UNLV basketball:

Countdown to tip-off: Birch doesn’t need to do it all to impact the Rebels this year

The week leading up to UNLV’s first regular season game, the Sun will highlight one Rebel each day. Today: sophomore Khem Birch.

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV forward Khem Birch.

Unlike fellow transfer Bryce Dejean-Jones, Khem Birch still has some waiting to do. The sophomore transferred from Pittsburgh midseason last year, so his first game as a Rebel should be Dec. 17 at the University of Texas at El Paso. His home debut should be two days later against Northern Iowa, and what you can expect to see is a defensive force with a work-in-progress offensive game.

Birch is listed at 6-foot-9, but he plays closer to a 7-footer because his wingspan nearly measures that much. When he becomes eligible, he’ll be the last line of defense and help provide stability to a center/power forward position that last year just tried to go with the hot hand. Foul trouble was an occasional problem at Pitt last year, so that may actually be the most important thing for him to focus on early on.

It probably doesn’t matter how much his offense develops this year because UNLV doesn’t need him to score. He’s worked hard on it in practice, often staying late to run through post moves with an assistant coach, but anything he provides at that end of the court will be a bonus. His job is to affect shots and grab rebounds.

Last year, the Rebels didn’t have a stopper in the middle, someone to whom they could funnel the ball. When he gets on the court, that’s exactly what Birch could bring.

Vitals

Ht	Wt	Yr	Pos.	Major

6-9	220	RS So	PF	Undecided

How he got to UNLV

The Montreal native earned McDonald’s All-American honors while playing high school in Massachusetts. He committed to Pittsburgh and started six games for Jamie Dixon, but Birch wasn’t happy with the Panthers’ style of play and wasn’t getting along with his teammates. When he opened his recruitment again, UNLV was on his mind because he had seen the Rebels defeat then-No. 1 UNC last year and liked the style of play. He chose UNLV over Florida, which was a factor in also getting Birch's former AAU teammate Anthony Bennett.

Stats (at Pitt)

Yr	GP-GS	Min	FG%	FT%	Rbs	Ast	TO	Blk	Stl	Pts

11-12	10-6	15	57	54.5	5	0	7	19	2	4.4

What they’re saying

“Birch, who will be eligible midseason after transferring from Pitt, has the potential to be a force inside if he reaches his potential.”

ESPN

“Once he becomes eligible in mid-December, Pittsburgh transfer and former McDonald's All-American Khem Birch will complement Moser and Bennett in the UNLV frontcourt with his shot-blocking and rebounding.”

Yahoo! Sports

“Key additions Khem Birch (eligible in December after transferring from Pitt) and freshman Anthony Bennett join standout Mike Moser to form potentially the best frontcourt in all of college basketball.”

Dime Magazine

Rice’s take

“Khem has worked hard on his offensive game, but he’s one of those players with a unique skill set that he can affect the game at the defensive end of the floor by blocking shots and rebounding.”

In his own words

“I still consider myself a freshman. I’m still going to be a little bit slow, but I’m going to do what I can do best: play defense. … I don’t need to score. We have a lot of pieces on the team that can score, so anything I can do scoring-wise is a bonus.”

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

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