UNLV basketball:

Addition of Bennett puts UNLV firmly in national spotlight next season

Preseason expectations will be for a deep run from a team that’s likely to start the season ranked near the top 10

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Christopher DeVargas

Findlay Prep’s Anthony Bennett talks to the media after a ceremony for the 2012 McDonald’s All American Basketball Team, in which he and two other local highschool students were selected, Wednesday March 21, 2012.

UNLV's probable rotation

Ant. Marshall, Sr, G, 6-3, 200 Justin Hawkins, Sr, G, 6-3, 190 Reggie Smith, Jr, G, 6-0, 185 Katin Reinhardt, Fr, G, 6-4, 175 Bry. Dejean-Jones, Jr, G, 6-5, 200 Mike Moser, Jr, F, 6-8, 210 Anthony Bennett, Fr, F, 6-8, 240 *Khem Birch, So, F, 6-9, 220 Carlos Lopez, Jr, F, 6-11, 215 Quintrell Thomas, Sr, F, 6-8, 245 *Eligible to play on Dec. 17

This offseason, there will be no controlling expectations. UNLV, it appears, is back in full.

Anthony Bennett, the No. 7-rated recruit in the country according to Rivals.com, made a verbal commitment Saturday after trimming his list to UNLV and Oregon last weekend. A 6-foot-7, 240-pound forward from Henderson’s Findlay Prep, Bennett fills the Rebels’ most glaring hole at power forward and adds even higher expectations for a team that will likely start the 2012-13 season in the top 20, if not the top 10.

"Staying out West & will be going to #UNLV next yr .. Appreciate everyone that supported me through all this," Bennett tweeted Saturday afternoon. Last weekend he cut Florida and Kentucky from his list of schools.

Bennett is the highest-rated prospect to choose UNLV since Larry Johnson and is the second McDonald's All-American to pick the Rebels in the past six months, joining fellow Canadian and former AAU teammate Khem Birch.

Dave Telep, who covers recruiting for ESPN.com, tweeted that the addition of Bennett moved UNLV’s class to No. 12 overall. The class also includes guards Katin Reinhardt (No. 38) and DaQuan Cook and Bishop Gorman center Demetris Morant (No. 144).

Click to enlarge photo

Findlay Prep's Anthony Bennett

None of those three will likely affect the program this season quite like Bennett, though. After last season's disappointing end, UNLV coach Dave Rice emphasized rebounding and post offense as two of the major areas in which the team would need to improve. Bennett fits both of those perfectly.

While not especially tall, Bennett can use his body to muscle through defenders and find his way to the basket. He also has a very good mid- to long-range jumper that forces defenders to extend themselves guarding him. The biggest knock on him is that he's struggled to stay healthy, missing 19 games at Findlay last season, but when he's on the court Bennett is a force of nature the fits very well with what the Rebels are trying to do.

Not since the 1990-91 season has there been so much expected of a UNLV team before the summer. Rice proved his recruiting acumen with Reinhardt and Birch and this solidifies that reputation. Although Birch certainly deserves a lot of that credit.

Birch, who started his career at Pittsburgh, never had UNLV on his radar until he saw the Rebels defeat then-No. 1 North Carolina on national TV. Once he realized that Rice was using the running style he wanted to play in, Birch came to Vegas and eventually started telling his friend that he should stay put.

"I’ve been here for two years already. Everyone out here supports me," Bennett told Scout.com about his decision.

Birch is set to become eligible in mid-December, but until then Bennett will coexist with Rebels big men Carlos Lopez, Quintrell Thomas and Mike Moser, although Moser will be playing more of a small forward role on the perimeter this season. Because of his shooting ability, Bennett may fill that small forward role as well.

Once Birch is in that mix, UNLV will have arguably the deepest front court in the nation. You could even add in Morant, who's leaping ability is second to none, but he may be a redshirt candidate because of the Rebels' considerable depth.

Combine that with the guard play and leadership from seniors Anthony Marshall and Justin Hawkins, and it's easy to forecast big things from this team, which is exactly what UNLV fans on Twitter did with their afternoon. Nothing short of the Elite Eight will be enough, and a title isn't out of the picture, they say.

While predictions in Vegas have always been bold, the addition of Bennett certainly gives them more merit. In just more than a year on the job, Rice has seemingly returned UNLV to the stature at which he left it as a player.

Last year's team finished 26-9, including an NCAA Tournament loss to Colorado. The four departing players from that squad — Oscar Bellfield, Chace Stanback, Brice Massamba and Kendall Wallace — graduated on Saturday, which turned out to be a perfect afternoon to celebrate achievements of the past present and future.

