Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Friday, March 8, 2013 | 2 a.m.
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I’ve always said Quintrell Thomas, the UNLV basketball team’s 6-foot-8, 245-pound power forward with a daunting physical stature and a look that is downright intimidating, would be the last person on the Rebels’ team you’d want to start a fight with. Or, for that matter, meet alone in a dark alley.
He simply smiled when I gave him that assessment after Thursday’s practice, showing the other side of his personality folks don’t often see. He’s got a great sense of humor and is very approachable.
“I like to be calm. I really don’t have the energy for that,” said Thomas, one of three UNLV seniors who will play their final home game at the Thomas & Mack Center on Saturday when the Rebels host Fresno State. “But I guess in games I kind of do get out of character in certain situations.”
Those situations, such as earlier in the season when Thomas scratched and clawed his way for an offensive rebound and buzzer-beating putback for a crucial win at Cal, have helped define his three-year Rebel career.
Thomas often muscles around the opposition on the inside and doesn’t back down in guarding the post on defense. He brings a physical presence to the lineup the Rebels often lack, even though those contributions aren’t as celebrated as those of the other two players he’ll share the stage with Saturday.
You see, Thomas’ performances — well, when he plays — typically don’t fill the stat sheet or provide highlights you’ll see on the nightly news. That honor goes primarily to Anthony Marshall, who is nicknamed "The Mayor" because he’s a local product excelling for the hometown university and has frequently carried the Rebels in producing the best season of his career. He is by far UNLV’s most popular player.
And, of course, you have senior guard Justin Hawkins, who, despite a major shooting slump this year, has long been considered a great Rebel. He plays relentless defense, wears his emotions on his sleeve on game days and is one of the school’s ambassadors in the community.
Then, there’s Q.
He’ll be the first to admit his college career hasn’t exactly gone as planned. He is averaging just 3.9 points and 3.5 rebounds in 12.2 minutes per game this year and frequently gets lost in the rotation shuffle. His career started at Kansas, but he transferred to UNLV after one season when the perennial national power recruited better players at his position. The same likely happened at UNLV with freshman Anthony Bennett and Pittsburgh transfer Khem Birch, two high school McDonald’s All-Americans, in their first year.
Instead of being a mainstay in the lineup during his final season and dominating the Mountain West Conference like he was predicted to do when leaving Kansas, Thomas has settled for being a role player. A pretty good one at that.
From making spot starts to that memorable game at New Mexico two years ago when Thomas had a career day of 19 points and 13 rebounds in the Rebels’ last win at the Pit, he’ll walk out to midcourt to be honored Saturday with his head held high.
Sure, he won’t be cheered by fans as loudly as the others, but the people who matter the most — his teammates and coaches — are singing his praises.
Thomas could have transferred to another school last summer and played immediately because he graduated from UNLV with one year of eligibility remaining. He knew the Rebels had a logjam in the post and that his minutes could be cut, but he decided to stay at UNLV and finish what he started.
UNLV coach Dave Rice met with Thomas in the offseason to give him his options. Thomas didn’t flinch — he wasn’t going anywhere.
“I just wanted to make sure he knew that I wanted him back, and he had a scholarship here and that he was going to be a big part of our rotation,” Rice said. “But also he could use the rule of graduating and going somewhere else to play."
“He very quickly said he wanted to be here, and he has been a big part of what we have done this year,” Rice later added.
Instead of accepting a role as a reserve, with Bennett and Birch likely to receive a bulk of the minutes, Thomas dedicated himself to getting better in the offseason. He became stronger and significantly improved offensively.
His heroics at Cal were a perfect reward for the hard work. Thomas didn’t play Tuesday against Boise State and doesn’t know how many minutes he’ll play each game.
But, when he does get on the court, he’s ready for whatever is asked of him.
“I bring stability when I play. You pretty much know what you are going to get when I step on the floor,” Thomas said.
If that’s giving spot minutes, so be it. Just like the past three years, he’ll bring a maximum effort.
“He, like a lot of guys, sure would like to play more minutes,” Rice said. “Yet his attitude has been terrific. He has been a big part of helping us win 23 games.”