UNLV ATHLETICS:

UNLV athletics look to improve on all fronts in 2012

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Sam Morris

Athletic director Jim Livengood listens as UNLV President Neal Smastrek delivers his State of the University address Thursday, September 22, 2011.

UNLV Athletic Director Jim Livengood knows that any successful structure starts with a good foundation. And that, he said, is was what the Rebels worked on in the past year.

“2011 really was more about setting a base than anything else,” Livengood said. “Just try to make sure we get the right people in the right places. And then the most important thing, as it was in the past and we’re going to do moving forward, is recruit. Recruiting the best young people we can get academically, athletically, socially, to be Rebels.”

Most of that is up to the coaches, but Livengood is already seeing the fruits of his recruiting labors with some of his recent hires.

Baseball coach Tim Chambers, who was hired after the 2010 season, led the Rebels to a 33-25 record in his first season and hauled in a recruiting class that ranks No. 32 in the nation, according to Collegiate Baseball.

And Livengood’s biggest hire in the past year, basketball coach Dave Rice, has the Rebels ranked No. 19 in the nation and in prime position to compete for the Mountain West crown.

“We were fortunate to take over a program where Lon Kruger did a terrific job, left us good players, and we’re excited about the way recruiting has gone,” Rice said. “We signed three quality players in the fall (Katin Reinhardt, Daquan Cook and Demetris Morant), added (USC transfer) Bryce Jones last spring … so we’ll continue to get better as a program.”

Other programs are on the rise, too.

UNLV women’s basketball enters the new year at 10-4 and football coach Bobby Hauck will be going into his third season with second-team freshman All-American Brett Boyko anchoring an offensive line that returns all five starters.

“It’s a great place to start, considering we had no senior in the group last year,” Hauck said. “There’s got to be some benefit to having to do that and living through that, which means we’ve got a veteran group back.”

That’s not to say there won’t be change in the athletic department.

The Mountain West is losing San Diego State and Boise State, and as a result it may look a lot different at this time next year.

“The January meeting that’s going to take place between Conference USA and the Mountain West, I think, is really the future of larger conferences, and to a large degree the future of UNLV athletics as well,” Livengood said.

That may sound scary, but Livengood looks at it with optimism. And really, there’s little evidence to disagree with him.

The conference’s future is uncertain, but it could turn out to be a better situation for the university. Rice’s first year has gone better than most could have predicted, and it may keep getting better.

“Moving forward, nothing will change from the standpoint (that) defense will always be what we build our program on,” Rice said. “We’ll just continue to improve on the offensive end and continue to play faster and play more and more like the Runnin’ Rebels.”

2012 is about building on the foundation more than it is figuring out what buildings are going to be in the conference.

“I’m more concerned about things we can control,” Livengood said. “And those things are having the best teams we can have and the best academic student-athletes we can have.”

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