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In Noah Robotham, Rebels have point guard in waiting

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Steve Marcus

Noah Robotham passes the ball during UNLV Runnin’ Rebels basketball practice at Mendenhall Center Monday, July 31, 2017.

A point guard is supposed to be an extension of his coach on the floor, and in the case of Noah Robotham, that extends off the court as well.

Robotham transferred to UNLV this offseason after three years at Akron, and he's sitting out this season as a redshirt before playing his final campaign in 2018-19. But how he ended up at UNLV is a testament to his link with the coaching staff. And his meticulous thought process.

A Bishop Gorman grad, Robotham returned to Las Vegas after announcing his transfer from Akron in March. While he was looking for a new school, UNLV head coach Marvin Menzies was looking for an experienced point guard to provide some backcourt insurance in 2018, as current starter Jordan Johnson is set to graduate this year.

So what did Robotham and Menzies do? They asked around. Menzies talked to his local Las Vegas hoops contacts in search of a floor general, and the suggestion that kept coming back was Robotham.

"He was very highly recommended by the locals," Menzies says. "People whose basketball opinions I respect. [They said] he's a winner."

So assistant coach Rob Jeter, who had previously recruited Robotham out of high school during his time as head coach at Milwaukee, reached out. Would Robotham be interested in sitting out a year — other schools wanted him as a potential grad transfer, to play in 2017-18 — and joining the hometown team?

Robotham is not rash. Growing up in Las Vegas, he had always been a big fan of the program, but the previous administration hadn't been interested and did not recruit him out of high school. So he approached it from a dispassionate point of view. Before he made a decision, he wanted all the information.

So he did some investigating of his own.

His mother is from New Mexico and follows basketball, and they have other family in Las Cruces, so Robotham knew about Menzies' accomplishments as coach at New Mexico State. But he wanted to know more.

He talked to his old high school coach, Grant Rice. If anyone had reason to hold a grudge against UNLV, it would be him. His brother, Dave, was fired by the school and replaced (eventually) by Menzies. But Grant encouraged Robotham to seriously consider it.

Robotham got a second opinion from former Gorman teammate Ben Carter, who was a Runnin' Rebel at the time of the coaching change and met Menzies before transferring to Michigan State. Again, a positive review.

"I kind of asked around," Robotham says. "Ben, he was contemplating whether he was staying here or not, and even though he left to go to Michigan State, he spoke very highly of coach Menzies. And even coach Rice at Gorman, he was a big proponent. He told me that he thought I should come to UNLV. He had no harsh feelings, even though his brother was fired from here. He told me he thought it would be a great fit for me."

When Robotham finally sat down with Menzies, he found the coach to be authentic. And when it came time to talk hoops, Robotham found they were on the same wave length.

"When I sat down and met him, he just seemed like a very genuine person," Robotham says. "He just seemed like he really cared about me. The questions he was asking me were about so much more than basketball. And then when the X's and O's came, obviously he was very knowledgeable about the game and it seemed like he was a coach with a system that would work well for me."

A deal was struck. Robotham would redshirt this season as a walk-on — the Rebels were already at the scholarship limit — then play his final season as a fifth-year senior in 2018-19. He found his ideal landing spot, and Menzies found his experienced leader at point guard.

Now it's up to Robotham to play the role.

On the court, Robotham has produced at every level. He was one of the best players in Bishop Gorman history and was named the state's Gatorade Player of the Year as a senior after posting 16 points and 7.1 assists per game. He started as a freshman at Arkon and gave the Zips three solid years, averaging 9.4 points and 3.3 assists while making 38.5 percent of his 3-pointers.

That's exactly the type of steady play UNLV could use at point guard next year. With Johnson gone, the lone backcourt holdover will be Amauri Hardy, with incoming recruits Trey Woodbury and Bryce Hamilton also expected to assume substantial roles in the backcourt.

Hardy will be a sophomore, and while he is projected to be the program's point guard of the future, it will help to have a veteran like Robotham around to guide the youngsters.

It's one of the biggest reasons why Menzies wanted to bring in a player with Robotham's resume, and Menzies already sees his "coach on the floor" assuming those duties.

"He's already been a great addition in practice," Menzies says. "He's a true point guard. He's heady, he's mature, he's an awesome leader and he's a really good teammate. He's a buy-in guy. He does some things that make it appealing because he's a coach's player. He's the kind of guy that coaches love to coach because of his attitude toward receiving coaching and following instruction and then giving instruction to the team. He's a really good communicator. With high-character kids like that, if you can acclimate them into your program, even if it's just for a year, why wouldn't you?"

Though Robotham can't play in games this season, he says he's putting in work every day to learn the Menzies' system. He's also putting in extra time to learn about and bond with his teammates, especially the ones who will be on the court with him when he becomes eligible next year.

"When you're trying to mentor someone, the quickest way is to get to know them off the court," Robotham says. "Everyone responds to different ways of teaching. It's hard to tell someone what to do if you're not on the same level personally. I think just getting to know the guys is something I can provide for those players. When I first got here, Amauri was the only one I was really talking to, so we developed a really good bond. Everyone has unique personalities. Basketball is one of those things you have to develop off the court but earn respect by showing what you can do on the court."

Hardy, who is averaging 5.2 points and 1.7 assists so far this season, has taken to Robotham's brand of mentorship.

"Noah, he's a cool guy," Hardy says. "He shows a lot of leadership in practice. He comes to practice every day and plays hard. I've talked to him a lot. I'm real cool with him, and I think he has a lot to offer this team."

While the Rebels have rebounded from their disastrous 2016-17 season and look like a good bet to eclipse the 20-win mark this year, it will be up to Robotham — and his young apprentices in the backcourt — to take Menzies' rebuilding plan to the next level in 2018-19.

Robotham cites a Mountain West championship as the biggest goal for his final season, and he notes that while he has started more than 80 games in his collegiate career and reached three conference title games at Akron, he has never been part of a team that made it to the NCAA tournament.

So while he sits out this season, he's also planning ahead. He's studying the system, his current teammates, his future teammates — especially Hardy, Hamilton and Woodbury — and working on being the Rebels' coach on the floor.

"I think I'm ready for it," he says. "I don't know what next season holds, but I think it's something where all of us are going to need to play well in order for next year to be successful. If I am in that role, I feel I can help those guys out."

Mike Grimala can be reached at 702-948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Mike on Twitter at twitter.com/mikegrimala.

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