Monday, July 27, 2015 | 2 a.m.
Being the first school to show interest and offer a prospect a scholarship doesn’t guarantee a program will sign that recruit. But it doesn’t hurt..
Andre Rafus, 6-foot-9 class of 2017 forward from Baltimore, fished through a backpack for his cell phone following Team Melo 16U’s victory last Thursday morning at Eldorado High in the Bigfoot Hoops Las Vegas Classic. On the phone Rafus keeps a list, 18 long and growing, of the schools to offer him a scholarship, including UCLA, USC, UConn and the team that reached out before anyone else.
“UNLV was the first school to offer so they’ll always be in the mix when I trim my list down,” Rafus said.
There’s good reason that Rafus was on the Rebels’ radar early. He’s transferring this season, but for two years Rafus played at Baltimore’s St. Frances Academy, the same school as current Rebels Daquan Cook and Dwayne Morgan.
Cook, a redshirt junior, was already gone by the time Rafus got there. However, Morgan, a sophomore at UNLV, was a senior at St. Frances when Rafus was a freshman, and their practices together are something Rafus credits as part of his emergence.
“He pushed me,” Rafus said. “I think that’s what got me better my next year.”
UNLV offered a scholarship last summer after watching Rafus on Team Melo’s 15U squad and they’ve been keeping close tabs ever since as more and more schools have taken interest.
With everyone’s schedules packed during the summer’s final live period it was a small crowd Thursday morning, only four college coaches in attendance for the majority of the game. Two of them were UNLV coach Dave Rice and assistant Todd Simon, who saw the lanky Rafus sink some outside jumpers, crash the boards and try to build on what he sees as his best path to overall success in basketball.
“I want to be more of a lockdown defender so that I can really guard any position, because that would make me stay on the floor the whole game and that’s what I want,” Rafus said.
Next year Rafus will play at Roselle Catholic High in New Jersey, a change from his original plan to transfer to St. Benedict’s Prep, which is also in New Jersey. St. Benedict’s has a national profile similar to Henderson’s Findlay Prep — two years ago St. Benedict’s knocked Findlay out of the National High School Invitational semifinals — and Rafus decided he wanted something closer to a traditional high school experience.
“I want my high school years to be fun and enjoy myself, because once college comes there’s no going back,” he said.
The impetus for transferring in the first place comes from a desire to free himself from a city in which he doesn’t feel safe. Rafus has already had multiple friends killed and he believes his best path to the future lays somewhere else.
“I love my city but the violence that’s going on there isn’t the best right now,” Rafus said. “My mom wants me to get out of Baltimore.”
Similar feelings brought both Cook and Morgan to the desert, and Rafus said he’s heard only positive reviews ever since. He’s done some of his own homework, too, including getting familiar with the program’s past and the coach who was run out of town years before Rafus was born.
“I know that UNLV had a whole lot of greats, including one of the greatest coaches in college basketball,” Rafus said. “I always keep that in mind, not just the program now but the history to it.”