Rebels basketball:

Deville Smith has lead in fluid situation at backup point guard

A back-and-forth battle has tilted toward the junior, for now, as UNLV begins busy stretch Wednesday vs. Radford

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV guard Deville Smith drives past UT-Martin guard Bobby Jones during their game Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013, at the Thomas & Mack Center. UNLV won 85-55.

UNLV junior Deville Smith has already been the starting point guard, a reserve who can’t stay on the court, a player who sits the entire game and a productive backup point guard. And that’s just through eight games.

Smith, a transfer from Mississippi State and Southwest Mississippi Community College, came in as the odds-on favorite to be UNLV’s starting point guard. And he was, until an injury gave freshman Kendall Smith the opportunity to win the coaches over and take the job.

That left Deville Smith in some murky waters because he rushed back from a sprained MCL for the next game and not even backup duties were immediately his. Sophomore Daquan Cook has become a factor in the rotation, and it was Cook who got the nod over Deville Smith in the final minutes at Arizona. Then came Saturday’s victory at Southern Utah, where Deville Smith played 19 minutes and Cook only logged three.

It may not change every game, but it seems clear that the backcourt rotation is far from settled. And that may be a good thing heading into a four-game week that starts Wednesday night at 7 with UNLV (4-4) hosting Radford (6-3) at the Thomas & Mack Center.

This is the Rebels’ first game of the Continental Tires Las Vegas Classic, and it’s streaming on the Mountain West Network. After this, the Rebels play three more games over the next five days, including Friday at the Mack and then Sunday and Monday at Orleans Arena.

Heading into the Radford game, UNLV coach Dave Rice said Deville Smith would be the backup point guard.

“He’s gotten confidence from how he’s practiced,” Rice said, “and it almost always just takes junior college transfers a few games to feel comfortable.”

After going down with a knee injury against UC Santa Barbara, Deville Smith has played double digit minutes in three games, single digits in two games, and he didn’t even get on the floor against Illinois. Part of that inconsistency could be due to lingering effects from what was originally expected to be a two-week injury.

Either way, Deville Smith said he’s not dwelling on the past.

“The injury was a setback, but it happened,” he said. “My job is to keep working and making my teammates better.”

Both Deville Smith and Rice have cited his improved reps in practice as a reason for the increased playing time at Southern Utah. What that means moving forward for Cook’s minutes is unclear, although Rice did say he wants to use the diminutive sophomore more on the wing.

“He gives us another ball handler out there and he knows what we’re doing,” Rice said.

That wasn’t always true of Cook last year, who admitted he had a rocky transition similar to most freshmen. After nearly taking a redshirt, Cook averaged 4.3 minutes per game last year.

“I wasn’t up to speed,” Cook said. “Now I understand our defensive concepts.”

Although there is an opportunity now for Cook to also back up Bryce Dejean-Jones or Jelan Kendrick on the wing, whoever plays more consistent defense between Cook and Deville Smith may have the edge moving forward. That’s an area Cook really lacked at Arizona and then Deville Smith moved ahead in the rotation at Southern Utah.

It could just as easily flip back around in the near future as Rice figures out who he wants running things when Kendall Smith is on the bench. Deville Smith and Cook averaged 15 and 11.1 minutes per game, though that’s getting closer and closer.

Over this stretch of games, it’s a bonus for Rice to feel confident going to either guy as the backup point guard because foul trouble and fatigue could both be factors. But moving forward, one of those guys is going to end up taking the backup reins, and how they handle this upcoming week could go a long way in deciding that.

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

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