Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016 | 2 a.m.
Less than a week before the team will make its 2016-17 debut in an exhibition game against Dakota Wesleyan, the Rebels introduced themselves Wednesday night to a couple hundred fans on campus outside of the UNLV Student Union. The Runnin’ Rebel Rally was certainly more subdued than last year’s pyrotechnics-heavy dunk contest downtown, but for junior Dwayne Morgan any opportunity to get out and meet fans is exciting.
“We play for Vegas, we play for UNLV, so anytime we get a chance to come out here and interact with our fans, other students, little kids that look up to us, it’s nothing but a pleasure,” Morgan said.
Morgan is one of the few guys on the roster that locals have seen play before, or just seen period. In that way the smaller crowd size served as a good opportunity for meet-and-greets from the players’ introductions on stage to the autograph line down a row of tables.
When first-year coach Marvin Menzies grabbed the microphone he talked first about the familial atmosphere of his Rebels, then went into performer mode and started rabble-rousing the crowd.
“We’re all Rebels, we’re all one family and they pissed us off to be honest, they didn’t really rank us where I think we should’ve been ranked, but I kind of like that chip,” Menzies said, referencing preseason polls that have UNLV mostly from eighth to last in the Mountain West. “I told my boys, ‘You better get ready.’”
“When you don’t get high rankings early, it gives you a little edge. So every single night we’re going to bring the pain, we’re going to bring energy, we’re going to bring passion. We’re going to persevere through everything. There’s going to be wins and there’s going to be losses, but we’re going to celebrate this thing at the end of the day because these guys are going to be ready, trust me.”
The “Us vs. the World” or “Nobody believes in us” mentalities are commonplace throughout sports whether they really fit the situation or not. Right now for the Rebels it fits and they’re wearing it with pride, from Menzies saying the “right folks” were there celebrating to Morgan embracing the underdog role.
“We’ve got a lot of critics right now but that’s expected with this group of players,” Morgan said. “Nobody really has a name like that, but we’re not really worried about names, we had names before so.”
Before the men’s introductions, the women’s basketball team took their turn on the stage and UNLV Athletics Director Tina Kunzer-Murphy spoke to the crowd. There were also some dance performances and not one, but two Hey Rebs, both the regular and inflatable version.
Morgan hasn’t been able to practice yet, one of a few Rebels still dealing with lingering injuries, but Menzies said before Tuesday’s practice that he hoped to have the full roster available early in the regular season. That begins on Friday, Nov. 11 against South Alabama, and before that are exhibition games Nov. 1 (Dakota Wesleyan) and Nov. 4 (New Mexico Highlands), all of them at the Thomas & Mack Center.
Limited availability at the Mack is a major reason UNLV went with the on-campus event as opposed to a scrimmage like they have done most years. Because of the Oct. 19 Presidential Debate and other events this week, Jerry Tarkanian Court won’t be set up for the first time until Halloween.
In the end that wasn’t a big deal to Menzies. It’s been an interesting offseason, to say the least, and he’s just excited to show people what the new Rebels can do.
“We’ve had challenges wherever we’ve been,” Menzies said of his career. “We have a few here, but you know what we’re going to win no matter what.”