Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Thursday, May 10, 2012 | 2 a.m.
On the topic of the best non-athletic moments Dave Rice has with his student-athletes, UNLV’s men’s basketball coach doesn’t hesitate to weigh in. Because more than winning games, he says, graduation represents the most important achievement a player can gain.
And on Saturday, Rice will see six of his players reach that goal.
“It’s right at the top,” Rice said. “We understand the importance of winning basketball games and competing for championships, but a huge part of our job is to give our guys an opportunity to get an education.”
Sixty UNLV student-athletes are eligible to take part in Saturday’s spring commencement ceremonies at the Thomas & Mack Center.
From the basketball team, nearly half of last season’s 13 scholarship players will be honored. That includes returning players Justin Hawkins and Quintrell Thomas as well as departing seniors Chace Stanback, Oscar Bellfield, Kendall Wallace and Brice Massamba.
Thomas started his career four years ago at the University of Kansas before transferring to UNLV. Hawkins, meanwhile, is completing his degree in just three years. And that’s exactly how he planned it, too.
Hawkins, a California native, took several summer classes and balanced his on-campus classes with online courses to give himself the chance to complete his degree in hotel administration in three years.
Coming into the 2010-11 season, Hawkins listed “graduating high school” as his biggest thrill in life. Saturday will likely take over that spot heading into his senior season.
“First and foremost, Justin deserves the credit for the time and effort he’s put in and having a plan,” Rice said. “But so much of that credit goes to his mom, Carmen, as well, because it’s very obvious the job that she’s done raising Justin and the emphasis that has been in that household in terms of achieving academically.
“He’s a guy who will be successful in life, whatever his career path is.”
Fifteen varsity sports at UNLV have at least one student-athlete eligible for Saturday’s ceremony. The football team leads the way with 16 graduates, including four — Beau Brence, Kenny Brown, Yusef Rodgers and Imari Thompson — who have eligibility remaining.
Women’s basketball player Jamie Smith is one of six total undergrads being honored as an Outstanding Graduate. Smith earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice with a 3.9 GPA while also breaking the career rebounds record for the school and the conference.