Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017 | 2 a.m.
There were times last season when the UNLV basketball team was entirely too quiet.
In a sport that requires constant communication between teammates as the action unfolds on the court, the Rebels simply weren’t very talkative. Whether it was due to the mix of personalities, a team-wide lack of confidence or some other reason, head coach Marvin Menzies found himself perplexed by his introverted roster.
To that end, the Rebels hit the road over the weekend, trekking to Mesquite for a team-building retreat with an unusual twist.
Conducted by former Navy SEALs and ex-military special forces personnel, the two-day session featured intense physical workouts, but the players may have been better served by the leadership and communication training.
“It’s more of a mental-toughness builder than it is a physical fitness event,” said assistant coach Andre LaFleur. “To see how the military teaches and communicates to bring a unit together is just phenomenal. I thought our team did a great job with it.”
LaFleur said his teams participated in similar activities during his time as an assistant at Providence. This is the first time under Menzies that UNLV has used this type of training service.
On Day 1, UNLV players did conditioning work involving tires, logs and other props, then had a 4 a.m. wake-up call for Day 2. The second day featured work in the pool, and in one harrowing exercise, the players who can’t swim had to jump into the deep end and rely on teamwork to make it to safety.
“The intention of it is to put them in adverse situations and see how they respond,” LaFleur said. “They had to come together, forming leadership among the group. We got to see who our stronger leaders were and how people responded to leadership under adverse situations. I thought it was a very good tool for us to see where we are today and where we are going to get our leadership from with this team.”
LaFleur said the team’s three returners from last year — senior Jovan Mooring, junior Kris Clyburn and sophomore Cheickna Dembele — stood out as effective leaders and communicators.
LaFleur also singled out Dembele as a player who has benefited from the team’s offseason strength and conditioning program.
“Cheickna Dembele did a great job out there,” LaFleur said. “He’s mature beyond his years. He’s put a lot of work into his body and it’s starting to show, because his confidence level is morphing him into a leader. Last year he was a freshman, he didn’t really know much, he hadn’t played basketball that much. I think we’re going to see a jump in his production this year.”
The reloaded Rebels are hoping to play at a faster pace this season, so conditioning will be paramount. LaFleur said the team tweaked some of its offseason program, focusing more on endurance. The Rebels have been spending their Fridays at an on-campus track, running stairs while toting bricks in order to increase their stamina.
“We’ve tried to be pretty creative and have a lot of variety in the way we’re training them,” LaFleur said, “because we want to play an uptempo style. So we’re going to have to be in a lot better condition than the teams we’re playing against.
The entire team has been put through their paces, but the coaches are especially asking a lot of their big men.
“We want our bigs to be able to get out and run. We think we’re athletic enough with our bigs to be able to rim run every time down the court. I don’t think a lot of bigs are going to want to run with us all the time. We’re trying to do things at 100 percent. Everybody’s got to be in shape.”
After this offseason, the UNLV coaching staff will likely have two main edicts for the players when practice begins on Sept. 30: Be ready to run, and be loud.