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Despite few points, inspiration keeps ‘Chop’ high on plus-minus list

Senior guard comes in sixth while Willis, Jasper sit on top


Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV guard Steve Jones celebrates as the Rebels go on a 35-12 run against UNR during the second half of their game Wednesday, November 18, 2009 at the Thomas & Mack Center. UNLV won the intrastate rivalry 88-75.

Rebels in plus-minus (points)

The point differential, in Division-I games, when each UNLV player is on the court

Tre’Von Willis +47
Derrick Jasper +40
Chace Stanback +26
Darris Santee +25
Kendall Wallace +22
Steve Jones +20
Oscar Bellfield +18
Justin Hawkins +11
Anthony Marshall +9
Brice Massamba +8
Matt Shaw +3

No. 16 Louisville vs. UNLV

Despite losing a 19-point lead, UNLV held on to beat sixteenth-ranked Louisville 76-71 Saturday.

UNLV-Louisville Basketball

UNLV forward Brice Massamba and the rest of the Rebels celebrate their 76-71 upset of 16th-ranked Louisville Saturday at the Thomas & Mack Center. Launch slideshow »
The Rebel Room

POSTGAME EDITION: Rebels produce winners across the board on busy day

Ryan Greene, Christine Killimayer and Ray Brewer discuss a busy day in UNLV athletics, including the hoops squad's resounding 76-71 victory over No. 16 Louisville at the Mack and the football team's sendoff to coach Mike Sanford and its 16 seniors coming in the form of a 28-24 come-from-behind victory at home over San Diego State.

Looking at an analysis of UNLV’s four games against Division-I foes, Rebels junior guard Tre'Von Willis sees that he’s atop his team’s plus-minus list.

For a few hours Monday morning, the numbers from those four victories were crunched and a value was determined for each Rebel – what happened, points wise, when each was on the court?

In sum, by how much has UNLV led, or trailed, in relation to each player in sixth-year coach Lon Kruger’s 11-man rotation?

Willis, at plus-47 points, topped the chart for the 24th-ranked and 5-0 Rebels. So when he’s been on the court, UNLV has been 47 points better than its four Division-I foes this season.

“It’s pretty interesting,” said Willis, taking a closer glance at those figures after practice Monday afternoon inside the Cox Pavilion auxiliary gym. “It puts together all the pieces. It’s fun.

“You know what? Looking at that just makes me happy to know I can contribute for the team to be successful.”

We’re tossing out the opener against Division-II Pittsburg State because that’s what the Ratings Percentage Index does. We’re only interested in D-I vs. D-I, or a level playing field.

The statistics show that junior guard Derrick Jasper is next on UNLV’s chart, at plus-40. Then comes sophomore forward Chace Stanback (plus-26), senior center Darris Santee (plus-25) and junior guard Kendall Wallace (plus-22).

Sophomore guard Oscar Bellfield, whom Kruger switched to the point in a savvy move against Louisville, is seventh at a plus-18.

What might surprise some is that fifth-year senior walk-on guard Steve "Chop" Jones – who has tallied two baskets in 68 minutes against UNR, Southern Illinois, Holy Cross and Louisville – is sixth at a plus-20.

That was largely due to an infusion of inspiration he helped provide in a comeback against UNR at the Thomas & Mack Center on Nov. 18.

With about 14 1/2 minutes remaining, UNLV trailed by 12 when Kruger put Jones into the game with rookie guards Justin Hawkins and Anthony Marshall.

When Jones went to the bench about seven minutes later, the Rebels had a six-point edge in a game they won 88-75.

Chop finished it with a plus-21.

“From Chop we need energy, we need confidence, we need enthusiasm,” Kruger said, “and we need someone who, when he goes in, the crowd is ‘rah-rah.’ If he makes a shot, that’s great.”

Points, however, aren’t mandatory from Jones.

“We get a lot of other things from Chop,” Kruger said. “If we get points, great … it’s not his role to score a lot of points.”

Jones sat out last season after transferring from Arizona State, where he played with former UNLV star Kevin Kruger, Lon’s son. For his desire and energy, his teammates named him the most inspirational Rebel.

In practice, he’s in constant motion. He’s the one player who most frequently barks instructions to teammates or roots for them – something Kruger and his staff demand from the first day of practice.

Monday, on the sideline wearing a black jersey, he crumpled to a slouch, with his head in his hands, when a Rebel in a white jersey hit a shot against the black jerseys in a scrimmage.