With Bennett in the fold, UNLV still has one scholarship open for this season, which it may or may use. If it does, potential targets include 6-foot-6 forward Savon Goodman (No. 72) from Philadelphia and 6-foot-8 UConn transfer Roscoe Smith, who would be eligible immediately and have two years remaining.

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

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  1. Fantastic news! This will be a team to be reckoned with this coming season. Anthony, you made an excellent choice. Go Rebels!
    www.RebelReign.com

  2. Awesome job by Coach Rice and his staff! Well done, and welcome to UNLV, AB!

  3. This is huge! He was the piece that we need to make a very serious run. Congrats to coach Rice and the staff and hopefully those that doubted their recruiting abilities will be silenced now. How good does it feel to be a Rebel right now?

  4. Great work by Coach Rice and his staff. And nice choice by Bennett. He stays in a comfortable environment, which building his skills under the tutelage of a player with a similar skill set, in Stacey Augmon.

    Also, good for him to play more with Birch. Steve Nash will be watching the duo closely as he builds out Team Canada's hoops program. The marketers love the international players, and Bennett and Birch will be two of them.

  5. I'm not too worried about his health. I think his injuries happened because he's not in great condition. He's gotten as high as 245 lbs. Dave Rice will get him into shape and down to about 225-230 lbs.

    I have to disagree with you, Taylor, about Reinhardt. The guy will probably get about 20 minutes per game, and he'll average close to double figures.

  6. Welcome to UNLV Anthony Bennett. Good job Rice and crew. UNLV looking good for next season. GO REBELS!

  7. Absolutely awesome news!!! Perfect fit. Exactly what we needed. Big frame, high energy, great rebounder in traffic and low post threat. Can't wait to see what they do in Canada this summer. Runnin' Rebels!!!

  8. Ohhhh yeaah! You made the right choice, Bennett!

  9. This is going to be a very special season and team. Glad you chose to be a Runnin' Rebel, Bennett!

  10. This is terrific! So glad to have AB on board. The Canada trip should be very beneficial to us this year to give all the new guys some extra time to gel and prepare for the regular season. Can't wait for November to get here! This is going to be the longest summer of my life, but it is looking like it will be worth the wait!

    Go Rebels!

  11. Re Phillips. I think Katin could be a very big factor for this team, but I don't think he's as important to their success as Bennett is. Anthony fills more of a need.

  12. Not a bad first year at all for Coach Rice and staff. Welcome to UNLV Basketball Anthony.

  13. Congrats to Rice, coaches, players, The Rebellion, and fans for landing Bennett. It's not easy to out recruit coach Cal and Kentucky coming off a National Championship.

    Great article Taylor. Keep them coming.

  14. A thanks to the Mendenhall's and donors for the new practice facility. That has to help Dave Rice sell the program to recruits.

  15. Terrific news! Good job Coach Rice and staff, and welcome to Rebel Nation, Anthony - we're thrilled to have you.

  16. Nice acquisition, but please let's not hype this team up....let them work hard and prove themselves first. All of this Top 10 and Elite 8 talk is premature and setting us up for a major disappointment. Let's see if they put in the practice time and hard work to make it happen.

  17. Sinatra, I know that had to kill you to type "Nice Acquisition" and say anything somewhat positive about anything Coach Rice had something to do with. But then you followed that up with your typical "Let's not get excited about anything unless they win a national championship" attitude. All the writer is saying is what the projected preseason rankings might be and what the fans expectations are. The hype with signing a Top 10 recruit, adding to what already is a good recruiting/transfer class, is going to come automatically. If you don't want to see any hype, don't read the articles, because there will be plenty of them coming from various different sources.

    Kudos to the coaching staffs both past and present having 6 players graduate, including Justin Hawkins doing so in an impressive 3 years, and to Coach Rice and his staff for doing a stellar job recruiting so far. The future looks very bright and I am very eagerly anticipating college basketball season starting up again.

  18. Re-bels!

  19. @I_Love_March_Madness - Why don't you stop reading my comments? I can express my opinions just as much as you can. Get over it. I didn't criticize the team in any way, I criticized Taylor Bern for putting this Top 10 crap into our heads before they even had 1 minute of PRACTICE, let alone played 1 minute of the SEASON.

    Now that Rice has HIS talent on board and everyone thinks it's a Top 12 recruiting class, then we'll see what he does with it. I didn't mention him once in my comment.....as far as I know, that's what COMMENTS sections are for, opining about the subject matter at hand.....is the title of this section "HOMER COMMENTS ONLY"? That's what I thought....next.

