Rebels basketball:

As new players arrive, UNLV’s Marshall and Hawkins focused on creating a lasting legacy

The Rebels are shaping up well this year, but it’s up to the leaders to execute the plan and leave the program in good shape

Image

Sam Morris

Incoming UNLV forward Roscoe Smith, left, and UNLV senior guards Justin Hawkins and Anthony Marshall, right, watch the USA Olympic basketball team practice Friday, July 6, 2012 at UNLV’s Mendenhall Center.

The excitement is mostly for the new guys. That "Christmas Eve stretched out for several months" feeling in Las Vegas has made superheroes of these incoming student-athletes, most of whom arrived on campus in the past couple of days. The Colossal Canadians. The National Champion. The I’d-Rather-Walk-40-Miles-Through-The-Desert-Than-Lose guys (they know who they are).

Even conference player of the year candidate Mike Moser is entering only his second year in a Rebels uniform.

Lurking in the background of all of that are the leaders. Two kids who had dreams of winning games and achieving something bigger than themselves; they're ever so close to making that a reality. Now men entering their senior years, Anthony Marshall and Justin Hawkins want to finish their careers in a way that ensures their legacy as the players who brought UNLV back.

“To see where the program was when I first got here, it was a good program but now I feel like we’re making strides to be an elite program,” Marshall said. “To be here from Day One to right now and see that transition, it’s amazing and humbling.

“I’m grateful to be a part of it.”

They haven’t done it alone, but they’re even a little responsible for bringing in the help, too. UNLV second-year coach Dave Rice is getting national recognition for his stellar 2012 recruiting class — ranked 7th by ESPN — but Rice says his players deserve just as much credit for buying in and selling the program.

Rice said he talks about legacy at all stages of his relationship with student-athletes: when he’s recruiting them, when he has them on campus and after they’re gone. This current crop of players took it to heart, and when recruits visited campus Rice was able to turn over most of the selling duties.

“A lot of places, your returning players don’t always help as much as our guys helped,” Rice said. “They stepped up. We had a very good season, and yet our guys want to be even better this coming year and they knew the importance of recruiting.”

Marshall and Hawkins are two of three seniors on the team, but they’re the only ones who have been at UNLV for all four years. Forward Quintrell Thomas transferred from Kansas in 2009, sitting out during Hawkins’ and Marshall’s freshmen seasons.

Hawkins has moved up the ladder each season, appearing in every game of his Rebel career and progressively earning more minutes and more challenging defensive assignments. When he committed, a 26-9 record like last season sounded more like the goal than a stepping stone.

“Just seeing where the program’s been and where it’s headed, it’s on the right path,” Hawkins said. “Me and Anthony keep talking about it all the time. We just want the program to keep going up and up and up.”

Marshall has dreamed of being in this position at this school since he played at Mojave and maybe even before that. Some fans call him The Mayor and there’s a responsibility with the title that he gladly shoulders. This is his chance to be the point guard that helps UNLV truly matter on the national scene for years to come.

“This is one of the reasons I stayed in Las Vegas and wanted to be a Runnin’ Rebel, you know that legacy,” Marshall said. “I wanted to help UNLV get back to those glory days. … Even after me, I feel like we’re going to be a good program.”

Rice was once a player at UNLV, too, with the same aspirations to help create something that would live on longer than his playing career. He tried to help make that happen as an assistant coach. Even after he left, when UNLV struggled it could be frustrating for him to see from afar.

“I knew the great experience I had here as a player, and I always wanted that for the players that were a part of it,” Rice said.

Now he’s in charge. He’s started to bring in his guys, superb athletes capable of running opponents into the ground. At least that’s the plan.

Right now that’s still all that it is. An idea. Hope that things end differently this year and the year after that and so on until the question isn’t whether UNLV is back, but where did it ever go? That’s a legacy, and it doesn’t come easy.

This feels like the start of something. That’s what all of the excitement is about. The men most responsible for corralling that positive energy and turning it into production, for leading a collection of very talented players into team victories have worked several years for the opportunity.

Marshall and Hawkins won’t be the leading scorers and they may not hit the winning shots. Their work will be on defense, on assists, in practice and in the locker room, helping this group become a team. They say they are ready.

Only time will tell. As with all legacies, from this point the end is still a blurry vision off in the distance. The basic shape is there but it lacks the definition and clarity that will come at the end of this season.

One more year to leave a mark that could last a lifetime.

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

Join the Discussion:

Check this out for a full explanation of our conversion to the LiveFyre commenting system and instructions on how to sign up for an account.

Full comments policy

Previous Discussion: 3 comments so far…

Comments are moderated by Las Vegas Sun editors. Our goal is not to limit the discussion, but rather to elevate it. Comments should be relevant and contain no abusive language. Comments that are off-topic, vulgar, profane or include personal attacks will be removed. Full comments policy.

  1. Looking forward to seeing them both play tomorrow. Marshall is such a fierce competitor. I love watching him play.

  2. You have to give it up to these guys that have been around for awhile, and really helped the program overall. Cheers fellas.

  3. Might be time to get these guys a couple of C's for their jerseys. Or a C and an A.