He took a basket against his squad personal even though he wasn’t in on the action.

Willis said Jones is just what the Rebels could have used in some of their tight defeats last season.

“That’s sometimes what I felt we lacked, maybe, last year,” Willis said. “He would have been big. Pretty much he turns the game up with his fire. He constantly says, ‘Let’s go! Let’s go!’ He gets the guys pumped up.

“You can’t really categorize a guy like Chop. He’ll do so many little things for you, whether that’s diving on the floor for a loose ball or jumping into the stands, playing defense full-court, getting a rebound or making a nice hustle play.”

Willis remembers Rene Rougeau providing the Rebels with that same intangible, which ended up earning him a scholarship.

“He’s pretty much the X-factor for this team,” Willis said of Jones. “Energy never goes down when Chop is in the game. He’s definitely a big piece to this team. We’re lucky to have him.”

Jones said the offense is designed to get players open shots, he’s taking them and they’ll eventually fall.

He said he hopes he can help lead the team with his energy and passion and excitement, and that some of his experience rubs off on some of the younger guys.

“I’ll just try to do everything I can,” he said, “to help this team win.”

Kevin Kruger always told Jones what it was like to play inside the Mack when it was rocking and rolling, and Jones got to feel that in the UNR and Louisville victories.

“It’s the most fun I’ve had, other than winning the (Oregon) state championship,” Jones said. “When you get out there and the fans are roaring and everything is going crazy and you can see the look on the opponent’s faces, that you got ’em in a good spot …

“It’s just so much fun to go out there and play.”

That all 11 of the regular Rebels have plus ratings is significant to Jones.

“It’s a testament to our team and our depth,” he said. “There are so many we can put out there and play, and it’s not going to be a huge drop-off. We can use it to our advantage. It’s great.”

If everyone continues to get results, Kruger said he’ll stick with the 11-man rotation.

“You never know what will happen,” Jones said. “I think, right now, we’re playing team ball, we’ve all bought into it and we’ll just keep going with it.”

Free throws

Wednesday, Jones drops into familiar territory with the Rebels. With ASU, he hit a 3-point shot at McKale Center in Tucson during the 2006-07 season, but the Sun Devils got drubbed out of the arena by the Wildcats. Arizona (3-2) plays host to UNLV on Wednesday. “The first thing I learned in college was to not like the University of Arizona,” Jones said. He was visibly upset when, at the UNLV banquet last spring, Arizona made the NCAA tournament. “We were both on the bubble,” Jones said. “They made it, and we beat them … I didn’t like that too much.” Will he bring a little extra Wednesday night? “I’ll have a little more juice for that one,” Jones said nearly in a whisper … Santee’s plus-25, and emotional 13 points and 5 rebounds Saturday against Louisville, have impressed Kruger. For now, though, sophomore Brice Massamba (plus-8) will continue to start. “He had a great game,” Kruger said of Santee, “with his energy and aggressiveness on the offensive end.” Kruger liked the way his three centers (Santee, Massamba and Matt Shaw) battled Cards power forward Samardo Samuels and picked each other up.

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  1. Wow, I have no idea how Matt Shaw could have such a low rating compared to everyone else. He has played pretty decent too.....maybe ULs 19 pt run really hurt his rating

  2. Rob, I really enjoyed this article btw. Thanks a bunch

  3. +21 huh? pretty good for playin "4 on 5" :)

  4. Gotta agree with RebelRob on that on, Rob. Love your coverage, but thought that 4 on 5 comment was way out of character and it bothered me to read it and know that Chop probably saw it too. Anyone can see what Chop brings to the team. He's such an important part of this team. Besides, the 1-for-10 comment was not even correct and then Kantowski went on and copied it. Chop had two HUGE baskets in that 11-0 run vs. Reno.

    Matt Shaw, if you are reading this, don't look into this too much. A lot of factors go into this. Your role has been big this year. Keep it up! Man, it's fun to be a Rebel fan again.

  5. Steve Jones shouldn't see the court unless UNLV is up by 40 points with under 30 seconds left in the game. He is not Division I material and has no business being on the court during crucial points of the game.

  6. I think Shaw's inability to play solid interior defense during the Louisville game is the main culprit for his lackluster +/-. He was in during the entire Louisville comeback in the second half. The second Santee came back in the Rebels were able to get their mojo back on D. Obviously guys are going to have off games and playing against Samuels is a tough matchup for anyone. I hope Shaw can get back into game shape and get some lateral quickness back. He looks slow out there and he lacks the mobility to be anything but a chucker from the 3 point line right now. On defense he doesn't have the hops to front the post and he is too poor of a defender to play behind a guy in the post. Hopefully he can get into better shape over these next few games so he can be more than a shooter when he is on the court.

