Monday, Sept. 19, 2011 | 2 a.m.
- UNLV coach Dave Rice adds two walk-ons for 2011-12 season (9-19-2011)
- Gorman’s Rosco Allen finishes successful UNLV visit, getting closer to a decision (9-9-2011)
- Gorman’s Demetris Morant becomes first 2012 local to commit to UNLV (8-29-2011)
- Trying summer turns productive for UNLV forward Chace Stanback (8-29-2011)
- All UNLV Men's Basketball Coverage
Some of the differences are subtle, some are not.
If you pay close enough attention, you'll notice that when the UNLV basketball players now break a huddle, they yell "Runnin' Rebels" in unison rather than just "Rebels." Another phrase you'll hear around the team's offices and facilities is "Let's Run," which is the marketing slogan being used as the highly anticipated 2011-12 season approaches.
More visible are the trimmed down bodies of several Rebels as a busy summer morphs into full-team workouts, which began last Thursday on campus.
According to first-year Rebels coach Dave Rice, there's still a long way to go before the Nov. 11 regular season opener against Grand Canyon.
"If it were November 11, we'd be in big trouble," he said following the team's first fall workout. "But it's September 15, and we're where we need to be right now."
The players deserve plenty of credit, though, for being where they are with the official start of the season roughly a month away.
When Rice was hired in early April to replace Lon Kruger, he made one thing clear to the returning players in his initial meetings with them: They needed to focus on getting in the best possible shape over the long summer months before the coaches got their hands on them when school started.
"You pretty much figured out from the first day this coaching staff was in here that if you didn't get into decent shape, every day was going to suck," junior forward Quintrell Thomas said. "Now, everybody is definitely taking their conditioning seriously. We're going through these drills now, and when the coaching staff first got here, everybody was a little gassed. Now, everyone's going through it and the recovery time is much faster.
"It seems to me that everybody is in way better shape than they were at this point last year."
Thomas, for example, is down 8 pounds from the 258 he ended at last season, shedding 3 percent of his total body fat in the process. He's far from alone in terms of having a new look.
Largely, it's a byproduct of intense conditioning workouts over the summer months with team strength and conditioning coach Jason Kabo. Per NCAA rules, from now until the Oct. 14 start of regular practices, Rice and his staff get two hours per week to work the team out with a ball. They're allotted six hours without the ball, with those workouts conducted by Kabo.
Rice breaks that down into two one-hour practices, three days of lifting and three more hours dispersed throughout the week for conditioning drills.
Thursday provided an example of just how demanding the next month will be, as the staff is trying to squeeze as much as it can out of the eight hours each week.
The hour-long practice included several full-court drills, including one called the "nugget," which puts the offense in various advantageous situations, such as 4-on-3, 3-on-2 and 2-on-1. In the drill, the offense is working with a nine-second shot clock, which urges quick decision making and attempts to promote offensive confidence on the fly.
The rest of the session is rapid-fire, with hardly a second going to waste.
"We've got to really make use of our six extra hours of conditioning, and we have to be really efficient with those two hours we get with the ball," Rice said. "Once we get to October, we won't do nearly as much running outside of practice, because we just feel like we want to play ourselves into shape. For right now, the running is really important."
The conditioning on Thursday came in the form of 20 minutes of consistent running coming after the Rebels had exhausted themselves for an hour with the ball. That stretch included multiple full-court sprints with brief breaks in between. The result was plenty of heavy breathing and hands on knees.
A few weeks ago, according to several players, the scene was much uglier, but as they've quickly become a better conditioned team, quick barbs and jokes are now being fired back at Kabo by the players as they run and run and run.
The philosophy behind it is similar to the one legendary UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian had when whipping his teams into shape during his 17-year run at UNLV, including the two teams Rice played on from 1989-91.
"I think it's similar in that we're doing a lot of on-the-court running," he said. "We played ourselves into shape, and to play the kind of defense that we want to play and has been played here (under Kruger), you have to be in great shape. Now, we're not just going to play great defense, but push the ball in transition and that just takes great mental toughness."
It's not as if the returning players from the Kruger era were out of shape when Rice and his staff landed in Las Vegas, but there is more of a focus placed on it heading into this season.
In turn, what's made the transition so successful to this point is that the coaches have yet to meet an ounce of resistance from the players. That mostly comes from the excitement of the uptempo playing style Rice has promised his teams will operate with.
"As a player, that should be the style you want to play," junior guard Anthony Marshall said. "You want to get out on the fast break and have the free will to play basketball the way you grew up playing it.
"For us to do that, we have to get our lungs and our legs in shape."