rebels basketball:

Top recruits Bennett, Muhammad still seriously considering UNLV

Speaking at McDonald’s All-American ceremony, five-star recruits have nothing but postivies to say about UNLV program

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Christopher DeVargas

Bishop Gorman High senior Shabazz Muhammad and former UNLV great Freddie Banks are photographed during a ceremony celebrating three locals picked for the McDonald’s All-American game. Banks, who was Southern Nevada’s first participant in the prestigious high school showcase, presented the players with their awards March 21, 2012, at the McDonald’s on Sahara Avenue and Rainbow Boulevard.

McDonald's All-American Basketball Team

Bishop Gorman High senior Shabazz Muhammad and Ronald McDonald are photographed during a ceremony celebrating three locals picked for the McDonald's All-American game March 21, 2012, at the McDonald's on Sahara Avenue and Rainbow Boulevard. Launch slideshow »

The UNLV basketball team is still in the mix to sign two of the nation’s most coveted five-star recruits for the class of 2012 with its last open scholarship.

Both players — Bishop Gorman High wing Shabazz Muhammad and Findlay Prep forward Anthony Bennett — said Wednesday at a ceremony to honor their selection to the McDonald’s All-American game they are seriously considering hometown UNLV.

The 6-foot-6 Muhammad, the consensus No. 1 overall recruiting prospect and the Naismith High School Boys Player of the Year, said his decision would come on April 11 — the first day of the spring signing period which runs through May 16.

“Coach (Dave) Rice is a great guy and he’s bringing in a lot of good players,” said Muhammad, who is also considering Duke, Kansas, Kentucky and UCLA. “I’m looking at them hard.”

“This is a lifetime decision for me. I have to make sure I make the right decision,” he continued. “I’m still being patient with it. The process is going good right now. April 11 is when I will announce it.”

The 6-foot-7, 230-pound Bennett, who is also considering Kentucky, Florida, Oregon and Washington, said his decision would come in mid-April after he plays in the Jordan Brand Classic.

Findlay Prep's Anthony Bennett before a ceremony March 21, 2012, to honor his selection to the McDonald's All-American team.

Findlay Prep's Anthony Bennett before a ceremony March 21, 2012, to honor his selection to the McDonald's All-American team.

“For sure, I’m considering UNLV. They are right here in my backyard,” said Bennett, who Rivals.com ranks as the nation’s seventh overall prospect. “All those fans are always showing me how much they want me to come.”

Dave Rice and his staff aren’t the only ones recruiting Bennett. Khem Birch, a midyear transfer from Pitt and one of Bennett’s close friends from their playing days in Canada, calls Bennett multiple times each week to pitch him on UNLV. Bennett doesn’t hide his desire to play alongside his friend — the 6-foot-9 Birch last year was a McDonald’s All-American.

“He is a real cool guy. We are real close,” Bennett said of Birch. “Hopefully, everything works out and I get to play with him. If it doesn’t, we’ll still be cool. We’ll still be friends.”

While UNLV hasn’t had much success in securing top-notch talent from powerhouse Findlay Prep, the Henderson area program that plays a national schedule, Bennett would definitely break the trend. Despite missing about two months with a leg injury, Bennett averaged 16 points and 10 rebounds per game.

“One thing we hammer home with our guys is the level of comfort and Anthony is familiar with this community,” Findlay Prep coach Mike Peck said. “When our players do go to college, wherever it is, it is a new environment. They have to adjust and get used to the campus, the city and the people.

“Being here two years, it is nothing new,” he continued. “I don’t know if it will be a deciding factor, but it will help.”

UNLV’s opening game departure last week from the NCAA Tournament and its struggles to end the season won’t be a factor in the decision, both players said.

“UNLV has always been in (consideration) since Day 1,” said Muhammad, who averaged 29 points and 10 rebounds per game this winter in leading Gorman to the state championship and is arguably the most celebrated player in state history. “I have a top 5 now and UNLV is in it. Talking with coach Rice and coach Hutson (assistant coach, Justin), they are good guys. Even though they lost early in the tournament, it doesn’t (change) my decision on them. They are still in there.”

Brandon Ashley, an Arizona commit, was also honored during Wednesday’s McDonald’s event. The 6-foot-8 Ashley is the nation’s No. 13 overall prospect, averaging 16 points and nine rebounds per game this year.

