Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Thursday, Dec. 22, 2011 | 2 a.m.
A near three-day break for the UNLV basketball team will allow some players to return to their hometowns for the holidays.
It’s just nearly impossible to travel from Las Vegas to Sweden, which means Rebels’ senior center Brice Massamba will be spending another Christmas away from family while playing basketball in Southern Nevada.
Following a home game Friday afternoon against California, the team will be off until a Monday evening practice. The 6-foot-10 Massamba, who came to Las Vegas in 2006 for high school basketball at Findlay Prep, typically only returns to Sweden in the summer. Like his past five Christmas’ in Las Vegas, he’ll spend the holiday with close friends.
“It probably is something that is familiar to him but never feels quite right because family is important to all of us,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said. “That is one of the sacrifices Brice has made to come to the United States to get an education and play basketball.”
Massamba frequently communicates with relatives through email and Skype, and while he admits being away from family isn’t ideal, it’s a situation he happily accepts in pursuing his basketball dreams.
“I’m pretty much used to it now because I have done it for six years,” he said. “I still talk to them, and we send each other gifts and everything.”
He’s having one of the most productive seasons of his career in averaging 5.7 points and 3.3 rebounds per game. Massamba has started all of UNLV’s 14 games, scoring 10 points and grabbing a career-high nine rebounds Nov. 22 against Cal Poly, and playing 38 minutes in a double overtime win at Santa Barbara .
His contributions don’t always stand out in the box score, but his team-first attitude and willingness to do anything to help the team win are a constant. The smile from ear-to-ear that fans see during most games carries over to practice and off the court, helping the Rebels (12-2) to a quick start to the season and No. 21 national ranking.
“Brice is extremely charismatic. He is one of the most popular players on our team,” Rice said. “He is just so team-orientated. He loves basketball and loves life. He has an infectious personality.”
Massamba’s support system in Southern Nevada includes lifelong friends at Findlay Prep. Massamba often attends home games at the Henderson-based national powerhouse, and in 2010, he was in the crowd in Maryland when the Pilots played for the national title.
“It’s like a big family with us former players. We are always calling each other and go back during the summer to visit the coaches,” said Massamba, who helped Findlay post a 32-1 record during his senior year.
Still, being away from family isn’t easy.
He’s the youngest of four boys, all of whom are basketball players. He has a tattoo on his bicep of a king playing card, with the names of all four Massamba boys. The “Four Kings” often push each other during summer training, including helping Brice lose weight — he’s about 15 pounds lighter than his freshman year weight of 255 pounds. It’s a big reason why he’s excelled at times this season.
“The coach and my teammates are believing in me and passing me the ball,” Massamba said of his success.