Ryan Greene/Las Vegas Sun
Friday, Oct. 16, 2009 | 2:05 a.m.
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Ryan Greene and Rob Miech shift to a multi-purpose approach with the latest edition of the Rebel Room, talking about both FirstLook 2009 for the UNLV hoops squad coming up on Friday night, and also the Rebels' homecoming gridiron showdown with Utah on Saturday night.
Cleared to go after the long rehab of his surgically repaired left knee, Jasper sprawled all-out for a loose ball inside The Dungeon – the Cox Pavilion practice gym. A hush fell over teammates and coaches.
“A very aggressive play,” said Rebels assistant coach Steve Henson. “We were all a bit nervous about it. He clearly was ready to play the only way he knows how.”
The latest indication of Jasper’s resurgence occurred Tuesday morning, when he weathered chilly and windy conditions to beat every other Rebel in a mile run (in 5 minutes, 21 seconds) at Myron Partridge Stadium.
New walk-on Tyler Norman finished a second behind Jasper.
That officially capped the long and pesky conditioning stretch of the UNLV offseason. Fans will no doubt be eager to see Jasper and the rest of the Rebels tonight at 9 at the team’s FirstLook event in the Thomas & Mack Center.
“I’m just looking forward to getting out there,” Jasper said. “It’s been a while since I got some game action playing in front of some fans. The team’s been working extremely hard, and we haven’t had any setbacks.
“Every day, everyone has been leaving it on the floor.”
The 2009-10 squad and its new uniforms will be unveiled in a scrimmage – and maybe 3-point shooting and dunk contests, which Jasper smiled about – at the Thomas & Mack Center.
Jasper, the 6-foot-6 floor general whose reported dynamic play in pick-up games over the past few months drew regular rave reviews from his teammates, will take center stage.
“When a guy doesn’t play for a year, it’s good to see him play again,” said UNLV coach Lon Kruger. “Most haven’t sat out a year since they started playing. It’s hard to do, but Derrick will feel good about getting back out there.”
Until the Rebels open their season Nov. 14 against Pittsburg State, Kruger has his own list of questions he hopes his players answer.
Over the next month, Kruger wants to see a more physical team that gobbles up rebounds.
“Who’s going to establish themselves on the boards?” Kruger said. “A little rebounding is a big key for us. Being more physical than we were a year ago is important. People have to step up and provide leadership in those areas.”
The newcomers are guards Anthony Marshall, from Mojave High, and Justin Hawkins, and Carlos Lopez, who played three years at nearby Findlay College Prep and helped the Pilots win a national championship in April.
That UNLV has only one scholarship senior, in post player Darris Santee, belies the veteran nature of the squad, according to Henson.
Walk-on guard Steve “Chopper” Jones is a senior, a transfer from Arizona State whose motor and passion rival that of Kevin Kruger, with whom Jones played on the Sun Devils.
Fourth-year juniors include Matt Shaw, Jasper, who left Kentucky to be a Rebel, and former Memphis guard Tre'Von Willis. UCLA transfer Chace Stanback is a third-year sophomore whose redshirt season of 2008-09 was vital to toughening his game, especially on defense.
“So it’s not a real, real young group,” Henson said. “There aren’t a lot, technically, in the senior class, but it’s a pretty mature group.”
Since the ball figures to be in Jasper’s hands so much, the spotlight will frequently be on him. He’s soft-spoken, but his game is anything but soft. He showed that in April in The Dungeon.
In fact, a day after sacrificing his body to get the ball, he did it again.
“He knocked a player out of the way and just dove right on it,” Henson said. “I think he got everyone’s attention that, ‘Hey, I’m going to play this way. You guys better do the same.’”
Jasper won’t be shy about doling out instructions, or personal thoughts, to any teammate, either.
“He has that confidence,” Henson said. “He’s earned it. He’s worked his butt off rehabbing his knee. He’s done all the conditioning. Again, he sets the tone.
“He did last spring when he stepped on the court that first day and dived on the court like that. I think it got everyone’s attention.”