Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Tuesday, March 11, 2014 | 2 a.m.
The UNLV basketball team doesn’t need Bryce Dejean-Jones’ selfish attitude.
But the Rebels must have his unquestioned ability on the court to have a fighting chance of winning this week’s Mountain West tournament. That could be the reason Dave Rice announced Monday that, after suspending him for the regular season finale at UNR, the Rebels’ leading scorer would be back for UNLV’s desperation heave at earning an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament.
Maybe being away from the team for a few days is the wake-up call Dejean-Jones needs. Anything will be better than what transpired at the end of the Rebels’ loss last week to San Diego State. He blamed others for his mistakes in the loss, sulked on the bench and quickly exited the locker room at the Thomas & Mack Center after changing.
And he wasn’t hiding his displeasure, so vocal that Sun photographer Sam Morris overheard him while shooting from the baseline.
“I’m out of here, I’m (bleeping) out of here,” he said while pouting on the bench in the final seconds of a loss to San Diego State.
It was like a little kid on the playground taking his ball and heading home to leave the others without a game to play. Now he’s back, which is flirting with disaster for a UNLV team faced with the daunting task of winning three games in three days to return to the NCAA Tournament for a fifth straight season.
The Rebels are in the danger zone of having their season slip away. One bad bounce or double-digit deficit, and some players could throw in the towel. Dejean-Jones already did that once.
He struggled bringing the ball up the court against San Diego State’s full-court press, committing a few turnovers that led to easy baskets.
On one of the miscues, he complained to officials about being fouled. Later in the game, he was inadvertently smacked in the back of the head, but officials again didn’t call a foul.
Then, Rice gave reserve Jelan Kendrick some of Dejean-Jones' minutes, including during critical stages of the game, further adding to the frustration. With about two minutes remaining, and the Rebels in the midst of surrendering a 12-2 scoring run to close the game, he was pulled altogether.
Dejean-Jones’ ego was rattled and his actions showed he cares more about the name on the back of the jersey than the one on the front.
That’s why I argued last week the Rebels would have been better without Dejean-Jones in the lineup. Then, UNLV squandered a 17-point lead in the second half at UNR, missing the junior wing’s presence on the perimeter when Reno’s Deonte Burton took over the game.
Plain and simple, UNLV is a better team with Dejean-Jones in the lineup. There’s no doubting his talent, and if channeled properly, he gives UNLV the best chance to win.
He leads them in points and assists, can score from the inside and out, and won’t hesitate to take a shot with the game on the line. Part of that competitiveness surely led to his meltdown.
Rice could have easily told Dejean-Jones to stay away permanently but is wise enough to realize a heat-of-the-moment mistake shouldn’t define Dejean-Jones’ full body of work.
He’s plays with an edge and confidence others lack, and truly believes he’s the best player on the floor. That mindset has yielded some questionable shot attempts the past few seasons as Jones tries to shoulder too much of the scoring load. He’s made just 29 percent on his 3-pointers this season, and if some of those weren’t such poor attempts, maybe UNLV isn’t in its dilemma of having to run the Mountain West table.
But, by no means does that mean he’s not vital to their success. The only way UNLV wins out is if Dejean-Jones makes up for lost time and turns in an MVP-caliber performance.
In UNLV’s best win this season, a game at New Mexico in mid-January where everything went the way it was supposed to for the Rebels in this season of disappointment, he was brilliant in scoring 23 points. He took the ball aggressively to the rim in getting to the free throw line 13 times. Other times this season, he’s limited his shots to get others involved to create more offensive balance.
He can be that unselfish player the Rebels need. He can make amends for one poor decision. He can have the last say in how his legacy unfolds.