Thursday, June 19, 2014 | 2 a.m.
UNLV’s incoming class is filled with guys who weren’t supposed to be here.
Bishop Gorman High grad Ben Carter chose Oregon over the Rebels a couple years ago. Point guards Cody Doolin and Jerome Seagears both played nearly full collegiate careers at San Francisco and Rutgers, respectively, before trying to find something else for their final season.
Even incoming freshman Jordan Cornish originally signed his name on the dotted line to play at Tennessee. But then Cuonzo Martin left for Cal and a new opportunity presented itself.
In each case, even a year ago they couldn’t envision this scenario. Now that it’s here, though, the future seems as promising as ever.
“That was a blessing in disguise,” Cornish said of Martin’s departure. “… Now I’m here at UNLV and I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
All four guys plus freshman Goodluck Okonoboh were on the court Wednesday night at Grant Sawyer Middle School for the first night of the Desert Reign Pro City League. The cheers from the nearly full stands were a little louder for the UNLV guys since this is the first opportunity a lot of fans had to see the new Rebels.
It’s also one of the first times the guys got to play with each other. Most of the current roster is out of town but the half dozen who are here haven’t been here very long. Doolin moved in three days ago and said he appreciated the opportunity to get some running in alongside his new teammates.
“I think we all had a lot of fun out here,” he said. “It was pretty cool.”
For Doolin and Seagears, Las Vegas is new, but at least they’re familiar with collegiate competition. Same on the experience side for Carter.
For Cornish, this was not only his first time in front of UNLV fans as a Rebel, it also allowed him to play against guys with college and professional experience. That’s something that can help this summer as he works to move from high-school shape to college shape.
Another challenge, probably the biggest one UNLV faces this season, is figuring out how to blend all of this new talent together into a cohesive unit. Never, Cornish said, has he been a part of a team like this, with nine newcomers joining the fray at once.
“It’s a new thing,” he said, “but I’m excited and the rest of the guys are excited to have our own mode and put our own stamp on UNLV basketball.”
Lately UNLV basketball has been synonymous with talented and athletic but generally underachieving, based mostly on the expectations that talent and athleticism created in the first place. He hasn’t had much time on the ground to evaluate, but Doolin said the Rebels can move past that label because of how hard the freshmen work.
“We’re really talented,” he said, “but we’re going to play hard, play tough and play together.”
Cornish’s friend and fellow freshman Rashad Vaughn watched the games from the front row of the bleachers as he recovers from a lower leg injury. By the time he’s ready to go at full strength, the rest of the Rebels might be on campus.
Whenever that happens, the group can begin its work in earnest. Until then the guys who are here and healthy will continue getting to know each other as they attempt to figure out what it’s going to take to get a group that was never supposed to be together to play as one.
“No egos,” Cornish said. “Everyone has to have one thing in mind, and that’s winning.”