Rebels basketball:

Rice happy to lend Mendenhall Center to Team USA Basketball

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Sam Morris

Members of the media and the USA Olympic basketball team take over UNLV’s Mendenhall Center Friday, July 6, 2012.

This week, and only this week, a college coach other than UNLV’s Dave Rice will have free reign of the Mendenhall Center, UNLV’s two-and-a-half year old basketball training facility. And that’s just fine with Rice.

Starting today, the Team USA men’s basketball team begins practicing on the Rebels’ campus. Las Vegas is the first stop of a month-long touring training camp for the FIBA World Cup in Spain, and while here, the team will hold four closed practices at Mendenhall and then an intrasquad scrimmage on Saturday at the Thomas & Mack Center.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who’s been leading Team USA since 2006, has first dibs on court time at Mendenhall. For that, Rice and his team get exposure and experiences not available at any other program.

“It’s given our players access to watch those practices and it’s been a conversation piece for us in the recruiting process,” Rice said. “It just shows how relevant UNLV basketball is to the national scene.”

Rice has often gone out of his way to praise what former coach Lon Kruger left at UNLV when he departed for Oklahoma in 2011. Beyond the players he recruited, though, Rice said Kruger’s effort to get the Mendenhall Center built was one of the biggest things he accomplished as far as improving and sustaining the Rebels’ standing.

The facility helps UNLV keep pace with what other programs have to offer, even as the Mack gets older. And when the NBA Summer League or Team USA is in town, Mendenhall has ample size to hold some of the biggest figures in the basketball world.

Team USA used to hold its practices at Cox Pavilion. Now there’s a commercial you may have seen lately showing a few Team USA members practicing or playing in an exhibition game. Almost all of the shots of the men’s team in that ad are from either the Mendenhall or the Mack.

One scene shows the Golden State Warriors’ Klay Thompson going over a drill with a slightly obscured UNLV Runnin’ Rebels logo in the background at midcourt. In the future, Rice said, the logos will be impossible to miss.

“Graphics are going in (Mendenhall) prior to the season this year,” Rice said. “UNLV will be displayed everywhere. You won’t have to strain your eyes to see it.”

That commercial, plus other things such as USA Basketball’s “Tips, Skills, and Drills” series, might as well double as UNLV recruiting videos. Look, the coaching staff can say, our facilities are good enough for the best in the world.

That trade-off is clearly worth altering Rice’s own practice schedule for the week. For the other 51 weeks, though, this is the Rebels’ house.

“That’s the only time that we become second tenants in our building,” Rice said.

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

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