  7. Hardly believe that was Shaws fualt for their big comeback...We were taking good shots but they just didn't fall and to UL's credit they came down with a barrage of 3's that got them right back into the game. UL is really lucky they didn't loose by 30...As far as "Chop" goes he's our spark plug and fits in perfect with this team! Exactly what we need...he ran down two loose balls, one turned into a momentum changing allyoop dunk!! What he lacks in skills he makes up for in determination, hustle and heart!! Don't know were we would be without him.

  8. There was an error in the official UNR box score, re: Chop's field goals. Shaw is actually a +3. (Those figures are a bit tedious to compile.) He had a +7 vs UNR, +4 vs. S Ill, +1 vs Holy Cross and -9 vs Louisville ... thus, +3. Jasper has been on the best roll, with +20, +12 and +15 in his past three games.
    I think Shaw is going to have some big games, and hit some big shots, this season. Each one of those centers brings something different to the court, and I think that will give opposing coaches headaches.

  9. I have not been a fan of Chop this season but I am going to eat a little crow right now and give him his due.

    When he is on the floor I never see any guys miss a defensive rotation he talks a lot on the court and keeps guys in their right spots, almost like a Ray Lewis type of defensive field general. He also hustles after every ball and plays 'hungrier' than anyone else on the court.

    He was totally involved in both of DJ'salley oop dunks. The first he saved the ball from going out of bounds and made a great pass to Tre in the process, on the second Chop set an off ball screen near the baseline on DJ's man when he saw Jasper breaking for the hoop to make sure Jasper got clear. That is selfless team basketball and that is why Chop shows such a high point margin. All that being said, I would still like to see him hit a shot or two (he missed two wide open looks on Saturday) and at least look at the basket when he has the ball.

  10. Can't wait for Wednesday! Should be another great game. Gonna be going to this one!! Is anybody else going? Would be nice to have a pregame rally at a local pub down there! If anybody else is down let me know and we can do this the right way!!!!First 2 drinks are on Me!!! Don't care how old or young you are it's all about the REBZ and having a good time!!!!

  11. Chop is a good role player on this team. He is such a hustle player and has a knack for keeping balls alive and saving possessions. As long as he remembers his role and does not look to score unless he is all alone under the basket he is valuable. As the season goes on I suspect Justin and Anthony will log the majority of minutes off the bench and Chop will see less as Kruger typically tightens his rotation come conference time.

  12. lvnative, touche ... I'm with you :-)
    I had a great view of that screen he set to ensure that Jasper would get that 'oop,' and it was as impressive as the throw-down ... thx all

  13. sufferin,
    the Rebs r ranked. Lets let Lon do the coaching, its workn so far

  14. sufferin is dead on!

  15. I wasn't a huge fan of Chop at first either, and still think that he will be slowly worked out of the rotation as the season goes on, but it won't lessen his impact on the team. He is great on D and a liability for the most part on offense (mainly when he has the ball and does anything but pass) but you can see the positive impact he has on the team. The good news is that he will continue to have that impact, even if he isn't on the floor as much as the season goes on. Good to see the team doing well.

  16. sorry Sufferin and ijspencer, the stats in this article say you're both wrong. He'll get less minutes come conference play, but will always be the guy Kruger puts in when the rest of the team is looking sluggish. Hate just to hate, it's your world. The rest of us will appreciate Chop for what he does and hope for the best for him.

  17. calling all rebel fans for this Arizona game!!! if your gonna make it down there lets all meet up? i'm going with 5 guys and we all like to have fun and talk runnin rebel basketball! contact me at [email protected]!! Together we stand divided we fall!!!

  18. Its still early. I would like to see what the numbers for him are in a few games. He hustles yes. I guess as long as we are winning I cant complain.

  19. Chop is straight heart and hustle. Good call JW, when the team looks sluggish and is getting lazy in their assignments, Coach will put him in. We don't need him scoring points out there. If he does score, it's a bonus. Word.

  20. I agree that Shaw is a good player and I am hopeful he will have some big games this season. I just would have liked for the Rebs to have ridden the hot hand a little bit more during the Louisville game especially since Santee is a player that needs to build up his confidence.

