UNLV basketball:

Rebels happy to get out and run in front of fans at Scarlet/Gray Showcase

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV forward Khem Birch blocks a shot by Bryce Dejean-Jones during their annual preseason Scarlet and Gray scrimmage Thursday, Oct. 17, 2013 at the Thomas & Mack.

2013 UNLV Scarlet and Gray Scrimmage

UNLV forward Carlos Lopez Sosa is fouled by guard Daquan Cook during their annual preseason Scarlet and Gray scrimmage Thursday, Oct. 17, 2013 at the Thomas & Mack. Launch slideshow »

When looking for ways to describe this year’s team, it’s natural for Rebels players who were around to compare it to last year’s version. Those comments haven’t been too flattering for the previous team but it certainly sounds like the Rebels feel they’re past the issues that divided that squad.

“We have this bond, the whole team, that I’ve never seen on the team before,” Khem Birch said after tonight’s Scarlet/Gray Showcase at the Thomas & Mack Center. “We don’t have any selfish guys.”

About 4,000 to 5,000 fans showed up to celebrate the roster that will try to integrate nine guys who haven’t played a minute for UNLV before. That will be a challenge the players and coaches work through leading up to the first exhibition game Nov. 1, but it’s not like everyone’s new.

Birch and junior guard Bryce Dejean-Jones will be relied on heavily to carry this team, and they played up to that standard in the scrimmage tonight. Dejean-Jones led all scorers with 12 points on 5-of-10 shooting while helping his Gray team to a 31-27 victory against Birch’s Scarlet squad.

Though he lost the game, Birch won the highlights. He had a coast-to-coast dunk, two blocks plus countless affected shots and had a nice finish on Daquan Cook’s alley-oop off the backboard.

“I hung on the rim a little too long but I was just trying to please the fans,” Birch said.

Mission accomplished.

The players acknowledged going into the game that the scrimmage itself doesn’t mean much. They’ve been in full practice mode for less than two weeks and are still getting winded as they implement a constant full-court press. At this stage that’s exactly how coach Dave Rice wants them to feel, who said fans should get used to seeing that press.

“It will look exactly like that (in real games),” Rice said. “The difference will be that we won’t have to field two teams, we can just field one. We got a little bit tired and I wanted them to feel that.”

To play that way consistently the Rebels will have to be one of the best-conditioned teams in the country. They know they’re not there yet, and that’s OK.

There’s time to work on that, and to work on better shot selection, too. Rice called a timeout 2:12 into the scrimmage to calm everyone down.

“I liked the effort but the ball was going everywhere and all we were doing was shooting 3-point shots,” Rice said.

Like team cohesion, bad 3-point shots are another thing about last season the Rebels would like to see change. They still have time to work on that. As for the other thing, the few players left from last year’s team feel like they’re already light years ahead.

“Everybody’s just having fun,” Dejean-Jones said. “We have great team chemistry. Everybody really likes each other.”

NOTES

Click to enlarge photo

UNLV guard Kendall Smith falls into UNLV recruits Stephen Zimmerman, left, and Rashad Vaughn during their annual preseason Scarlet and Gray scrimmage Thursday, Oct. 17, 2013 at the Thomas & Mack.

• Four UNLV targets over the next three classes sat courtside for the entire event. Bishop Gorman big man Stephen Zimmerman, sporting a boot and crutches for a sprained ankle, was there with his family while Findlay Prep players Rashad Vaughn, Justin Jackson and Derryck Thornton Jr. were there with Pilots coaches.

Vaughn is the Rebels’ top remaining target in the class of 2014 while Zimmerman is one of the top-ranked players in the class of 2015. Jackson and Thornton are both in the class of 2016.

• Charles Rushman and the Lady Rebels’ Alana Cesarz edged the team of Kevin Olekaibe and Mia Bell for the 3-point contest title. Dantley Walker and Amanda Anderson finished third.

• Christian Wood wasn’t cleared to participate in the scrimmage as he recovers from a broken finger. And although Savon Goodman was at a table to sign autographs after the scrimmage, he wasn’t introduced to the crowd at the beginning and watched the event in street clothes from the bench. Goodman won’t play this season after his offseason arrest.

The Legends game finished in an 18-18 tie.

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

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