UNLV basketball:

Desert Reign tips off third season with 5 incoming Rebels on rosters

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Fresno State transfer and former Cimarron-Memorial guard Kevin Olekaibe pushes past Joseph Tuss during their game on the first night of the Desert Reign tournament Tuesday, June 18, 2013.

2014 Desert Reign

Goodluck Okonoboh has a shot blocked by Ben Carter during their Desert Reign basketball league game Wednesday, June 18, 2014. Launch slideshow »

If you know what to expect, the Desert Reign ProCity League can be a lot of fun.

Entering its third season, the ProCity League is primarily a stage for incoming and current UNLV players but also features other local collegiate or pro players who are in town. The defense is summer-level at best and occasionally nonexistent, but beyond that the games are generally entertaining and for diehard Rebels fans it’s a great opportunity to see some of the new players.

Games start tonight at 6:30 and 8 p.m. at Grant Sawyer Middle School. They continue once or twice a week until July 22 (full schedule here).

The rosters that came out Tuesday don’t feature any returning Rebels, who are almost all in their respective hometowns until the third summer session classes start on July 14. Some of them may appear in later games, but that’s difficult to predict.

Overall that’s one of the drawbacks of the event. It’s hard to get everyone to commit to play in the league and then actually show up for each game. For example, former Baylor guard Pierre Jackson is listed but might not actually play since he has a potential job on the line with next month’s NBA Summer League.

However, there are a lot of good players in town who could fill in or even become regulars, such as former New Mexico guard Darington Hobson. You just never know exactly who’s going to be there, which is part of the fun.

Here’s a look at the rosters as they were announced with a little analysis on the players UNLV fans are most likely going to be following closely:

Level 1 Athletics

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UNLV's Mike Moser, Justin Hawkins and Khem Birch celebrate Hawkins basket and drawing a foul on Fresno State during their final regular season game Saturday, March 9, 2013 at the Thomas & Mack Center.

Jordan Cornish (UNLV)

Justin Hawkins (UNLV 2013)

Mikey Thompson (Boise State)

Dave Bell (Germany)

Paul Marigney (Lebanon)

Josh McCarver (France)

Juan Pattillo (South Korea)

Bilal Benn (Israel)

Jamaal Smith (Brazil)

• Guys who could end up guarding each other in Mountain West play this season are on the same side for the next few weeks with incoming UNLV freshman Cornish and Boise State junior Thompson, a Canyon Springs High grad, forming an intriguing back court along with former Rebel Hawkins.

Cornish is one of the guys likely to help fill the stands because it’s the first chance for most UNLV fans to lay eyes on newcomers like him. If he’s nearly as physical as he appears in highlights, the crowd will like what it sees.

United Way of Southern Nevada

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Baylor's Pierre Jackson holds the most valuable player trophy after the NIT championship basketball game against Iowa on Thursday, April 4, 2013, in New York. Baylor won 74-54.

Pierre Jackson (Overseas/NBA D-League)

Billy White (Mexico)

Kevin Olekaibe (UNLV 2014)

Hank Thorns (Mexico)

Kentrell Washington (Trinity Valley)

Darian Norris (San Diego)

Tyree Anderson (Rocky Mountain College)

Mike Louder (Jacksonville State)

Kashif Watson (Mexico)

• Desert Pines High grad Pierre Jackson’s last year was a great example of doing everything in your power to make a place for yourself. Even though it didn’t get him an NBA spot, yet, it put Jackson on the radar and has set him up well going into his second season.

After getting drafted by the New Orleans Pelicans in the second round, Jackson averaged 29.1 points per game on 45 percent shooting, with 6.1 assists and 1.9 steals through 31 games. When the Pelicans still didn’t call him up — they’re the only team that could since they hold his rights — he left midseason for an international deal that paid more and likely offered better competition.

Now he’s back in town and expected to play for New Orleans’ summer-league team once again. Jackson has put up the production to earn a chance, and if he keeps doing that he’s going to get one.

Project Dinner Table

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Oregon's Ben Carter, center, celebrates with teammates and fans on the court after the upset 64-57 win over Arizona in an NCAA college basketball game in Eugene, Ore. on Saturday, March 8, 2014.

Jerome Seagears (UNLV)

Ben Carter (UNLV)

Czar Robotham (Alberta 2014)

Donte Poole (Overseas)

Mike Josserand (Southern Utah)

Heiden Ratner (James Madison 2012)

Evan Roquemore (Santa Clara 2014)

Sam Johnson (Minot State 2014)

Justin King (Vancouver Island University)

• Transfers are once again at an all-time high in college basketball, and this squad features two of them for UNLV. Seagears, from Rutgers, and Carter, a Las Vegas native who played two years at Oregon, are interesting cases as far as what they’ll accomplish at UNLV.

The Rebels seem confident Seagears will be able to play right away because of the Mike Rice scandal at Rutgers, even though Seagears already transferred (briefly) to Auburn and then played his entire junior season at Rutgers. If he is eligible immediately he adds some experience and depth at point guard. How much could he impact the team this year? That’s one of the biggest unknowns.

Carter will sit out this season and then have two years of eligibility remaining. UNLV could certainly have used his size this year but it will likely come in handy in the near future, too.

Carter didn’t get a ton of playing time at Oregon so it’s difficult to project his role. However, he seems like a player that could be a dependable role player, maybe a starter at some points, in his final two years. Maybe he’ll show flashes of being far more than that in these games.

Create a Change Now

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San Francisco's Cody Doolin defends a Washington player in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Dec. 18, 2010, in Seattle. Washington won 80-52.

Cody Doolin (UNLV)

Goodluck Okonoboh (UNLV)

Marcus Falley (Francis Marion)

Lamar Falley (Francis Marion 2013)

Corey Clement (William Jessup College)

Ronnie Norstworthy (ABA)

Lacy Haddock (Cal State San Bernardino)

Tony Eackles (Eastern Oregon)

Davion Pearson (Nebraska Kearney)

• This is the most interesting team for Rebels fans to follow because it features two potential starters in Doolin and Okonoboh. And since the defense is generally optional in these games you could get a preview of this duo’s lob potential.

The case could also be made that these two will be the most important keys to success this season. That could also turn out to be guys like sophomore Christian Wood or freshman Rashad Vaughn, but here’s the case for these two.

Doolin, a senior transfer point guard from San Francisco, will be expected to come in and set up his teammates for success in a way UNLV simply hasn’t had in Rice’s three seasons. Previously it’s been scoring guards playing the point, while this year’s lineup seems capable of coming together and succeeding if the right guy sets the table.

And with Khem Birch’s departure to the NBA Draft, Okonoboh’s role grew exponentially. Now he’s the main rim protector — although Wood can fit that role nicely when he stays in the paint — and also the lone “big guy.”

While Wood likes to drift outside, Okonoboh will be expected to fill in a lot of the production left by Birch and Roscoe Smith. And can Okonoboh stay out of foul trouble well enough to achieve that? None of these things will be answered definitively in these Desert Reign games but they do offer a good chance for a first impression.

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

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