    I would also like to see Shaw play with another big in the game since his offense is best suited for the perimeter. That ball fake and 3 point shot he had was excellent. Not so excellent was his huffing up and down the court and the three cheeseburgers he ate at halftime.

  21. It's amazing what a cohesive unit can do! I hope everyone has noticed that we don't have any impending transfers or distractions with people complaining about playing time this year, i.e Adiefe, Roberson, Hamga. This team started the year as a unit and they are going to finish as such. A successful UNLV team since Kruger has been here is one that plays team defense, controls the ball, and takes open shots. This year people aren't forcing up shots, no one is looking for which school they should transfer to so they can get more minutes and everybody is hustling on defense.

    These kids are doing it the old-fashioned way by working their butts off!

  22. These numbers mean very little, and their value is just something interesting to talk about.

  23. I've said it before, and I'll say it again. I like Chopper Jones. He brings an energy to the court that makes up for his skills set. I'm not sure he'll be Lon's ultimate 6th Man choice indefinitely, but there's no denying his enthusiasm, heart, and work ethic.

    FKG, I can't make it down to Tucson. But, I'm heading up to Cedar City in two weeks to cheer the Rebs on against SUU. Hope to see you there.


    Something to add, Chop played the post in High School for two years and was voted mose insperational.

  25. Uh, yeah Patti, that's why I put that out there. They are interesting figures. Willis was very interested in taking a closer look at them after practice Monday. That was the point.

  26. Rob, nothing personal. I just think people are making more out of this than they should. There are so many factors of why a team is doing better when certain players are in a line-up. Especially the way Kruger has changed up his line-up in the early season Alot depends on the bench of the other team.

    Its possible you could have given any of the walk-ons Steve Jones's minutes and had the same results or better.

    I think Bellfield's ranking makes my point. He's been maybe the MVP of the team thus far and he only ranks 7th.

  27. I like Chop. If Kruger thinks he is good enough to play then he is good enough to play.
    That 4 of 5 comment was BS! Reporters aren't coaches if they really understood the game they would be coaches.

    Give the man credit. No one on the board could do any better than either Kruger or Chop.

    Suffrin- I think you should go to Maryland pkwy and try to cross the street by Chipotle....see if you can do it 20x in a row...see if you can do it.

    The ONLY stat that matters is the #'s in the WIN column, and we are doing fine right now.

    Tnanks for playing your a#@ off chop!

  28. Chop = Spark Plug

    I'll take Chop over a primadonna blue chipper anyday.

    patticus: In Kruger's system, players earn their minutes in practice. ALL of them. Chop has earned his role and if the other 'walk-ons' want minutes they will have to out-work Chop. It's that simple.

  29. Yeah I think Rob actually has a pretty good handle on the game, AKbball...And that's probably why he gets paid for this and we don't.

    But, he's said he could never coach college ball (I think, specifically, because he'd never understand why you put a Steve Jones in when Kruger does).

  30. I don't have anything against Chop, or if Chop plays 1 or 30 minutes a game. I'm just saying the study has too many variables to really mean anything.

  31. patti, it's just something to look at in the first few weeks of a season, nothing more and nothing less. Just some fodder to discuss.
    I have nothing against Chop either. He's a great kid. Very admirable.
    Snyder, I'd never make it as a coach for many, many, many, many reasons... and I'm leaving out about a million. Kruger practices are awesome, absolutely awesome, for what he does, how he teaches and how the players respond and improve. One or two fall through the cracks. He can't be 100 percent accurate in how he gauges them. Nobody can. But he is a master.
    Maybe my comment wasn't fair. Maybe it was. Guess what? That's life. Everything isn't going to be 100 percent positive spin, is it?
    To be most specific, refs would be the main reason why my coaching career would last 2.7 games, tops. That's being kind.
    thx all

  32. I'm with ya Rob. Hate....absolutely hate...officiating these days. It seems as if they officiate from an equal opportunity point of view. My buddy and I always watch to see who gets more fouls in the beginning of a half. Because we know for 100% certainty that whoever is behind on fouls will be caught up by the end of the half. Watch for it next game, it ALWAYS HAPPENS.

  33. Haha yeah for real, it sure seems that they've been calling it REAL soft these first couple of games.

  34. Rob,

    Will the layoffs at Sun have any impact on you or Ryan? Any impact for the future on the great job you guys have been doing? I would hate to lose you guys.

  35. Since you've brought up the topic of officiating, Rob, this article - if I were to draw an analogy to officiating - would be a make-up call (or more appropriately a make-up article.) :)

    I honestly look forward to every article about the Rebels that the Sun and the RJ publish, during the season and off-season. Thanks for the hard work and be careful of the statistics.

