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Bern’s Eye View: Projecting the best and worst scenarios for UNLV’s newcomers

The Rebels have seven guys who haven’t played or practiced with the team for a season, and their collective contributions will be key this year


Leila Navidi

Christian Wood of Findlay Prep runs down the court during their boys basketball game against Bishop Gorman at the South Point Arena in Las Vegas on Monday, January 7, 2013.

Editor's note: This is a new occasional feature offering the insights and opinions of UNLV beat writer Taylor Bern.

Thanks to Monday’s news, you no longer have to guess about on whom or when UNLV would use its final scholarship. A week before the fall semester begins, Jamal Aytes committed to the Rebels and then went to register for classes.

The end of that speculation means you can fully turn your 2013-14 attentions to the current roster, including the seven players who haven’t played or practiced with the team during the season before. Much like last season, the coaching staff must figure out how best to combine a group that features basically half returners and half newcomers.

With that in mind, I started thinking about the best- and worst-case scenarios for those seven new players. Examine and skewer as you see fit.

These projections aren’t truly the worst or best things that could happen, because for everyone that would just be either no minutes played or averaging 80 points per game -- although one newcomer does have a 73-point game on his resume, so maybe it’s not so far-fetched.

Anyway, this is how each guy could factor in this season and the realistic highs and lows he could reach:

    • Jamal Aytes, F, 6-6, 225

      Committed to UNLV on Monday

      Penthouse: The newest Rebel comes to campus with a body and game to contribute immediately. He’s not going to blow anyone away with athleticism, but that might contribute to his success. Underestimate him at your own risk. Aytes has ground to make up but his more refined game could push him past Savon Goodman for the top power forward spot.

      Basement: Every scouting report on Aytes mentions his mid-range shooting ability. That happens to be the lowest percentage shot on the court -- and it’s not a good idea to make your living there. Aytes is great at cleaning up shots and rebounds around the rim, so even on a bad night he seems capable of contributing, but a cold streak on mid-range shots could keep him out of the rotation.

    • Jelan Kendrick, G, 6-7, 210

      Committed to transfer to UNLV in October 2012

      Penthouse: The former McDonald’s All-American has the most potential of anyone in this group. He’s an athletic wing who can always get his shot off; if the pieces fall into place he could lead UNLV in scoring as the team’s breakout star.

      Basement: Kendrick’s biggest problem is he’s boom or bust. This is already his fourth college and, off-the-court concerns aside, a propensity to shoot quick 3-pointers and commit silly turnovers could remind fans of another recently departed wannabe point guard. His performance could turn out to be a referendum on the coaching staff’s decision-making and ability to handle personalities.

    • Kevin Olekaibe, G, 6-2, 180

      Transferred to UNLV in June 2013

      Penthouse: UNLV fans already know about the Cimarron-Memorial High grad’s ability to score. He averaged 17 points against the Rebels last year in two victories for Fresno State. The low-risk addition is planning to walk-on to the team and could carry the team to a couple of victories with his microwave offense.

      Basement: This week UNLV is submitting his waiver to play immediately; there’s no timetable for when the NCAA will announce its decision. Assuming he gets cleared, Olekaibe still has to adjust to a new system and new teammates in one season. There are enough guards that he could easily get lost in the shuffle. The good news is if it doesn’t pan out, Olekaibe isn’t taking up a scholarship.

    • DeVille Smith, G, 6-0, 175

      Committed to transfer to UNLV in March 2013

      Penthouse: If UNLV holds to coach Dave Rice’s pledge to finally play with some serious speed, then the blistering transfer guard seems like the favorite to start at the point. He’s a good shooter and could contribute some scoring but his highest potential is in being the floor general the Rebels so desperately need.

      Basement: Speed does not a point guard make. Smith has to learn the system and develop with his teammates in order to make them better on the court. Smith doesn’t really have a great fall-back position if he falters at point guard; he’s small for a shooting guard and would be behind several other players.

    • Kendall Smith, G, 6-2, 180

      Committed to UNLV in January 2013

      Penthouse: Smith has been on campus for a few months; the extra time in Las Vegas could give him a leg up in the point guard competition. His combo ability could also keep him on the court longer because Smith can easily transition between the two guard positions.

      Basement: There’s a reason you don’t see many freshman point guards on successful teams. It’s not an easy transition. Smith looks like a program guy who will be around for a while so there are worse things than struggling and getting lost in the shuffle this season.

    • UNLV signee Dantley Walker, left, poses with one of the companions he's worked with on his LDS mission in the Washington area. Nevada's all-time leading high school scorer, Walker will join the Rebels this summer after finishing his two-year mission.

      Dantley Walker, G, 5-11, 165

      Committed to UNLV in February 2011

      Penthouse: Go ahead and let your imagination run wild with this one. The state’s all-time leading scorer while playing for Lincoln County High once scored 73 points in a game and early reports from campus are his 3-point accuracy is just as good as he told the Sun it was back in May.

      Basement: Realistically? We probably won’t see Walker play for another year. It’s a crowded back court and for the past two years Walker, who is serving a mission, has only been able to play once a week. The competition will take a lot of getting used to and Walker hasn’t gotten any bigger, either.

    • Christian Wood, F, 6-10, 210

      Committed to UNLV in July 2011

      Penthouse: Wood’s quick acclimation to the college game could allow UNLV to play some twin towers offense with he and Khem Birch down in the post. If he’s athletic enough to make that work — meaning he could be a significant help in the full-court press — the sky’s the limit for Wood.

      Basement: Wood’s natural role is a stretch four, which puts him in the same group as Roscoe Smith and Goodman. He’s going to get an opportunity this year but there were times last year at Findlay Prep he had to be benched for effort. Any lingering signs of that this year could cause some problems and keep him off the court.

    Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Taylor on Twitter at twitter.com/taylorbern.

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