Friday, Dec. 4, 2015 | 2 a.m.
Was this a successful debut season for UNLV football coach Tony Sanchez? Is this going to be a successful stretch, starting with Friday's game against the Oregon Ducks, for UNLV basketball coach Dave Rice? Las Vegas Sun sports editor Ray Brewer and sports writers Case Keefer and Taylor Bern get into that and much more on this week's episode.
Ben Carter knows this might be hard to believe, but he doesn’t regret going to Oregon. Others close to the UNLV junior forward, including his father, might wish things had gone differently, but over the last year and a half in Vegas, Carter has always said he needed to get away before coming back home.
That didn’t change this week when Carter, a Bishop Gorman High grad who averaged 2.5 points and 2.4 rebounds in 11.3 minutes per game at Oregon, was asked about playing his former team Friday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
“I had a great time in my two years at Oregon,” said Carter, who this year is averaging 8.7 points and 6.5 rebounds in 23.1 minutes per game. “I understand (my father’s) frustrations but I don’t regret my time at Oregon at all.”
The National Finals Rodeo has taken over the Thomas & Mack Center, and this game is part of UNLV’s annual rodeo road trip. This is the first year under coach Dave Rice that that doesn’t include a game at Orleans Arena, and whether or not that arena works back into the mix the Strip is here to stay, as the Rebels have everything except the contract set up for a December 2016 game against Duke in the new Las Vegas Arena.
“Whether it’s here in the MGM Grand Garden or the new arena that we hope to play in next year, it just makes a lot of sense (to play on the Strip),” Rice said.
The last time UNLV played Oregon, Carter was a freshman helping the Ducks hand Rice his first career regular season loss at the Mack 83-79. Carter came off the bench to play 23 minutes, the second most of his 62-game career under coach Dana Altman, and contributed 12 points, five rebounds and an assist.
It was extra bitter for Rice because the guy he wanted left Las Vegas, then quickly returned and helped hand the home team a loss. Rice didn’t get over the recruiting loss until two years later, when Carter returned home for good.
“I was disappointed just because I know what he means to a program,” Rice said. “He’s a good player but he’s also a high basketball IQ guy and a great team guy, and there’s just something special about having a local guy in your program, especially someone like Ben Carter who has won his entire career.”
Carter helped win two state titles for Rice’s younger brother, coach Grant Rice, at Bishop Gorman High. That second title was the first of four straight for UNLV freshman Stephen Zimmerman Jr.
Mike Carter coached Ben Carter throughout the latter’s youth career. First it was tough for the coach to see his son leave, then it got worse as Ben Carter struggled to get off Oregon’s bench, which wasn’t helped by a nine-game suspension at the start of his sophomore season for selling shoes he received from the school.
Mike Carter was upset with a lot of things about Ben Carter’s career in Oregon. Rice didn’t see it that way and praised Altman, who in the last 17 full seasons at Oregon and Creighton has won less than 20 games only once.
“There’s no doubt that Carter came back a much better basketball player,” Rice said. “Every step along the way he’s gotten better, and Coach Altman had a big hand in that.”
Other than searching for a larger role, Carter couldn’t resist the same type of hometown hero status that kept Zimmerman in town. Carter has loved seeing his family daily, and from a scout-team star last year to a solid role player now, Carter always felt like he would work well under Rice.
“My relationship with Coach Rice is special to me,” Ben Carter said, “and it goes beyond basketball.”
This game goes a little beyond basketball for Carter, but ultimately it’s some extra juice in a contest the Rebels, who are healthy with everyone available, shouldn’t have a problem getting up for anyway. Rice is 6-8 all-time against top-15 teams, including last week’s victory against Indiana, and the Rebels could get another shot in a few weeks at Arizona.
In between they have two true road games at Wichita State and UC Riverside, plus another Pac-12 team, Arizona State, coming to the Mack. This is a big five-game stretch for UNLV, and Oregon is just the first one.
“He’s excited about the game, but he’s mature and he understands that this is another game on our schedule that’s important to what we’re trying to do,” Rice said.