REBELS BASKETBALL:

After J.J. O’Brien chooses SDSU, UNLV set to reach out to Dwayne Polee Jr.

If Polee isn’t in the cards, Dave Rice will likely roll open scholarship into 2012 recruiting class

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Los Angeles Westchester High forward Dwayne Polee Jr. joins the UNLV student section during a Nov. 28, 2009 game against Louisville at the Thomas & Mack Center. The Rebels upset the 16th-ranked Cardinals, 76-71.

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As a freshman at St. John's this past season, 6-foot-7 Los Angeles native Dwayne Polee Jr. averaged 4.4 points and 2.5 rebounds while starting 26 of 33 games for the Red Storm. This weekend, he announced his intentions to transfer closer to home to help deal with a family health issue.

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.

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  1. Could really use Polee. Despite some criticism from a select few, the guy has a ton of potential and athleticism. I watched a few St.J games last season and him, and he's extremely athletic and quick. It'll make someone here happy that he can block shots well, which apparently is the core need for any team to win championships.

  2. Whatever his actual reasons are, this was predictable (and predicted). A California kid going to a NY school wants to transfer? Go figure. And that St. John's recruiting class is stupid good. Polee might have struggled for playing time even with St. John's losing nine seniors.

    I say pass. I wanted him before but our prospects for 2012 are too bright.

  3. I think Polee would be a great steal.

    I'm excited for the 2012 class as well, but I wouldn't count our chickens before they've hatched. We have absolutely no idea how many of those kids we'll actually get, so why pass up on a kid who we know can play?

    I've also heard that he could possibly get a waiver to start playing immediately next year. I think our team is a tournament team already and having Polee there would only make our prospects brighter.

    Come be a Rebel Polee!

  4. Ryan - Any reason why the staff is not looking at high school seniors who are still uncommitted? Seems like the transfer route is the only one they are pursuing. Any thoughts or info? Thanks.

  5. gumby,

    Honestly, I don't think there are any high school seniors out there right now that the staff sees worthy of using that last available spot on. They're going to give Polee a call and see if it can possibly happen because he's probably the highest impact guy they have a shot at right now. If he goes elsewhere, expect that scholarship to roll over to next year. I wouldn't expect multiple transfers each offseason to be a regular deal with this staff, but given the current layout of the roster, pursuing a second one makes the most sense, IMO.

  6. Polee would absolutely be fighting for playing time next year, that's why he is transfering. He is not a great get now. If he comes here I would welcome him but I would not pursue him. I don't get why so many unlv fans seem to just say well who could blame him this year. Have some respect for the team and your selves. It's not ok that Kruger sells dreams then leaves without even giving us a chance to counter the offer. It makes no difference if he knew we couldn't pay him you still give the chance out of respect. You dont parade him around cause who could blame him. I could, because unlv is better than OU. Same with polee, we had a spot for him and when our predictions proved true the door closes for the next best think. But who could blame polee for not going to unlv last year for a big east school right.

  7. "Right now, I feel it is best to be close to my family and help us get through a health issue."

    Looks to me that playing time was not the issue as to why he is choosing to transfer. He started most of the season as a true freshman in the Big East on a team loaded with seniors. He was slotted to be a starter next season as well.

    Behind the scenes, a lot of people, including boosters, were not happy with Kruger, especially considering the way things ended in the tournament so poorly and the very high expectations going into last season. If anything, Kruger used UNLV a leverage to get Oklahoma to up the price. UNLV couldn't and wouldn't have matched the offer.

    As far as taking Polee, I'd take him if we can get him, but it wouldn't break my heart if he doesn't come here. Given his upside and the expected jump in player development skills with the current staff, I think he'd be a great fit. I'm not going to get my panties in a bunch because he went to the Big East. The only concern I would have is how this would affect our likelihood of signing a bunch of the 2012 guys we are looking at. If they don't like him or there's five of them that all want to come in together, then you have an argument to not take him. Otherwise, I'll take adding high-level talent when I can. Its hard for me to sit and say, "Don't take him because we want the scholarships for next year," because you never know what will happen in the recruiting game. I think the expression is "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush."

  8. Excellent post, MikeLange, my sentiments exactly. Also indicative of the extremely high expectations that Rice is working under, but this comes with his reputation for being very good at developing talent, something that seemed to be lacking (all due respect) with the Kruger staff. Polee would be a terrific addition, and, as always with transfers, very unlikely to have character/disciplinary issues, since their is no third chance per NCAA rules as I understand them, i.e., this is the "last shot" for the kid at Div 1 hoops.

  9. New coach but still nothing new.

    Rebels still chasing malcontents and various scraps from other programs.

  10. New coach but still nothing new.

    Logic still coming on here spouting off about stuff when he has no idea what he is talking about. New coaches often have to turn to transfer players in their first recruiting class because all of the top high school players have already committed.

    Not sure how deciding to leave a team to be closer to home due to medical problems in the family turns a kid into a malcontent or scrap, especially considering St. John's coaches said he was set to start next season and that they were hoping to build around Polee. Good poorly-informed illogical comment though.

  11. Mike L., I still think that it is funny how you actually believe that's the biggest or sole reason why he is transferring. Other than that I like most of what your earlier post say.

  12. I have no reason to believe otherwise. The player says it; his dad says it; his coaches all say he was going to start and be a big part of what they were hoping to build. I know we all look to be a bit skeptical of things like this, but nobody close to the situation has had anything negative to say about Polee or anything contradictory to his story. Maybe there are other issues, and I know they had a great recruiting class, but I have trouble believing the only returning starter from a NCAA Tournament team was going to struggle to find PT next season. More than anything, his physical tools alone scream potential.

  13. "I have no reason to believe otherwise." - EXACTLY

  14. So Ryan, I understand that as a reporter your job is to report news and not speculation but is there any word on any possible conference realiment issues this summer. Mostly ones that affect UNLV.

  15. It will be interesting to see how this Polee thing plays out. I believe we may need that scollie in 2012 but you have to sign them while you can because the recruiting game is a nasty business!
    Why he left St.J is really not an issue. The only issue is how will he fit into the Rebels chemistry. We will wait and see!! Go Rebels!!

  16. I think an extemely athletic forward with length and can run the floor is exactly what this new coaching staff would be looking for. He already has big time college basketball experience and a year to polish his game behind the scenes. Given the abgundance of schollies available for 2012 I think it's a no brainer. FYI, we are not going to land EVERY local recruit that is interested. Hard to break the bad news...

  17. i know im getting ahead of myself, but in thinking ahead if we do get Polee and Shabazz ends up coming we would probably be the most athletic team in the nation when you factor in Marshall, Moser and Jones

  18. Take Polee if you can get him, I doubt Shabbazz is staying home. As much as I would love to see SM in rebel gear he will not pass up an opportunity to play at the likes of UNC, Kentucky, or Duke where he will be a star & be right in the hunt for a national championship as a freshman. Take any good player when you can get them. Go after Shabbazz hard but dont pass up Polee if he wants to be a rebel.