-11 forward indicates that Dave Rice and UNLV have his utmost attention as he nears a decision

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Sam Morris

Detroit Stars forward Matt Willms - a UNLV recruiting target - takes a shot Friday, July 22, 2011 during the Las Vegas Fab 48 tournament at Bishop Gorman.

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Detroit Stars forward Matt Willms - a UNLV recruiting target - takes a shot Friday, July 22, 2011 during the Las Vegas Fab 48 tournament at Bishop Gorman.

The Rebel Room

Recruiting season hits its peak

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This week on LasVegasSun.com Sports Talk - doubling as The Rebel Room podcast - Ray Brewer and Ryan Greene break down a busy recruiting month for Dave Rice and his UNLV men's basketball staff. The crazy weekend in Las Vegas included three big tournaments, and the the guys will fill you in on who the staff made sure to go watch, who has emerged as the primary recruiting targets and who could likely be the next commit - or two - in the class of 2012.

If you look at Matt Willms now, you'd never believe that he played competitive hockey for most of his life.

But that came to an end two years ago, when Willms, well, looked more like a hockey player.

Willms, who hails from Leamington, Ontario, located roughly 30 miles from Detroit, gave up his country's national pastime after the eighth grade. Then he was 5-foot-10. His dad told him that if he gave up hockey, he had to pick up another sport, and a 13-inch growth spurt over the next two years made the choice pretty easy.

"That's probably where I got my coordination — from hockey," Willms said.

At 6-11, he has a frame that needs some more bulk, but the coordination is key, as is his ability to run the floor smoothly. Right now, he's a solid player at his size, but it's the potential of what he could become a couple of years down the road that has grabbed the interest of the UNLV coaching staff.

On Friday afternoon, head coach Dave Rice, along with assistants Justin Hutson and Stacey Augmon, sat courtside for Willms' first game in the Fab48 tournament at Bishop Gorman. A school having one coach in attendance means they're intrigued. Three on hand means they're serious.

And when asked about the schools currently recruiting him, the Canadian forward hinted that UNLV has come at him the hardest in recent weeks.

The interest is mutual.

"I'm kind of liking UNLV," he said with a smile. "They're always saying how they're an uptempo team. That's the kind of player I am. I like an uptempo game, and I feel like that's what they'll have."

Willms was first contacted by UNLV a few weeks ago, before the July evaluation period began. His AAU coach with the Detroit Stars — Tyrone Lofton — is a Southern California native with a longstanding relationship with Augmon.

UNLV's level of interest increased rapidly, and he now already has a scholarship offer on the table. Other schools to show interest so far in Willms include Minnesota, St. Joseph's, Loyola Marymount and San Diego State.

It's all part of a rapid ascent since taking his game across the border to the United States full-time after last summer. That's when he moved in with relatives in Detroit and began attending Consortium Prep.

"Over in Canada, I wasn't getting what I needed," he said, referring to assistance both on the floor and in the classroom. "So I thought the decision to come over here would help."

Willms' game is still raw, but it's noticeable how high his ceiling is. He's a lefty who has decent touch on his mid-range shot, can finish in transition, is an instinctual shot-blocker and already a sound rebounder.

Rumors are swirling already that he could be close to becoming UNLV's second commit in the class of 2012, and it would be a great fit. The staff isn't in dire need to land an elite true big man in the class and could bring Willms along slowly and properly in helping him reach his potential.

He said he plans on sitting down with his parents, Bob and Joanne, who also were in attendance on Friday and are big fans of the Las Vegas weather, after July's evaluation period and could possibly have a decision made soon.

"It's a different atmosphere, but I can get used to it. I got used to Detroit," Willms said. "I like the location. I feel like I could do a lot in this city."

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  1. I like this kid - Seems like he gives 100%. Might need to become a step quicker but IS a presence in the middle and could be a nice piece to pair with some of the athleticism we have coming in. Would add some defense under the hoop and redirect some shots. Get him in the weight room and teach him to get the ball out quicker to the outlet so we can get our run on!

  2. It just seems to get better and better! An athletic 6'11" kid that likes to run. Oh Boy!

  3. Still got a couple years to put on some muscle, and I think this kid is going to do very well.

    Ryan, I think you meant to say he looks more like a basketball player than a hockey player.

  4. It was good to get a chance to see Matt play over the weekend. He defiantly has a huge upside and high ceiling. The kid runs very well and has some hops for his size. Something we are not used to at UNLV. Matt is very aggressive on the boards and thinks all rebounds belong to him. Yet again something we are lacking. My one negative observation is that he seems at times to not really want to be there, like he is doing it for others, not the love of the game. He tends to hold his head down when things get tough. That being said he is a young kid still learning and the sky is the limit. I'd love to see him in Rebel red.

  5. @Ryann Green

    Whats the status on other recruits such as Morant, Sheppard, Bennett, X johnson, D johnson, Allen, Carter. Who did u get to see and how did they do?

  6. @Ryan Greene
    sorry about the name earlier.

    Question for you. If UNLV gets big names like Bazz and Bennett can they not accept Cook?

  7. I'm not gonna bash any of our players cause they will probably play much better under a new system. Also with over 120 wins in 5 season, realistically they are not doing much wrong. Just need to capitalize better with what they have.

  8. aj ... UNLV will not push Cook away. He's going to be a Rebel. I think they feel OK about their chances to get Bazz, but Bennett is getting tougher and tougher by the week, it seems, as his profile only continues to grow. I wouldn't bet on them landing both of them, but one would be huge alone.

    It's hard to believe that Matt played hockey for so long, but that was before that wild growth spurt. I heard one coach on the sidelines Saturday compare him to a young Trent Plaisted. Plaisted was a heckuva player for BYU. Found that comparison pretty interesting. What do you guys think? He's raw, yes, but he's coordinated, runs the floor well and has quick feet.

  9. Thanks Ryan, for the info and all the work you do.
    Any word on Morant or Ty Wallace as far as how they looked or if they are still targets?