Tuesday, March 27, 2018 | 1:01 p.m.
UNLV freshman Brandon McCoy took the expected step of declaring for the NBA Draft today, bringing his collegiate career with the Runnin' Rebels to an end after one season.
McCoy made the announcement via his Instagram page:
McCoy came to UNLV as a five-star recruit and turned in one of the best freshman seasons in the program's history. He started all 33 games at center and averaged a team-high 16.9 points, 10.3 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in 28.8 minutes, earning Mountain West Freshman of the Year honors.
A Chicago native who played his high-school ball in San Diego, McCoy was touted as a recruit who could potentially revive UNLV after the team went 11-21 in 2016-17. Head coach Marvin Menzies got McCoy to commit last April, and with the 7-footer leading the way, the Rebels rebounded to go 20-13 this season.
Now, almost exactly 11 months after committing to UNLV, the 7-footer is heading to the professional ranks. His future there is uncertain; NBADraft.net and Bleacher Report currently project McCoy as a late first-round pick, while Sports Illustrated and CBS Sports have him falling out of the first round.
Under NCAA rules, underclassmen can declare for the NBA and work out for teams in order to solicit feedback about their draft stock. As long as they don't sign with an agent, the players can then decide whether to remain in the draft or return to college with their eligibility intact.
A source said McCoy intends to sign with an agent, which would make him ineligible to return to UNLV.
Menzies praised McCoy's contributions to UNLV on and off the court.
"Brandon was an amazing addition to our program and helped to legitimize our ability to recruit top-tier talent," Menzies said. "His commitment to his academics is real and I am confident he will continue to work toward his bachelor's degree from UNLV. Even though his time here was short, it was great having him as a part of the program. I am confident he will have a successful career at the next level based on his dedication, commitment, ability and overall character."
What McCoy's departure means for UNLV:
Void in the middle
Replacing McCoy's offensive production won't be easy. He was UNLV's top scorer, and he did it with great efficiency (54.5 percent from the field, 1.011 points per possession). He also carried a huge load on a nightly basis, registering a team-high usage rate of 27.5 percent. Can the Rebels possibly replace that next season?
One man probably won't be able to duplicate McCoy's statistics. But the combination of Shakur Juiston and Mbacke Diong might be able to assume most of McCoy's minutes without much of an overall drop in play.
Juiston was McCoy's equal offensively in 2017-18, posting 14.6 points on 63.9 percent shooting, and he finished second in usage rate at 21.7 percent. Given a few more offensive opportunities, Juiston should be able to bump his scoring up to McCoy's range as a senior next year.
On the other end of the court, McCoy was not much of a factor and was sometimes benched in favor of the more defensive-minded Diong in late-game situations. Assuming Diong is able to reduce his foul rate and play more minutes (he committed a team-high 8.6 fouls per 40 minutes late year), the improved defense could help make up for the loss of McCoy's offense.
It won't be easy, but given Menzies' track record of getting the absolute most out of his big men, it's reasonable to believe he'll be able to make a Juiston/Diong platoon work for the Rebels.
McCoy's exit for the NBA will give the Rebels four scholarships opening up for next season: McCoy (NBA), Jordan Johnson (graduation), Jovan Mooring (graduation) and Anthony Smith (suspended/dismissed). With three of those scholarships earmarked for incoming high-school recruits Bryce Hamilton, Trey Woodbury and Joel Ntambwe, that leaves one opening still unaccounted for.
The obvious candidate for the final scholarship is senior point guard Noah Robotham. The Akron transfer practiced with UNLV as a redshirt in 2017-18, but he paid his own way and didn't take up a scholarship spot. Robotham is projected to play a big role for the Rebels in 2018-19, so it would make sense to put him on scholarship, but that's not a given.
If Menzies and his staff want to add another player over the offseason — say, another shooter or a big body to help up front — they would either have to convince Robotham to pay his own way again, or nudge another current player to transfer.
The good news is that McCoy was a one-and-done from the start, so Menzies has had plenty of time to prepare for his departure and plan the next recruiting class accordingly.
How will McCoy be remembered at UNLV? He put up big offensive numbers, struggled defensively, and led the team to modest success on the court. When compared to the history of the UNLV program, his accomplishments are only moderately noteworthy.
But with proper context, McCoy's importance becomes more evident. Not too long ago, UNLV was on the verge of irrelevancy, coming off an 11-21 season and with no real prospects for turning things around. Then McCoy committed — along with touted prospects like Juiston and Amauri Hardy — and suddenly the Rebels were back in the conversation.
Recruiting is the lifeblood of college sports, and as Menzies said in his statement, McCoy's decision to go to UNLV — even for just one season — made it okay for other talented kids to consider the Rebels as a viable destination. Menzies can now court elite prospects with a straight face, and that is the single most important factor in UNLV's rebuilding process.