Las Vegas Sun
Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014 | 2 a.m.
Want to play big? The 2014-15 Rebels can accommodate that. Thinking more long and athletic, with ball handlers and shooters at every spot? On paper, they can do that too.
Before I get too deep into this I want to caution everyone, including myself, against getting too far ahead because we’ve been here before (see: 2012-13), with seemingly endless great lineup possibilities for UNLV. Not only have we not seen any of the Rebels’ three incoming top-40 players log a single second of college ball but this year’s team still has seven regular-season games remaining, which is enough time for certain guys to slightly alter perceptions about their skill set.
Plus we don’t know who all will be back, so some of these combinations could be moot by March. That said, it’s impossible to watch Findlay Prep’s Rashad Vaughn put on a UNLV hat, as he did at the Henderson International School and on national TV Tuesday afternoon, and not think about what the Rebels could look like at this time next year.
So keep in mind that this is all for fun — a productivity-killing thought experiment for your Wednesday — and let’s play with the possibilities. Vaughn, a guard, wing Dwayne Morgan and big man Goodluck Okonoboh fill UNLV’s three open scholarships for next season. First, let’s assume everyone else with eligibility remaining returns:
The Main Rotation
Three scoring threats, two great rebounders and a shot blocker down low. This is a balanced attack with only one difference from this year’s main starters (Vaughn in for current walk-on senior Kevin Olekaibe).
The keys would be to get the ball out of Dejean-Jones’ hands a little more, because when he over-dribbles he tends to over-shoot too, and Roscoe Smith would need to improve defensively from this season. Opposing defenses would have to respect Vaughn’s shooting, which is expected to be better than any current Rebel, and that could create more driving lanes for Deville Smith and Dejean-Jones, who both excel in that role.
The Young Guns
Three true freshmen and two true sophomores. This group couldn’t buy a six-pack but they could be a menace on the court.
Kendall Smith has certainly hit a freshman wall the last eight or so games, but I like his skill set moving forward. Ditto for Wood, who’s improved this season on the defensive end but is 0-for-7 on 3-point attempts over the last six games. That’s something I’m confident he’s going to spend a lot of time working on in the offseason.
Vaughn and Morgan could carry the scoring load most of the time, with Kendall Smith and Wood taking advantage of the opportunities those two create. And Okonoboh could have decent offensive production as a freshman if he works extra hard to get into position for offensive rebounds.
The Assist Maker
Daquan Cook, Deville Smith, Vaughn, Dejean-Jones, Wood
This assumes Dejean-Jones and Wood would drastically improve their shots over the offseason — they’re a combined 25.5 percent on 3-pointers this year — but it features the Rebels’ closest thing to a pure point guard and four guys who like to take jumpers.
I don’t think this would be a particularly successful lineup, but it’s an option. Not everything at the buffet’s going to be great and that doesn’t stop me from sampling it.
Since this is Division I basketball and players are constantly looking elsewhere, we have to also consider the possibility that UNLV won’t get all of its pieces back. Other than transfer possibilities at the end of the bench, I would guess the guys most likely to move on (either as grad transfers or to some level of the pros) would be Dejean-Jones and Roscoe Smith.
To be clear, I’m not saying that’s what those guys will do and I’d actually be a bit surprised if both aren’t wearing UNLV jerseys next season. But I won’t be shocked if at least one of them decides to do something else, so for this part of the experiment I’m pretending neither will be on the roster:
The ‘You Must Be This Tall to Step on the Court’ Lineup
Jelan Kendrick, Morgan, Wood, Okonoboh, Birch
Listed heights: 6-foot-6, 6-7, 6-10, 6-9, 6-9, and their wingspans are even longer. If they all bought in this could be the best zone defense west of Syracuse.
Is this lineup realistic? Not at all, but I’d love to see it.
Deville Smith, Kendall Smith, Morgan, Wood, Birch
I don’t actually know if Kendall Smith and Morgan would be the fastest guys on next year’s team to fill out this lineup, but I’m confident the other three are all plus-speed for their positions. UNLV has not pressed or run like coach Dave Rice said it would last offseason. This would be a group that, on paper, could fulfill that goal.
So there are five lineups that could each bring something a little different to the court for UNLV. Post your own in the comments section and then let’s turn our focus back to 2013-14.