Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012 | 2 a.m.
UNLV dunk contest
- Who do you think will win UNLV’s dunk contest?
- Demetris Morant — 53.4%
- Anthony Bennett — 25.3%
- Anthony Marshall — 12.6%
- Khem Birch — 4.6%
- Roscoe Smith — 4.0%
This poll is closed, see Full Results »
Note: This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.
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Barring a game-winning shot in the scrimmage, the most talked-about moment from Thursday night’s Scarlet/Gray Showcase at the Thomas & Mack Center will be the dunk contest. It feeds into the fans’ thirst for big highlights, a reward UNLV basketball coach Dave Rice said the fans deserve.
If you listen to the players, though, this may not go down in the annals of preseason event history. One participant said the favorite already is sidelined and two others said they have no idea what they’re going to do.
The tentative lineup of dunkers includes freshmen Demetris Morant and Anthony Bennett, sophomores Khem Birch and Roscoe Smith, and senior Anthony Marshall. That’s four bigs and a guard who said he hasn’t worked on a dunking routine since his days at Mojave High.
“In high school, I used to practice my dunks, but since I’ve been in college, I don’t really dunk that much anymore,” Marshall said.
Asked Tuesday about his possible routine, Morant said he would need the two days to come up with one.
“I’m going to have to work on something because I have nothing right now,” he said.
Wednesday morning on Twitter, Bishop Gorman High sophomore Stephen Zimmerman, who measures about 7 feet, offered to stand in front of the rim as a prop for Morant to leap over. If he pulls it off, Morant would likely win the contest. Fall short and it may still be the highlight of the night for the thousands of fans expected to fill the arena Thursday.
The free event starts at 5:30 p.m. with a fan fest including games for kids on the concourse in between the Mack and the Mendenhall Center. Doors open at 6 p.m., and the event, which includes the dunk contest, a scrimmage and a legends game, starts at 7 p.m.
In past years, the legends game has taken place before or at halftime of a regular-season game, but Rice said he’s too selfish to miss it.
“I want to be able to watch those guys play and cheer them on myself,” said Rice, who emphasized last month that he won’t play in the game.
Morant said he’s a bit nervous to step out in front of so many people for the first time as a Rebel, and Marshall said it’s bittersweet to think this is his last preseason showcase. Those thoughts are a microcosm of the upcoming season, during which UNLV will work to find the balance between the experience it brings back and the talented but inexperienced pieces added to the roster.
One of those is Bennett, the self-proclaimed favorite in the dunk contest. He’s the one who said the title would go to Bryce Dejean-Jones had the junior not fractured two bones in his left hand a couple of weeks ago.
The field is dominated by big men, a testament to the Rebels’ front-court depth this season. Whatever they come up with will likely satisfy the crowd, or at least hold it over until the first exhibition game Nov. 7. Anticipation continues to build for this season, which includes the program’s first preseason ranking — No. 19 — in 20 years.
Rice, who’s starting just his second season as a head coach, deserves much of the credit. Thursday night, though, is about rewarding the people in the stands, he said, who have also made the recent success possible.
“There are so many things we’ve been able to sell in the recruiting process — tradition, style of play, the Mendenhall Center — and yet one of the main things we talked about is the great fan support we have at UNLV,” Rice said. “And there’s no doubt the energy in the Thomas & Mack Center last year helped our team play better and the atmosphere helped us sell recruits.”