UNLV basketball:

Moser’s new position a focal point in Rebels’ first practice for upcoming Canada tour

Anthony Bennett is officially out of the trip while transfers Khem Birch and Roscoe Smith were forced to watch and wait

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV forward Mike Moser talks to the media after their open practice Saturday, Aug. 4, 2012.

Rebels have high expectations in first practice

KSNV coverage of UNLV men's basketball team practicing before trip to Canada, Aug. 4, 2012.

UNLV Basketball - 2012 First Practice

UNLV guards Katin Reinhardt and Anthony Marshall talk during their open practice Saturday, August 4, 2012. Launch slideshow »

The evidence at the end of this season may prove him wrong, but from Mike Moser’s new(ish) view on the wing, he doesn’t see any reason he can’t rebound at the same rate he did last year.

UNLV has the bodies to handle the offense on the block without him. Still, Moser and coach Dave Rice know it’s still in the team’s best interest to let the nation’s 10th-leading rebounder last year go after every loose ball he can.

“I’m not really thinking, ‘Oh, we’ve got big guys so I can stay on the perimeter and not rebound,’” Moser said Saturday after UNLV’s first practice for this month’s trip to Canada at the Mendenhall Center. “I’m still trying to go get 12 to 20 rebounds a game.

“When it comes to rebounding, Coach hasn’t really changed anything with me.”

The standard logic goes that the farther away from the basket a player is situated, the less likely he is to get a rebound. There are always going to be a few exceptions on long rebounds, but that rarely translates to consistent production in that statistic.

However, Moser proved last year — best exemplified by this kenpom.com graph — that he can be a factor on the offensive glass while playing and shooting on the perimeter. Sustaining that will be a big question mark, especially considering Moser’s production drop-off at the end of last year, but he has the size and ability to make it possible. And as long as Rice is OK with him charging the glass instead of hanging back like a traditional guard to prevent a fast break, Moser could still contend to be the team’s leading rebounder.

Moser is one of two returning players who will be in different roles this year. There’s also senior guard Anthony Marshall, who will move over from combo guard to full-time point guard duties at the beginning of the season. And on Saturday, about 450 fans filled Mendenhall to see both players trying out their new roles alongside the plethora of new faces that joined the team this year.

The guys who will be pushing Marshall at the point are freshmen Katin Reinhardt and DaQuan Cook, and both looked solid in transition drills. The ones who may contend with Moser for the rebounding title, though, were mostly non-participants.

McDonald’s All-America forward Anthony Bennett, a Findlay Prep grad who’s currently at home in the Toronto area, is officially out of the team’s upcoming trip to Ottawa and Montreal from Aug. 16-22. The NCAA looked at and eventually cleared Bennett, but it took so long that UNLV was not able to get him into summer classes in order to be eligible for the trip.

The other players who likely won’t play in Canada but were expected to practice are transfer forwards Khem Birch and Roscoe Smith. However, both of them sat on the sidelines and watched in what Rice called a precautionary move. Rice got an e-mail Friday from UNLV compliance director Eric Toliver stating the Rebels may not be interpreting the rules correctly. Rice and Toliver are seeking an answer on the duo’s eligibility for these practices from the NCAA through the Mountain West office, a process that’s difficult to complete on the weekend.

Birch can’t play in the exhibitions because he’s not eligible until December, and Smith can only play if the NCAA approves his hardship waiver and declares him eligible for this season prior to the trip. Smith transferred from the University of Connecticut, which is banned from postseason play this year. Rice said he hoped they would both be OK to practice Monday.

For those who could participate, there were plenty of highlights and lowlights. The most memorable play (in a good way) may have been freshman Savon Goodman’s reverse slam. He held the rim just long enough for junior Bryce Dejean-Jones’ 3-pointer to swish through the angled rim.

The low point was the team’s collective inability to hit a couple of free throws to end practice. One-by-one they missed at least five consecutive attempts — each one followed by a full-court, down-and-back sprint — that would have ended their workout. There was a jesting round of applause when one shot finally found the net.

In between, there was the appropriate amount of running for a team that wants to pride itself on being faster and more fit than its opponents.

“Everyone thinks they want to run,” Rice said. “The most important part of our running game is consistency. We’re not going to just run one possession and then take a possession off. For us to be where we need to be, we’ve got to run on every possession.”

The returners, especially Moser, will play a big role in making sure the team keeps up with those running expectations. With his size, Moser presents a goal for the big men to keep up with and a challenge for the guards who don’t want to lose a race to a big man.

Just as he did last year, Moser will play a significant role on this team. The difference is this time he’s not sneaking up on anybody, and he’s got to do it consistently farther away from the basket.

That change is just one reason UNLV is grateful to have time for these practices and the trip to Canada. And from the size of the crowd for the first practice of an exhibition tour in August, Las Vegas is grateful, too.

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

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