Monday, Jan. 22, 2018 | 2 a.m.
MESQUITE — The bevy of sports action taking place in Southern Nevada lately isn’t limited to Las Vegas. It stretches at least as far as 80 miles north, where a new training complex is making an impact on the local sports scene in the rural town of Mesquite.
Rising Star Sports Ranch, just off of Interstate 15, is a hotel and sports mecca owned by the Lee family, which also operates the nearby Eureka resort.
The property has found early success since opening in October 2016, with an event booked every weekend through the end of March. Here’s how it works, and a look at some of the teams that have come through.
The crown jewel of the property is a 30,000-square-foot field house called “the Barn.” It can convert to house three full-size basketball courts, an indoor soccer field with turf and a number of other configurations.
“The reason that’s a big deal for the area is, for example, preseason football,” said Andre Carrier, president and COO of Rising Star. “It’s not a nice place to play outside during the summer. Instead of trying to beat the heat and starting practice at 5 a.m. or later in the day at 7 p.m., we had a high school program set up in here where it’s air conditioned for their summer programs.”
Nike Baseball had summer camps at Rising Star, doing everything but scrimmage indoors, then transitioning outside for evenings.
Rising Star’s outdoor facilities include basketball, volleyball and pickleball courts. There’s also a lighted field that can be used for football, soccer or lacrosse, and four 70-foot batting cages and an infield for baseball and softball practice. Finally, an area called “the Backyard” is set up for families and teams to relax and unwind.
The resort isn’t exclusively open to tournaments and camps, however, as amenities like the Backyard are open to hotel guests.
The property offers 210 rooms, including ones designed for large teams that feature bunk beds and can accommodate up to 12 people. And there are robots.
Robot assistants are stationed on each floor, helping keep track of who is in and out of their rooms, telling guests if they’re being too loud and delivering room service.
“The kids really get a kick out of seeing a robot come to their room,” Carrier said. “It’s become an attraction in its own right.”
Meeting and event space is covered with a versatile 7,500-square-foot venue that’s been used for everything from coaching summits to dinners for large tournaments.
More traditional amenities include an arcade room, a resort-style pool and an on-site restaurant, the Victory Kitchen, that can seat as many as 400 people.
Rising Star thrives on attracting teams to its property, and its highest-profile group might have been one from down the road. The UNLV men’s basketball team used the resort as part of an off-season program that coach Marvin Menzies credited for the Rebels’ strong start to the season.
The team spent a few days at Rising Star taking part in “the Program,” a plan developed by Navy SEALs.
“It was more than team building,” Menzies said. “It taught the team how to handle a challenging situation and ... teach them how to deal with those situations. It was good for communication, and it was good for the bonding aspect as well.”
Menzies said it was particularly beneficial for a team such as the Rebels, who were trying to develop chemistry after severe roster turnover.
Menzies was so impressed by the facilities that he said he could see making it a regular stop.
“The way Rising Star is set up, it’s perfect for large and small groups, and the staff did a phenomenal job making it seamless for us,” he said. “From the meeting rooms to the meals to the facilities, we will definitely go back and utilize the facility and the program again.”
Nevada Desert Dogs
Rising Star has its own team too.
The Nevada Desert Dogs kicked off the inaugural season of the eight-team North American Premier Basketball League on Jan. 12 at the Barn with a 119-115 loss to the Vancouver Knights.
Paul Mokeski, a former University of Kansas star and 11-year NBA veteran, coaches the team. As a longtime NBA assistant and coach in other professional leagues, Mokeski said was impressed by the level of play in the league.
NAPB players make between $1,500 and $5,000 per month.
“This is not college ball,” he said. “I think all the people who came out there were pleasantly surprised. It’s professional, and the players are really good. When you come out (to a game), you’re really close and can see all the action. I think it will work out really well for the league and for the team.”
The town of about 22,000 residents has supported the team at the Barn, which seats up to 3,000 for Desert Dogs’ games.
“We’ve had some good crowds so far,” he said. “With it being smaller, it’s really intimate. When it gets loud in there, it gets really, really loud.”
Teams play 32 games a season, with four home games per month. Several players from Las Vegas are on the roster, including former Bishop Gorman High School and University of Oregon great Johnathan Loyd.
Also housed at Rising Star is Planet Athlete, a basketball program for students who live at the resort while studying at the nearby College of Southern Nevada Mesquite campus.
This year’s team is made up of players from seven states and four countries. They all received college basketball scholarship offers from lower-tier schools or divisions, and are looking to raise their stock.
“These are kids who didn’t get into the school they wanted because they didn’t qualify academically, so they’re here doing SAT prep and or they’re trying to get to that next level of school,” Carrier said. “Maybe a Division II or Division III kid trying to get into a Division I school, or a better Division I program.”
The team travels throughout the U.S. playing other preparatory and post-prep schools, including local powerhouse Findlay Prep.
Eric Bowman has coached the team, which was previously based in Phoenix, for the past decade. He jumped at the chance to bring it to Rising Star when the resort reached out.
“When this opportunity came, they wanted to help the kids and the program; it was a great thing for us,” Bowman said. “We’re blessed that they made the room for us to be here.
“This is a beautiful facility. The overall resources at Rising Star, from the rooms, the food and the use of conference rooms for classes, is great and would be hard to find anywhere else.”