Tuesday, June 26, 2018 | 2 a.m.
For Marvin Menzies, this summer could represent a turning point in his effort to rebuild UNLV basketball.
Menzies and his staff have done a yeoman job on the recruiting trail in the two years since he was hired. Last summer he brought in top-level prospects like 5-star center Brandon McCoy, 2017 junior college player of the year Shakur Juiston and 4-star guard Amauri Hardy, and the incoming 2018 class is headlined by 4-star guards Bryce Hamilton and Trey Woodbury. That’s quite a haul, considering the state of the program when Menzies took over.
The summer of 2018 presents an even bigger opportunity to accelerate UNLV’s rebuilding timetable. While those previous recruiting classes were built on the fly, and in some cases constructed with unwanted players who had slipped through the cracks, Menzies has been zeroing in on the 2019 and 2020 crops for quite some time. Recruiting blue-chip basketball prospects is a years-long process, and Menzies has had time to put in those necessary years with the players in the Classes of 2019 and 2020.
With at least two scholarships set to open in 2019-20 due to the graduation of Juiston and Kris Clyburn, and at least two more opening for the 2020-21 season with the departure of Cheickna Dembele and Djordjije Sljivancanin, UNLV has a chance to add a bunch of talented core players over the next two years.
A look at some of the game-changers on UNLV’s recruiting radar:
Class of 2019
IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.)
Rivals rank: No. 16
Green may be the best example of Menzies’ long-term approach to recruiting. Under normal circumstances, the Rebels would be considered a long shot to land a 5-star guard with offers from Kansas, Arizona, Villanova and Oregon. But Menzies had the foresight to offer a scholarship to 2017 guard Jay Green, Josh’s older brother, and so the Rebels have presumably had a man on the inside for the past year. With a current Rebel leading the recruiting pitch, it seems like UNLV will be in the running for Josh until the very end.
Lower Richland HS (Columbia, S.C.)
Rivals rank: No. 27
Brown is precisely the type of player UNLV has needed since Menzies took over: A versatile wing who has potential to be a game-changing defensive player. Brown also possesses superior slashing ability on offense, and he would instantly upgrade the Rebels’ athleticism on the perimeter. He made UNLV his first official visit last month, and the Rebels look to have a strong chance of landing him when he makes his decision in the fall.
Rivals rank: N/A
Hill isn’t ranked highly by the recruiting sites, but that recognition is bound to come by the end of the summer. Hill was one of the top performers during spring AAU sessions thanks to his combination of finishing ability, defensive versatility and toughness, and schools like Arizona, Oregon, Illinois and Utah have jumped in to court him. The Rebels are also on his trail, and it sounds like Hill is very amenable to staying close to home. Former Clark teammate Trey Woodbury will be a freshman at UNLV this season, so that should help the cause. This seems like a recruiting battle that Menzies should win.
Tennessee Prep (Memphis, Tenn.)
Rivals rank: No. 93
If the Rebels are looking for a Juiston replacement down the road, Collum could be the guy. A swing forward with the ability to play inside, Collum also brings a developing 3-point shot to the table. UNLV is among Collum’s final seven college choices, which he announced last week on Twitter.
Class of 2020
Rivals rank: No. 10
Strawther is UNLV’s top target in 2020, and with very good reason. The scoring prodigy is rated as one of the best players in the nation and he’s right in the Rebels’ backyard, and if that weren’t enough, his older sister Paris is currently a member of the Lady Rebels. Julian is coming off a season in which he averaged 23.9 points and 8.4 rebounds per game at Liberty, and much like Jalen Hill, Strawther seems open to staying in Las Vegas and playing his college ball for the hometown team. UNLV should eventually win this recruiting battle, but it won’t be easy with Gonzaga, Arizona, UCLA, Kansas and San Diego State all vying for his signature.
Rivals rank: No. 27
UNLV was the first school to offer Cottrell a scholarship two years ago, and most of the top West Coast programs have followed suit. Cottrell is a power forward who could develop into a physically imposing inside force at the college level. Menzies’ track record of nurturing productive post players could be the Rebels’ biggest advantage.
San Joaquin Memorial (Fresno, Calif.)
Rivals rank: No. 1
This one seems like a long shot, but maybe Menzies can work his recruiting magic over the next 14 months. Green is the top prospect in his class, and his insane mix of quickness, athleticism and shooting ability project him as a one-and-done player at the college level. UNLV has offered him a scholarship.
Rivals rank: No. 75
UNLV has lacked shooting under Menzies, but Taitz would go a long way toward changing that. He could end up being one of the best 3-point marksmen in the Class of 2020, and his quick release and long-range accuracy would give the Rebels a chance to keep up with the wide-open offenses in the Mountain West.