Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Friday, May 7, 2010 | 2:15 a.m.
After a few wild weeks of offseason activity within the UNLV men's basketball program, Ryan Greene and Ray Brewer sit down to get you all caught up to speed on what happened, plus give you a look at where things are headed as a result.
The advantage of heavy depth last season for the UNLV men's basketball team was that it helped the Rebels compensate for injuries without skipping a beat — or at least as few beats as possible.
Now, instead of having to think on the fly in the midst of a hectic schedule, coach Lon Kruger and his staff will have plenty of time to figure out how to fill a decent-sized void in the rotation.
Matt Shaw, who as a junior last season led the 25-9 Rebels in 3-point accuracy (45 percent) and was the team's fourth-leading scorer (7.0 ppg), failed an NCAA-administered drug test following UNLV's first-round exit from the tournament, ending his UNLV career a year early.
At 6-foot-8 and in the 240-pound range, Shaw filled a critical niche for UNLV, thanks to his ability to draw bigger defenders outside thanks to his long-range shooting. Plus, he was good for a bucket here and there on the interior, plus a few boards a night.
With his absence, junior-to-be Brice Massamba is UNLV's only returning true big man off of last year's roster.
Now the focus will shift toward a couple of new additions — 6-foot-8 sophomore Kansas transfer Quintrell Thomas and 6-foot-11 redshirt freshman Carlos Lopez. The Rebels aren't short on 3-point shooters, so rather than filling that void, Lopez and Thomas are being asked to provide some punch inside first and foremost.
Should he qualify academically, 6-foot-11 incoming freshman Henry Buckley is expected to redshirt next season.
"They'll step in right away, and to what degree is hard to say," Kruger said. "They're both young. Carlos, of course, is a freshman, and Quintrell didn't play much as a freshman at Kansas. Any time you have those situations, like Chace (Stanback) last year and Tre (Willis) the year before, people often forget that it's really two years since they've really played."
The early rust was shaken off by Willis, who played sparingly as a freshman at Memphis, and Stanback, who sported a similar role as a frosh at UCLA, and the duo is now one of the top one-two punches in the Mountain West Conference, combining to average 27.9 points a game last season.
The returning players recently completed postseason individual workouts with the coaching staff, and the two being watched maybe the closest are Lopez and Thomas.
Kruger said he can easily see the potential in both of them.
With Lopez, for anyone who watched UNLV practice last season while the Findlay Prep product ran with the scout team, it's known that the rare skill-set is there.
At just under seven feet, Lopez runs the floor well, can score from anywhere out to 3-point range and has nice ball-handling skills.
He plays the same inside-out style that Stanback employs at 6-foot-8, but Kruger said the goal this offseason for Lopez is to continue to make sure he's ready for the rigors that the "inside" portion of that will present.
Lopez entered the UNLV program last summer at 198 pounds, and under the watch of strength & conditioning guru Jason Kabo, he was at 210 pounds by early February. Along with the strength and more imposing build came visible confidence for the Puerto Rico native on the practice floor.
Kruger said that Lopez will enter the summer floating anywhere from between 215 to 218.
"Developing strength is the biggest thing for him," he said. "He'll always have good instincts. He has good activity; he's rangy and does a lot of things. He'll develop into an outstanding player, it'll just be a process, and it'll be an exciting one."
Physical prowess has never been the issue for Thomas.
While spending much of his freshman season with the Jayhawks mostly wearing his warm-ups, Thomas battled the likes of future NBA center Cole Aldrich on a daily basis at practice.
A natural bull on the interior, Thomas returned from shoulder surgery mid-way through this past season and immediately turned heads at practice.
"He competes hard, should give us a little more of a physical presence," Kruger said. "He'll polish things up, developing those skills facing the bucket. He's a good rebounder, good, tough guy inside."
The offense Thomas can contribute next season as a redshirt sophomore might be looked at as a bonus, as his rebounding is what is needed the most right off the bat.
The Rebels were out-rebounded in all but two of their nine losses last season, including their final five setbacks. In the nine defeats, UNLV's opponents held an average rebounding margin of +6.8.
UNLV's two leading rebounders were a pair of swingmen — Stanback (5.8 rpg) and junior guard Derrick Jasper (4.9). Shaw, Massamba and departing senior Darris Santee — the Rebels three true bigs — combined to pull down 8.4 caroms a game.
Even if Thomas doesn't post huge rebounding numbers early, the presence of his natural attack-the-glass-at-all-costs attitude could prove to be contagious.
Where Kruger said observers might see the biggest change over time in the 245-pound Newark, N.J., native is in his offense.
"He's pretty comfortable being physical inside, but he can make the mid-range jumper, and he's a very good offensive rebounder," he said. "I think with time, he'll improve his skills on the perimeter, face up a little bit more, become more of a face-up guy."
The case of the final scholarship
UNLV had a nice get in landing 6-foot-8 UCLA transfer Mike Moser, but after missing out on a trio of prep prospects — Findlay guard Cory Joseph, Bishop Gorman guard Johnathan Loyd and Westchester (Calif.) High forward Dwayne Polee Jr. — don't get your hopes up in terms of UNLV filling its last open scholarship with an unsigned prospect in the 2010 senior class.
More than likely, that spot will be rolled over into the 2011 class, which would then have four openings to go along with 6-foot-6 forward Grandy Glaze, who committed in March and is ranked by Rivals.com as the No. 83 junior in the country.
"We'll keep our options open, but we're not really expecting anything to happen," Kruger said. "Having that available to carry over, there's nothing wrong with that. When you only lose two seniors from last year, it gives you a little more flexibility and patience."