UNLV basketball:

Rebels seniors Anthony Marshall, Justin Hawkins make summer debuts for appreciative crowd

The Desert Reign Pro-City Summer League is striving to put the best players, college or pro, in the area on the same court together

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Sam Morris

Justin Hawkins drives to the basket during the Desert Reign league game Wednesday, June 20, 2012.

Desert Reign Tournament

Anthony Marshall drives to the basket during the Desert Reign league game Wednesday, June 20, 2012. Launch slideshow »
The Rebel Room

Discussing UNLV's lineup with College Basketball Talk's Rob Dauster

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Las Vegas Sun reporter Taylor Bern welcomes in College Basketball Talk's Rob Dauster to discuss his recent article "Should we be concerned about UNLV's roster makeup?" and the offseason excitement about the Rebels.

In the second game of Wednesday night’s Desert Reign Pro-City Summer League, UNLV senior guard Anthony Marshall stepped up for the opening tip against incoming freshman Demetris Morant, a state high jump and triple jump champ at Bishop Gorman.

Despite giving up about five inches, Marshall met Morant in the air and controlled the ball back to his teammate, thus giving the veteran something to rag on the rookie about before he even steps on campus.

“I’ll probably bring it up here and there,” Marshall joked.

All in all it was a good night for UNLV’s old guard, as Marshall’s blue team went on to win after fellow senior Justin Hawkins led his red team to victory in game one.

Rebels fans hoping to get their first look at Khem Birch or Bryce Dejean-Jones in action were left empty handed. What they saw instead was a couple of good basketball games played in a league that’s very much in its infancy.

Bjorn Berg, a PE teacher at Lucille Rogers Elementary, founded the Desert Reign Foundation in 2008. His goal was to create a safe environment for kids to gather and learn about the benefits of daily physical activity. To that end, Desert Reign hosts sports and nutrition camps each summer and both winter and spring breaks for kids in kindergarten through eighth grade.

Last fall, Berg met with his committee and began the paperwork to put together an NCAA-sanctioned summer league for college and professional players under the Desert Reign umbrella.

Summer basketball leagues are common in a lot of big cities — Los Angeles’ Drew League is arguably the most well known — and Berg figured, why not Las Vegas?

“At first (the players) were a little lukewarm,” Berg said. “They wondered if it was going to be legit because a lot of people in Vegas talk a lot but they don’t necessarily deliver.”

Growing up in Minneapolis, Berg was familiar with the Howard Pulley Pro-City League, which over the past few years has featured Khalid El-Amin, who won the 1999 NCAA title at UConn, and Royce White, who’s expected to be taken in the first round of this year’s NBA draft out of Iowa State.

In trying to establish something similar in Las Vegas, Berg, who’s also an assistant coach at Durango High, which is where Wednesday’s games were played, started with players he knew but also cold-called several players to try to sell them on the league.

One guy who he didn’t have to sell hard was Marshall, a Las Vegas native who only wishes this had come sooner.

“We needed it,” Marshall said. “I wish we would have had it for a long time, but it’s good to have guys be able to come back and play in a game like this. As soon as they told me about it I wanted to play in it.”

Last year Marshall had to miss the first game of the season because he played in too many summer leagues, so this time around he’s keeping it to a minimum.

Other players in Wednesday’s games included former Rebels Romel Beck and Marcus Lawrence, Baylor’s Pierre Jackson, who went to Desert Pines, and Palo Verde’s P’Allen Stinnett, who wrapped up a solid career at Creighton in 2010.

As is often the case with these summer leagues, especially ones trying to get off the ground, the names that were promoted but weren’t in attendance were just as important as those on the court. Birch and Dejean-Jones are expected to play at some point, Berg said, but it’s not clear when that will happen. And Shabazz Muhammad, the Gorman grad and UCLA commit, is out despite being named on the original press release.

Making up for the absentees were Morant and Marshall, who combined for about a half dozen highlight dunks, a few of which snapped the rim down so hard it had to be manually moved back into place.

The league officially started playing on Tuesday, but Wednesday — the first games for Hawkins and Marshall — was more like opening night with Tuesday’s games serving as the dress rehearsal. About 200-250 fans, many of them decked out in Rebel red, filled one side of Durango’s bleachers.

“In Vegas, they love basketball, especially Rebel fans,” Hawkins said. “They always want to come out and see us play no matter what. So we’re giving something back to the community.”

Attendance to all of the games is free. The league continues Thursday night and then June 28-29 at Durango. The week after that it moves to Sawyer Middle School with the championship games slated for Tuesday, July 10, at Sawyer.

How the league fares the rest of the way, and whether it survives for years to come, depends on a lot of factors, not the least of which is who continues to play. But those are long-term questions.

On Wednesday night, the players, many of whom played against each other in high school, were able to catch up and laugh with one another, and the fans seemed to genuinely enjoy the level of basketball being played.

Morant, who played Tuesday as well, had a simple and accurate summation of the evening’s events: “It was fun.”

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

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  1. Wish I was in Vegas to watch some of the games going on. These leagues are great to watch an abundance of talent.