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May 26, 2022

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Emerging Canadian big man Matt Willms likes what he sees in Las Vegas and UNLV

6-foot-11 forward indicates that Dave Rice and UNLV have his utmost attention as he nears a decision

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Detroit Stars forward Matt Willms - a UNLV recruiting target - takes a shot Friday, July 22, 2011 during the Las Vegas Fab 48 tournament at Bishop Gorman.

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Detroit Stars forward Matt Willms - a UNLV recruiting target - takes a shot Friday, July 22, 2011 during the Las Vegas Fab 48 tournament at Bishop Gorman.

The Rebel Room

Recruiting season hits its peak

This week on Sports Talk - doubling as The Rebel Room podcast - Ray Brewer and Ryan Greene break down a busy recruiting month for Dave Rice and his UNLV men's basketball staff. The crazy weekend in Las Vegas included three big tournaments, and the the guys will fill you in on who the staff made sure to go watch, who has emerged as the primary recruiting targets and who could likely be the next commit - or two - in the class of 2012.

If you look at Matt Willms now, you'd never believe that he played competitive hockey for most of his life.

But that came to an end two years ago, when Willms, well, looked more like a hockey player.

Willms, who hails from Leamington, Ontario, located roughly 30 miles from Detroit, gave up his country's national pastime after the eighth grade. Then he was 5-foot-10. His dad told him that if he gave up hockey, he had to pick up another sport, and a 13-inch growth spurt over the next two years made the choice pretty easy.

"That's probably where I got my coordination — from hockey," Willms said.

At 6-11, he has a frame that needs some more bulk, but the coordination is key, as is his ability to run the floor smoothly. Right now, he's a solid player at his size, but it's the potential of what he could become a couple of years down the road that has grabbed the interest of the UNLV coaching staff.

On Friday afternoon, head coach Dave Rice, along with assistants Justin Hutson and Stacey Augmon, sat courtside for Willms' first game in the Fab48 tournament at Bishop Gorman. A school having one coach in attendance means they're intrigued. Three on hand means they're serious.

And when asked about the schools currently recruiting him, the Canadian forward hinted that UNLV has come at him the hardest in recent weeks.

The interest is mutual.

"I'm kind of liking UNLV," he said with a smile. "They're always saying how they're an uptempo team. That's the kind of player I am. I like an uptempo game, and I feel like that's what they'll have."

Willms was first contacted by UNLV a few weeks ago, before the July evaluation period began. His AAU coach with the Detroit Stars — Tyrone Lofton — is a Southern California native with a longstanding relationship with Augmon.

UNLV's level of interest increased rapidly, and he now already has a scholarship offer on the table. Other schools to show interest so far in Willms include Minnesota, St. Joseph's, Loyola Marymount and San Diego State.

It's all part of a rapid ascent since taking his game across the border to the United States full-time after last summer. That's when he moved in with relatives in Detroit and began attending Consortium Prep.

"Over in Canada, I wasn't getting what I needed," he said, referring to assistance both on the floor and in the classroom. "So I thought the decision to come over here would help."

Willms' game is still raw, but it's noticeable how high his ceiling is. He's a lefty who has decent touch on his mid-range shot, can finish in transition, is an instinctual shot-blocker and already a sound rebounder.

Rumors are swirling already that he could be close to becoming UNLV's second commit in the class of 2012, and it would be a great fit. The staff isn't in dire need to land an elite true big man in the class and could bring Willms along slowly and properly in helping him reach his potential.

He said he plans on sitting down with his parents, Bob and Joanne, who also were in attendance on Friday and are big fans of the Las Vegas weather, after July's evaluation period and could possibly have a decision made soon.

"It's a different atmosphere, but I can get used to it. I got used to Detroit," Willms said. "I like the location. I feel like I could do a lot in this city."

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