Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Wednesday, May 25, 2011 | 2:15 a.m.
Utah transfer J.J. O'Brien will not be taking UNLV's final open scholarship for the 2011-12 season.
The 6-foot-7 Rancho Cucamongo, Calif., native, who averaged 6.3 points and 5.5 rebounds in an injury-shortened freshman season in Salt Lake City, chose San Diego State over UNLV on Tuesday as his next destination.
O'Brien said the fact that UNLV drew a commitment over the weekend from another wing prospect — 6-foot-5 freshman USC transfer Bryce Jones, who chose the Rebels over SDSU and Gonzaga — wasn't the deciding factor in his choice, but he did take it into consideration.
"We discussed it. It's hard to avoid," O'Brien told the San Diego Union-Tribune. "But it wasn't like I was going to go to the opposite place he went. Ultimately, we wanted to make the best choice for me.
"I really trust coach (Steve) Fisher and his staff. They recruited me hard out of high school and that says something in itself. San Diego State had a great year. I played against them three times. I love the way they play, and I love what they did with Kawhi (Leonard) and guys my size."
O'Brien, who overcame an early season leg injury, clearly made good impressions with opposing Mountain West coaches, as Colorado State and New Mexico both also made pushes for him. As for UNLV's Dave Rice, specifically, he was on the opposing bench as BYU's associate head coach for some of O'Brien's more impressive league performances. In two games against the rival Cougars, he averaged 11.5 points and nine rebounds.
O'Brien projected out as a solid middle-of-the-rotation piece had he landed at UNLV, but now the staff will be putting out feelers to a one-time program target with a sky-high ceiling.
On Sunday, 6-foot-7 Dwayne Polee Jr. announced his intentions to transfer from St. John's after one season in New York City.
Rice and his staff will be reaching out to Polee this week to gauge his interest. They had been waiting for a decision from O'Brien before doing so, as it held firm on keeping the offer for the last spot out to him before looking at other potential options. Coincidentally, San Diego State is expected to be a top contender for Polee's services, too.
A Los Angeles native, Polee emerged late as a hot late target in the 2010 recruiting class and on a couple of occasions was on the verge of committing to UNLV and former coach Lon Kruger. However, as his stock rose toward the end of his senior year and into last summer, he was especially selective with his potential options. After former UCLA head coach Steve Lavin got the job at St. John's, he moved in and secured a commitment just as Polee was set to choose between UNLV and Georgia.
Polee, whose father Dwayne Sr. played at UNLV in the early 1980s, said in a release put out by the St. John's athletic department that he's looking to transfer closer to home for reasons beyond basketball.
"I really enjoyed my experience at St. John's and I'm going to miss the staff and New York," he said. "Right now, I feel it is best to be close to my family and help us get through a health issue."
Given the family health issues behind his transfer, Las Vegas might be about as far away from home as Polee would be willing to go.
As a senior at hoops powerhouse Westchester High, Polee averaged 20 points, nine rebounds and two blocks a game while leading the Comets to a second consecutive Division I state championship. He was best known in the prep ranks for his off-the-charts athleticism and extreme jumping ability, possessing a vertical leap of nearly 40 inches.
In his lone year at St. John's, Polee started 26 of 33 games for the Red Storm, who went 21-12 and advanced to the NCAA tournament. He only played 14.9 minutes per game, averaging 4.4 points and 2.5 rebounds. St. John's lost nine seniors off of this year's squad, and Polee figured to be one of the more experienced members of a team next season that features one of the nation's most heralded recruiting classes.
If things don't develop with Polee, Rice and his staff will likely roll the lone vacant scholarship over to be used for a potential fifth recruit in the 2012 class, as UNLV will lose four scholarship players — Oscar Bellfield, Chace Stanback, Kendall Wallace and Brice Massamba — to graduation following the 2011-12 campaign.