“This is one of these things you dream about your entire life,” Ashley said. “As my career has progressed, I definitely wanted to be a McDonald’s All-American. To have it finally come true, it truly is a blessing. I am honored.”

The McDonald’s game is March 28 at the United Center in Chicago.

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

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  1. What odds are you giving Ray? I say.. Bennett 3/1 Muhammad 15/1

  2. That is fair, but possibly a little high on Shabazz. He seemed very sincere when talking about UNLV. He is definitely considering it. Some kids, you can tell they keep UNLV in the mix to be polite. That's not the case with Shabazz -- at least according to the vibe I got. I wouldn't be shocked if Anthony picked the scarlet and gray. ...

  3. With Shabazz being a 1 & done, his best move would be to skip Kentucky and go to UNLV. He would not excel as much there as he would at UNLV.

  4. It really boggles my mind how important Bazz is to to this city. I can't ever think of a recruitment that would create more excitement if he plays for UNLV. The publicity alone would make him an instant local legend. The media would direct all eyes to Las Vegas.

    It is sad that more than likely he will end up somewhere else. As far as what the other schools can offer in goods and services, well we don't have a shot. At those other schools he will play one year and be forgotten within 2, but the financial benefits will exceed anything he can imagine. They recruit so many high ranked recruits that the only ones they remember are the ones that play 3-4 years. I just came from North Carolina for my second visit in the last three months and let me tell you, five star recruits don't even peek their interest, why, cause they get them all the time and it's no biggie if they lose one. We have one shot as I don't see another Bazz in this city's future. Zimmerman will be very, very good, but Bazz is a once in a lifetime deal. Small fish in big pond versus whale in little pond.

    We need something to celebrate and he can be the one. It just seems those things don't matter anymore as it's all about the dollar. I really enjoy reading when a 5 star recruit stays home. It is happening more and more these days, but I don't see it here. College sports is now semi-pro versus amatures. UNLV is definitely the latter. If Bennett commits I'll learn O'Canada and sing it every game.

  5. I keep dreaming of a high low Birch to Bennett. Not be quite as good as Butler/Ackles to Johnson but very nice. Not counting on it but here is hoping I get surprised.

  6. @DanielJackson

    I think you're confusing yourself with Phil Jackson. Leave it to the experts. Your posts are always a joke.

  7. i usually think the same thing anatomyapple, but I'm afraid he's right regarding Shabazz. Not exceptionally fast, not exceptionally tall, not exceptionally strong. He's a man among boys right now, but I think in college it'll be a different story. The difference is I want Bennett!!

  8. Two updates on Shabazz: He was named the Nevada Gatorade Player of the Year on Thursday -- not that big of a surprise. His straight second year winning. Also, mentioned in Sports Illustrated. Here is the link: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/a...

  9. Ray, what's the latest on Shabazz being investigated by the NCAA?

  10. So, Jerry and Danny, These coaches are recruiting Bazz so hard to take up another 5 star athlete's scholarship, or sit the bench behind other "real stars?" Certainly doesn't make much sense when they pretty much get the pick of the litter.

  11. Bennett is a legit possibility for UNLV because of his relationship with Birch....Shabazz is a long shot even though his current coach is related to UNLV's coach, which is shameful. We'll see how this all shakes out...my bet is that we'll be disappointed.

  12. We really need Bennett more than Shabazz- just because of the make up of the team next year. Sure getting Shabazz would be great, but we need somebody to man up in the middle and Bennett is that guy. Who is going to rebound next year since apparently Moser thinks he is going pro (that is a JOKE)??

  13. So what's is everyone's predictions if we do or don't get these kids for next year? Just throwing out some possible scenarios.

    1. We don't get either and go into next season with the team and recruits we have now.
    2. We get Muhammad but not Bennett
    3. We get Bennett but not Muhammad.
    4. We get both Muhammad and Bennett.

    I'd say:

    1. We are a top 25 or boderline top 25 team in the preseason, likely end up in the to 25 for most of next year, and advance to at least the second round maybe sweet 16 of the tournament.
    2. We are a legit top 25, possibly top 15 team in the preseason, likely stay in the top 25 all year, and likely advance to at least the sweet 16 or better.
    3. Probably the same result as #2.
    4. We are instantly thrown into the national spot light and would likely be at least a top 10 team in the preseason, likely stay in the top 15-10 all year long, compete with teams like Kentucky, Duke, UNC, etc.., and make a deep run in the tournament to at least the elite 8.