  36. Rob, you do a great job and work your butt off. I've been a Rebel fan for 25 years and have read thousands of articles from dozens of different beat writers covering the Rebels. You are by far my favorite and seem to be the hardest working one yet. It was sad to hear about the layoffs at the Sun. I am however glad that you were retained. Keep up the good work.

  37. Sorry to hear about your layoff Rob. You did an amazing job of covering the Rebels and brought a lot joy to us Rebel fans over the course of your time with the Sun. Wish you the best of luck where ever life takes you.

  38. Rob, sorry to hear about the layoff as well. You worked your ass off and your hard work is very much appreciated by those that have had the opportunity to read it. Good luck and thanks for changing the way most of us are able to digest Runnin' Rebel news.

  39. I cannot believe this news. ROB DOES NOT DESERVE THIS!!! He is the best reporter the Sun has. I hope this news about him being let go is false.

    If Rob has been let go, Me and many other Rebels fans will stop visiting this site.

  40. BOOOOOOOO!!! Rob was the man!!! I come to this site every day when I wake up for my rebel news, if he's gone I will go elsewhere.

  41. If Rob is gone, so are the readers.

  42. what a shame. My Sun bookmark will now be removed from my computer. Sad really.

  43. wait what are you guys serious? Ok, rebelwithacause said sorry to hear about the layoffs, but is glad Rob was retained (meaning kept on staff). Then all of you started going off about how Rob just got laid off. Do you guys know something I don't, or do you really not know what the word retained means?

  44. We all have heard Rob has been fired. And so far, it sounds true. His twitter (associated just w/ UNLV stuff) has been deleted....

    We need to start getting a hold of sponsors and everything. This aggravates the hell out of me and just about everyone else. Traffic on here will start going WAY down.

  45. I like Steve Jones however if we reduce the rotation he has to be the first to sit. I've gone to every Rebel game and the things I would like to see:1) Mat Shaw needs to work on his pick and roll every time he sets a pick he doesn't roll to the hoop and finish strong 2) I would like to see Kendall Wallace get more playing time. He is our best pure shooter let him float around the 3 point line and be ready for an outlet pass. It almost seems unfair to make him play one on one he gets crossed over to easily which leads to points and team fouls. Maybe play zone when he's in but he can't cover quick guards. I feel bad for him he is set up to fail trying to cover guards so far out.3) I hate to see Brice Masamba pick up cheap fouls trying to trap guards and quicker big men let him pick them up at the 3 point lane.
    But the positives are there! Go Rebs!

  46. coach rico, you're hired

  47. Where the heck does it say anything about Rob being let go?

  48. If it is true that you were let go Rob, I am extremely sorry to hear that. I've always enjoyed your thoughts about the Rebels, but more than that I have always respected the way you expressed them. I especially have always been fond of the way you interact with us fans and posters on your articles. You're always willing to defend your opinions and call others out on their bull, but always do so with the utmost professionalism. Your insight and passion in digging deep for the story will be sincerely missed. Best of luck to you in your future endevors.

  49. To those of you missing Rob and Ron,

    Those of us still at the Sun miss them, too. We are all saddened by this loss. They both were valued colleagues and good friends. There is no way to truly and fully replace writers with the talent, experience and knowledge of these two (consider them the senior point guard and shooting guard of our sports coverage, if you will). However, I promise that we will continue to cover UNLV sports better, deeper and more often than any other publication (and better than all the rest put together, even).

    Ryan Greene has covered Division-I athletics for almost a decade now, including the recent national championship season for the Kansas Jayhawks men's basketball team. Ray Brewer, who has been helping out with Rebels coverage and will continue to do so, knows more about Southern Nevada sports than just about any other three people combined. And the Sun's Christine Killimayer will continue to produce the highest quality online video coverage of the Rebels you can find.

    And, speaking of the Jayhawks, two people who work directly with Greene -- myself and online executive editor Rob Curley -- both grew up bleeding crimson and blue. Neither of us can imagine covering UNLV hoops at anything less than the level of craziness the team and its fans deserve.

    We will truly miss Rob and Ron in a number of ways beyond what you read in the newspaper and online. However, we are fully confident that our Rebels coverage will not drop or falter as the teams continue to get better and better.

    But don't think for a second that we don't wish Rob and Ron were still here.

    Levi Chronister
    Las Vegas Sun