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UNLV basketball:

Shakur Juiston wants to pass on being Rebels’ go-to guy

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L.E. Baskow

UNLV Rebels forward Shakur Juiston (10) smiles after a call goes his way versus Arizona during their game at the Thomas & Mack Center on Saturday, Dec. 2, 2017.

UNLV Rebels First Practice

UNLV holds the first basketball practice of the 2018-19 season at Mendenhall Center Friday, Sept. 28, 2018. Launch slideshow »

After averaging a double-double and earning All-Mountain West second-team honors last year as a junior, you would think Shakur Juiston is a natural choice to step forward as UNLV’s go-to guy in 2018-19. But Juiston doesn’t see it that way.

The senior power forward deflected talk about an increased scoring role on Friday as the Runnin’ Rebels took the court for their first official practice of the season. Instead, Juiston emphasized the importance of a balanced attack and doing whatever the team asks of him.

“No,” Juiston said when asked if he anticipates more scoring responsibility this season. “We lost some good, valuable pieces, but it’s not like we lost [overall talent level]. We’ve got Noah [Robotham], we’ve got Amauri [Hardy] coming in, we’ve got a couple other returners from last year, Cheickna [Dembele] and Mbacke [Diong], who can come in and take the place. It’s all about rotating and coming in and doing the job.“

For the record, Juiston named four players before himself — and those four combined to average 8.7 points per game last season (17.5 if you include Robotham’s 8.8 average from his most recent 2016-17 campaign at Akron). That’s probably too selfless.

Juiston was one of UNLV’s best offensive players last year and one of the most efficient in the conference, as he posted 14.6 points per game on 63.9-percent shooting. He scored in double figures in 27 of 33 games and notched seven 20-point performances despite attempting 10.3 field goal attempts per game — fewer than both Brandon McCoy (11.6) and Jovan Mooring (11.0).

McCoy and Mooring are both gone now, but Juiston is in no rush to assume No. 1-option status. His game is based on making the right play, not hunting for shots.

Even if the coaching staff demands he be more aggressive on offense, Juiston said he would respectfully counter with a more team-oriented pitch.

“My response would be, ‘Coach, I’m not really focused on scoring,’” Juiston said. “As long as we win at the end of the day, even if I have zero points and 20 rebounds, or 20 points and seven rebounds, it doesn’t matter as long as at the end of the game we’re victorious.”

Head coach Marvin Menzies understands that Juiston may not want his name on the marquee as the Rebels’ star scorer, but there are going to be nights when the team needs him to put the ball in the basket. And opposing teams are going to treat him that way because of how productive he was last year.

“As a senior we expect him to be a big producer in a lot of different ways,” Menzies said. “I think we all know who he is. I think the conference knows who he is. Obviously the non-conference guys have video from last year, so he’s not going to roll up on anybody and surprise them.

“He knows what to expect,” Menzies continued. “It will be a war every night trying to combat what they’re throwing at him.”

Juiston said he spent the offseason refining his overall game, with a particular emphasis on improving his free-throw shooting. Last year, he made 51.2 percent from the stripe.

Menzies said he can see the merit of Juiston’s unselfish approach, but that at some point the senior will have to step up and carry the load.

“With this particular team, not having a guy like Brandon — [last year] we were saying we were going to get post touches on a high level,” Menzies said. “But if you have balanced efficiency, I think those are the toughest teams to play against, to be quite honest. So I think that’s what we would like to have, the type of offensive prowess where you never know who’s going to get it that night based on the matchups and what advantages we may have in terms of how we set things up offensively. But obviously, he’s going to be a critical piece.”

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

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