    All this would be depending on how Rice would be able to handle the talents and egos of these kids. Having too many superstars and McDonald's High School All-Americans could be difficult because they would all want significant playing time and touches. Rice would have to find a good balance with the incoming talent and the talent already on the team. Calipari, Williams, Coach K, etc... all know how to find that balance already because they've been doing it for so long, but this would be a big test for coach Rice considering he will still only be a second year coach.

    Anyway, just interested to see what everyone else thinks about those possible scenarios. Those are my predictions for the different scenarios.

  14. I would say your are pretty spot on.

  15. The scenario doesn't matter, our coach's inexperience will be on full display and we won't win the conference and won't get out of the 1st round of the tourney....again. Let's see if he can recruit any ONE of these 2 players first. That's the most important test of competency at this point. These 2 recruits have strong ties to the program and SHOULD both sign. Unfortunately, I predict that Shabazz will not sign and Bennett is 70/30 in favor of not signing.

  16. Coach Rice's fundamental flaw in not understanding how to use his bench was mind blowing to me. For some reason, he does not use his bench in the second half while preaching how he wants to utilize an uptempo offensive pace with the same type of defensive pressure. What was equally mind blowing to me was in his inability to comprehend that the Rebels would build leads in the first half by using an effective rotation, but he would immediately reverse course in the second half by only playing six players. While I can appreciate tha the was likely using his bench in the first half to keep the starters fresh for the second half, he failed to adjust once those starters started gassing in the second half.

    In year two, I'm hoping that Coach Rice will develop and trust his bench throughout the season. I'm hoping that he will develop a rotation with CONSISTENT minutes for his reserves so they don't feel jerked around throughout the season. I'm hoping that he realizes he has sufficent depth on the team to run a full court press the entire game, since transition offense is a result of pressure defense. I'm hoping that the team learns how to to slack and kick, pick and roll, and use a moving offense instead of four players standing shooting threes leaving no one to rebound, and I'm hoping that they will finally learn how to box out (specifically including the guards) to improve on the rebounding.

    As for Bazz and Bennett, I'm hoping that they both choose UNLV. Next season would be sick with all the talent on the team. In fairness to Coach Rice, I don't know why he lost confidence in Lopez, Q, and Reggie at the end of the season. I don't know why the half court offense looked as terrible as it did under Kruger (maybe it is the players). I'm just hoping that season two will be greater improvement, or else season three will not leave us with much except hoping for a new coach.

  17. Recruiting locals is not as easy or as simple as it would seem. Generally speaking, kids want to go away to college. Now Muhammed and Bennett may be different but also generally speaking, coaches prefer players from out of the area. To name one reason, locals can come with additional distractions such as old high school friends, family drama, etc., many of whom aren't going to college and are not sympathetic to the time demands of a division 1 student athlete. Yes, Rice has tremendous access to some of these guys but there is a lot more to it than that. I might not care too much who my coach's brother is, or what school is a few miles down the road, if North Carolina, Duke, Kentucky, Kansas, etc. are offering me scholarships. That being said...C'mon Bennett!

  18. Need to Mashour to transfer so another scholarship can open up.

  19. Rebel mike said it right on, only I have faith that he will figure it out. We will see. He is the truth though. Shabazz and Benito should both stop being stupid and sign. If the did, unlv would become the #1 or #2 recruiting class in the country. With three McDonald all Americans ( the same amount that UNC has playing). A guaranteed top five preseason ranking, 5 potential lottery picks ( bennett, bazz, jones, moser, birch), a fun running system, and all the press you could hadle because of it. No other team they could choose would offer all that but Kentucky. We would have to be considered a final four favorite. The only negative would be handling all those egos. Hopefully that's where Stacy's nba experience comes in. The only coach I have ever seen ( in modern day) do that well is John calipari. I hate him. Stop trying to poach our kids and coach (tark) you cheating egomaniac.

  20. Muhammad to UK, Bennett to Florida, January to Washington..then at a 2013 press conference:
    "We'd like to take our talents to Southern Nevada."

    Would be a roller coaster of a year if they were to hop on board.

  21. According to ESPN Shabazz heading to Kentucky, Duke or UCLA not staying home McDonald's All American show. UNLV not mentioned.