UNLV basketball:

Rebels recruiting in decent shape entering the spring signing period

Now with two open scholarships, much of what UNLV will try to do depends on its chances of getting Anthony Bennett

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Coaches Dave Rice and Heath Schroyer talk during practice before their second round NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship game Wednesday, March 14, 2012 at The Pit in Albuquerque. The Runnin’ Rebels will take on Pac 12 champions Colorado on Thursday.

The decision that Las Vegas has been talking about for the past few years is history. Shabazz Muhammad is going to UCLA.

Muhammad cut UNLV from his list at the end of March, ending a long flirtation that had Rebels fans dreaming of a hometown hero running out on the red carpet.

The funny thing is, both sides are probably better off with reality.

As long as he doesn't face a long suspension, Muhammad has a chance to be a star as part of a top-10 recruiting class. And second-year UNLV coach Dave Rice has built a roster that actually would have had trouble accommodating him.

With Muhammad’s big decision in the books on the first day of the spring signing period, it’s a good time to take another look at what UNLV will try to do the rest of the way.

First, the Rebels now have two open scholarships because of sophomore Karam Mashour’s decision to transfer. The move wasn’t surprising considering Mashour’s frustration with his limited playing time, highlighted by his refusal to enter a game at the end of February.

Don’t expect UNLV to spend both of their scholarships in this signing period, though. Their targets are limited, and keeping a scholarship allows Rice the freedom to pick up a midseason transfer.

The team’s top target is still Findlay Prep’s Anthony Bennett. A 6-foot-7 power forward, Bennett is the top-ranked uncommitted player after Nerlens Noel makes his decision tonight.

UNLV’s Khem Birch has been selling the program to Bennett, his former AAU teammate, since January. And no doubt Birch will play tour guide when Bennett makes an official visit to UNLV later this month.

Because the Rebels only had one available scholarship up until this week and they’re clearly in for the long haul with Bennett, there aren’t really many other high school targets for this year’s class. Findlay Prep 7-footer Matt Willms is a possibility, but most of the premier uncommitted guys have their lists cut to a few choices, and it would be nearly impossible for UNLV to swoop in and sway them.

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Findlay Prep's Anthony Bennett talks to the media after a ceremony for the 2012 McDonald's All American Basketball Team, in which he and two other local highschool students were selected, Wednesday March 21, 2012.

Bennett recently told Adam Zagoria that his decision won’t likely come until early May, after he’s made all five of his official visits.

The benefit of UNLV’s second open scholarship now is the Rebels have freedom to pursue their back-up options with more vigor in case they fall out of the Bennett sweepstakes. Renaldo Woolridge is likely near the top of that list.

A transfer out of Tennessee, Woolridge, a 6-foot-9 forward, has just one year remaining, but he’s eligible to play right away. CBS Sports’ Jeff Borzello tweeted that Woolridge has already taken unofficial visits to USC and Pepperdine and will reportedly do the same in Las Vegas. The No. 53 overall player in the 2008 class, according to Rivals.com, Woolridge has the athleticism to attack the rim.

As for JUCO options, 6-foot-8 Luke Cothron is a possibility. He was a top-50 recruit committed to Auburn in 2010 before academics dropped him to the College of Southern Idaho, where he averaged 14 points and 8.1 rebounds per game this year.

The list of transfers is enormous and ever growing, giving UNLV an even bigger pool to sort through. Whatever they come up with this year, it will likely be in the post.

After considering the NBA, Mike Moser is back for his junior season. Seniors Anthony Marshall and Justin Hawkins will control the backcourt, with support from junior Reggie Smith and incoming freshman Katin Reinhardt. Junior Bryce Jones will man the slashing wing role, which is why UNLV doesn’t really need Muhammad.

That’s a solid core of guards/small forwards, but the forwards/centers are less certain.

The coaching staff has been raving about Birch since he stepped on campus, but his December debut will be his first game in about a year. And forwards Quintrell Thomas and Carlos Lopez were far from consistent last season.

Reinforcements in the paint would be well received, and it’s probably best if that doesn’t fall on incoming freshman Demetris Morant. The 6-foot-8, 205-pound forward from Bishop Gorman is known more for his jumping ability than basketball skills. The talent is there, but it’s probably best if the Rebels don’t have to rely on him this year.

Bennett is the best-case scenario. Considering his decision isn’t expected for a few more weeks, Mashour’s departure gives UNLV a lot of freedom that it didn’t have beforehand.

Still, don’t expect to hear about much action in the interim. The Rebels will probably wait until they know they can’t get Bennett before making other moves.

Or until he signs with UNLV.

Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Taylor on Twitter at twitter.com/taylorbern.

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  1. Good luck Rebels. You have a solid core of players and the future looks bright.

  2. Can we never refer to him as "hometown hero" again?

  3. I was surprised to see Bazz to to UCLA, but he had already taken UNLV off his list last month. All you can really do is pitch the program and facilities at the teenagers and hope they like what they see.

    UCLA is used to sanctions, and Bazz might have to deal with being pitched straight into them with his own possible problems.

    I hope UNLV can land Bennett and if not, get another skilled player in the program.

  4. The article completely neglected Anthony January. He's a 4 star recruit, and he would be a good fit in the UNLV uptempo offense. The Rebels offered him a scholarship last month.

  5. Hope coach rice fills both scholarships this year. If we don't land AB, would love to see cothron and january come in. I think willms would be a disappointment. Any word on pelle and do we still have a chance with him?

  6. Here's to high hopes & smashed dreams...

  7. Too bad not as much local attention is paid to UNLVs academic programs as is paid to its sports programs, especially those considered key to the future -- math, science, technology & languages.

  8. First this is the sports section not the math section. I don't blame Rice for Shabazz. It's obvious we were never in the mix for him to begin w. He was bought and paid for back in the summer by Addidas. Who I do blame for part of this is his brother Grant at BG who doesn't seem to have a clue about what was going on when it was fairly obvious. When months ago the younger brother told other kids he would be playing next year in SoCal, how as the head coach do you not know what's going on in your own program. And all this help he was suppose to give in getting kids to UNLV to help his brother. BG Rice was scared to deal w Shabazz and his dad. Everyone at BG knows this. Funny thing is here is a family that used BG and now their out of here. Good for them.

    But now we all see how the brother is no help in benefitting UNLV and his older brother.

  9. "Junior Bryce Jones will man the slashing wing role, which is why UNLV doesn't really need Muhammad."

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    ARE YOU SERIOUS?!! LMFAO, this is why I can't stand Bern and Brewer, where's Casey? The writers on the Sun are a joke...you're telling me you'd take Bryce Jones over Bazz?! You should be fired immediately from covering UNLV or college basketball, period....and get a new job as comedian. The homer writers are as bad as the homer commenters on this site....at least I can laugh until I split my sides!

  10. From all accounts (not just the sun) bazz and jones have a very similar game. And yes I would rather have a player that wants to be here in jones than someone who only cares about his publicity. My favorite line from the espn comment board, "shabought Muhammad".

  11. "bazz and jones have a very similar game"......that doesn't mean they have similar talent! Hilarious...

  12. And being the most talented really paid dividends for leBron and company this year and last, right. Talent is the most over rated and over used phrase in sports.

  13. @Djkgroup - if talent didn't matter, then people would attend basketball games when the team sucks...but they don't. Talent sells tickets, gets you on TV, wins games, gets you to the National Championship, and makes money for your school so it can happen again...ask Calipari how he feels about "one and done talent".....LMAO