Saturday, Dec. 9, 2017 | 2 a.m.
Do different areas of the country produce different types of basketball players? The UNLV backcourt thinks so.
When senior shooting guard Jovan Mooring, a Chicago native, was asked this week what trait is commonly possessed by ballers from his hometown, his answer was unequivocal.
“Toughness,” Mooring said.
And he wasn’t done there.
“Just pure toughness,” he continued. “A lot of guys that play on the West Coast, they wouldn’t be able to last playing in Chicago. You’ve got a lot of guys that are great [in Chicago] that don’t even make it to Division I basketball or the NBA. There’s just a lot of tough basketball players out there.”
Senior point guard Jordan Johnson, another Chicago-area product, backed up Mooring’s scouting report.
“I agree,” Johnson said. “It’s just how they come up and how they were raised.”
Why is the toughness of Chicago players suddenly relevant? Because Illinois will be in town today (MGM Grand Garden Arena, 9 p.m.), and that game will represent UNLV’s final opportunity to add another quality nonconference win this season.
And while Illinois boasts a strong frontcourt, led by junior forwards Leron Black (14.8 points, 5.6 rebounds per game) and Michael Finke (11.7 points, 5.6 rebounds), the Rebels can counter with their Windy City backcourt of Mooring and Johnson.
Of course, UNLV has a strong frontcourt of its own, with Brandon McCoy and Shakur Juiston both enjoying tremendous campaigns. But if the game comes down to a battle of wills, the Rebels are in good hands with their Chicago-approved guards.
UNLV coach Marvin Menzies said Mooring and Johnson bring a necessary toughness to the Rebels.
“They do,” Menzies said. “Both of them have a high level of confidence, a high level of grittiness to their game. The competitive edge they both bring to the table, obviously you need that on the floor to win.”
Mooring is a tough defender who leads UNLV in charges taken, while Johnson plays much bigger than his listed height of 5-foot-9. Johnson and Mooring have attempted the second- and third-most free throws on the team, respectively, trailing only the 7-foot McCoy.
When Menzies defines toughness, that fearlessness in attacking the rim is a major factor.
“[Guys who] get to the ground first,” Menzies said. “Guys that aren’t scared, don’t shy away from contact going up for layups, and kind of invite the contact and then finish in spite of the contact. There’s a mental toughness we like to look for.”
Mooring, who is averaging 13.9 points and a team-high 1.3 steals, said it’s easy to spot tough players, whether they’re teammates or opponents.
“You can see it in a guy who just doesn’t want to lose,” Mooring said. “A guy that just does anything to get an extra possession, any guy that just lives in the moment. It’s those type of guys that you can tell really want to win.”
The Rebels have at least two guys who fit that description, and if they play tougher than Illinois on Saturday, UNLV will improve to 8-2 on the season.