Friday, Nov. 2, 2018 | 2 a.m.
Mike Grimala and Case Keefer go over the fallout of yet another Rebels' rout after previously winless San Jose State put up 50 points to give UNLV a fifth straight loss.
UNLV freshman Bryce Hamilton is a star in the making on the basketball court, and as the headliner of the Rebels’ incoming recruiting class, he’ll be counted on to provide scoring punch right away this season. Away from the hardwood, however, he’s a normal, quiet, unassuming teenager.
When UNLV hosts Montana State-Billings in an exhibition game at 7 p.m. today, Hamilton will show his dazzling offensive skills and score the first of his many buckets as a Rebel. That’s a given. But Hamilton isn’t so concerned about scoring — he’s focused on being assertive in general and not letting his bashful side make an appearance.
The Rebels’ defensive schemes rely on players to communicate at all times, shouting at the top of their lungs to let teammates know who has which assignment and what to do next. A typical practice is a cacophony of screaming and hollering from all five players at once (plus several coaches). It gets loud.
For a reserved personality like Hamilton, calling out ball screens and rotations at top volume hasn’t come naturally.
“I’m quiet by nature,” Hamilton said. “It’s something I have to work on. At first I was uncomfortable, but I got used to it and it helped me get better on defense.”
Muted team defense was a regular complaint of head coach Marvin Menzies last season, when UNLV allowed 80.5 points per game in Mountain West play (the third-worst mark in the conference). Things got so quiet on that end of the court, Menzies openly wondered if perhaps youth culture had eroded players’ interpersonal skills to the point where talking on the court was something that had to be taught and practiced regularly.
During summer workout sessions (and especially over the past five weeks, when NCAA rules allowed teams to begin practicing full-time), Hamilton said Menzies made it a point to get the 2018-19 Runnin’ Rebels talking to each other on the court.
“He has some of the guys, and I’m one of them, who are kind of quiet and shy,” Hamilton said. “So he has us always talking. I feel like we’ve made a big step as a team in communicating.”
Hamilton said part of his learning curve was simply the transition from high school basketball to the Division I college level. Defenses are less sophisticated in high school, with most teams either playing a simple zone or employing a man-to-man alignment that asks each defender to stick to one opponent.
Hamilton said he’s getting the hang of things now, and he thinks the Rebels are ready for their first sound check against Montana State-Billings.
“I feel like our defense has gotten way better during the time that we’ve been practicing,” he said. “It’s way more intense. You’ve got to communicate with everybody on the court. In high school you’re not really communicating, you’re just out there playing defense. Out here you’ve got to communicate and have a great connection with your teammates and play hard.”
And as long as UNLV keeps its volume up, Hamilton believes his preseason debut will give Rebels fans a little something to talk about.
“I’ll feel a little nervous, but as soon as I start playing it’s going to feel good,” Hamilton said. “I can’t wait to play. Playing in front of UNLV fans is going to be great. We’re going to bring a show and just have some fun.”