  20. Poor Sinatra- I would say that you always look at the glass being half empty, but that would be giving you too much credit. More like 90% empty would be your life in a nutshell.

  21. Happy Mother's Day to Mrs. Bennett and all the other Mothers. The buzz on Rebel Net is Anthony's mother was very comfortable with the staff and enviroment at UNLV. It's refeshing to watch how Anthony handled his recruiting and his announcement with maturity and class. What a great addition to the University and to the Running Rebels family.

  22. Nice get! If anything, this commitment puts the Rebel Nation on every top recruit's radar next year. It was a significant story on ESPN, along with some of the press we got from Bazz. All in all, Bennett fills the biggest need for the Rebs, and the Rebs give him the best shot at playing time and winning a national championship. This was definitely a win-win for both.

    Now that coach Rice has a ridiculously deep bench going into next season, there is absolutely no reason he shouldn't succeed. Winning the MWC title and making a deep run in March are reasonable expectations. Let's play suffocating defense since that is the key to transition offense. As for the half court offense, I hope to see a ton of movement with pick and rolls instead of four dudes standing on the perimeter jacking up long range jumpers. The dribble drive was key to the offense's success, which was also necessary to set up the outside shooters.

    Rebels!

  23. So, "Sinatra," you can express your opinions, but those of professional sports writer Taylor Burns are "crap"?

  24. Excellent news. Looking forward to seeing how the team comes together during the offseason. Any idea if any of the incoming class is going to redshirt?

  25. I'm almost speechless. Just a little over a year ago we were watching the disappointment on our guys faces when Kruger made the decision to leave. Rice did a phenomenal job at convincing every single player to stay, and then accelerating the recruiting process.

    Brice Jones was a huge "get". Then Dantley Walker... who has flown almost completely under the radar but is a really exciting, somewhat local player that regularly scored over 50 pts per game. Then Christian Wood for 2013, Reinhardt, Birch, and now Bennett... and they're not done yet. Maybe Roscoe Smith from UCONN or Savon Goodman, another Top 100 recruit!!!

    OK... so maybe I'm not speechless. Heck'uva Job Guys!!!

  26. @James P Reza - Yes, Taylor Bern's "Top 10" hype is Crap. He's a journalist and gets paid to write stories for this publication....the same publication that has a "comments" section for people to chime in about the stories written....I'm expressing my opinion because I can.

    It would be nice if we had another writer that actually wrote more realistic articles that questioned the status quo and actually put pressure on coaches to perform instead of just feeding the Homer Machine. There are many national publications that have writers that offer differing opinions...hopefully, one day the Sun will provide us with that balance.

    And what's your point?

  27. @rose1414 - That's a very negative way to look at it. I view it much more differently....see, here's how it works:

    I look at the glass and understand that the glass is half full, but the glass is only an 8 oz glass with 4 oz of actual liquid. Meanwhile, you homers look at the same glass and see it half full as well, except you see the glass as a 32 oz glass.....well 4 oz of actual liquid in a 32 oz glass is much less than 1/2 full....but from a homers point of view, they refuse to accept the reality of what's in front of them and it skews/blurs their vision.

    I'm not a negative guy at all...I just understand/accept the reality of the situation much better than most. I don't believe in having a false positive attitude.

  28. Comment removed by moderator. Personal Attack

  29. Re: Phillips and Berns comments about AB and KR. Things are yet to be determined. It's true that AB was a critical "need", and that we have a lot of guards, but KR may prove to be Jason Kidd on steroids (he can score). The idea of the combination of several players should be celebrated. The dishing, weaving, passing, shooting of KR combined with the strength of AM, the outside-in abilities of Jones, the rebounding and scoring of Moser, the strength and touch of AB, and the jumping/rebounding of Birch... is there a more athletic bunch out there?

    Sinatra's point, albeit a bit heavy handed, is well taken. As evidenced by UCLA lately, 'talent ain't everything'. However, having really high expectations for the next few years is no overestimation. Our depth is now ridiculous. There's a likely chance 3 of our current team will go to the NBA, and an outside chance that 5, maybe even 6 could make it. If Rice can solve the "overuse" problem and keep legs fresh, we're going to be one high flyin', shootin', defense playin' powerhouse. Given Rice's propensity to extract better than anticipated results (over the course of his career), as measured against recruited talent, there's strong reason to believe this team deserves a top 10 rating to start the season.

    Contributor: RebelReign.com

  30. Comment removed by moderator. Replies to removed comment.

  31. Please, do not feed the trolls, it takes away from the good news.