unlv basketball:

The first-year successes were nice, but Rebels coach Rice says he’s still developing

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV head coach Dave Rice talks to the media after their open practice Saturday, August 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 »

When the UNLV basketball team opens play later this week in Canada for its four-game exhibition tour, several curious eyes will be on the players to gauge their improvements from last year.

The players, however, won’t be the only ones with noticeable upgrades to their performances.

Rebels coach Dave Rice, who went 26-9 last year during his initial season at the helm of the program, also feels like he’s progressed.

“I’m a better coach. That is just because there is no substitute for a year of experience,” Rice said. “I assume and hope I will be a better coach next year than I am this year.

“We have five returning guys in our program who played significant minutes for us last year, so they understand what we are trying to do. That helps our staff in terms of making a transition. The experience (of getting ready for Canada) has been different because it gives us such a head start for the year.”

UNLV won 21 of its first 24 games during the Rice tenure, beating top-ranked North Carolina in the signature victory and rising to No. 11 in the national rankings. Although UNLV stumbled down the stretch, especially when playing on the road, and was bounced in its first game of the NCAA Tournament, Rice’s first season was widely deemed a success.

At times, it didn’t seem like it was Rice’s first go-round as a head coach after nearly two decades of being assistant. From balancing the duties of studying the next opponent to running practices and recruiting, Rice passed his first season with flying colors.

Now, it’s on to another season in a continuation of the coach’s growth. Everyone will get a sneak peek this week.

“We are far from a finished product, and I’m far from a finished coach,” he said.

In the practices leading up to the tour, UNLV fans have packed the Mendenhall Center to watch practice, buzzing with energy at the product Rice had on the court. Sure, it’s just August, but the overwhelming support in the summer serves as a perfect indication of the success Rice had last year.

The program, in a town of no professional sports franchises, has long been Southern Nevada’s most followed team. Last year, Rice helped give the die-hards something to cheer about — one of his biggest achievements.

“It is exciting that people are looking forward to basketball season like they are,” he said. “I’m fortunate to have been a player here, so I understand the tradition of the program and all the great former players and all the great former coaches who were part of the program.

“It is my job as head coach to be a facilitator of the tradition of our program and share it with fans. It makes me feel happy when fans get excited about what we are trying to do.”

The UNLV brand in Canada

Canadian Joel Anthony developed at UNLV before reaching the NBA with the Miami Heat and winning a championship. The Rebels have a pair of high-profile Canadians on the roster in Pittsburgh transfer Khem Birch and McDonald’s All-American Anthony Bennett.

So, yes, the pipeline from Canada to UNLV is already strong. Rice plans on further spreading the UNLV brand during the tour.

“We are going to an area where we certainly had success recruiting with Khem Birch and Anthony Bennett,” Rice said. “I’ve always believed UNLV is a global name. To be able to take our Runnin’ Rebel basketball program, and to represent a great university and great community, to do that in a foreign country is an exciting time for us.”

Neither Bennett nor Birch will play in Canada — Birch isn’t eligible until after the first semester following his transfer; Bennett was not cleared in time.

Ray Brewer can be reached at 990-2662 or [email protected]. Follow Ray on Twitter at twitter.com/raybrewer21.

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  1. We'll see how he does this year. The expectation is much higher and there are no excuses. If we don't improve over last year, with this "loaded" team, we need to seriously take a look at our program.

  2. In reply to both of the above comments. First (sinatra) Maybe Rice shouldnt have recruited so well if fans are going to hold him to "or else" type expectations in his second year. Bottom line is he is laying a foundation for a successful program for years to come. If it isnt done this year im not going to fret. Rice and his staff have long term goals...beyond just this upcoming year. Look at coaches like coach K and look at his record his first 5 years as a head coach. Rice is doing a great job, even if he doesnt have a great year, this year, it will come in time. Rice and his staff are tireless workers and they will acheive their goals...it might just not happen this year.

    Im in the opinion next year (2013-2014) will be the year we really start to make some noise (sweet 16 and beyond). It takes a few years to get the type of players (rosters)to play your system. This year is only Rice's second year and we have 8 new players including 5 freshman. I think Rice should be allowed at least 3 years before fans start demanding success.

    As far as Rice being ready for job "in the pros"? Nah, Rice has never coached professional basketball and I dont see it in his immidiate future no matter how much success he has here. Maybe after 15 years at UNLV and a few final fours and a national championship he might explore those kind of adventures, but Rice landed his dream job and he is here to stay.

  3. Cousin Ray, I bet you are going to find some "love" from the hockey, baseball and football franchises in LV that pay their players and you say we don't have any pro teams in town? Oops!

  4. @rebelwithacause - I made my comments because I didn't want Rice as our coach to begin with....that said, in my opinion he should be performing right away. Since we passed on hiring more experienced coaches who wouldn't have come with a learning curve and since he had a "stellar" recruiting year, he should do better. He only matched what Lon Kruger did in his last year with the team....there was no improvement. We ended the year with a thud and his lack of leadership and ability to motivate in the last 1/3 of the regular season and in the tourney was appalling. It wasn't pretty. We'll see if he can adjust and do better this year.