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Coaching staff, talent level and more UNLV questions

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Steve Marcus

UNLV basketball coach T.J. Otzelberger is shown with athletic director Desiree Reed-Francois, left, and UNLV President Marta Meana at a news conference at the Thomas & Mack Center Thursday, March 28, 2019.

The NCAA tournament has concluded and UNLV has officially announced its entire coaching staff, which means we are now past the coaching search and firmly onto the offseason.

To get things going, let’s open it up to the readers and look forward with a Q&A:

@xNorfTownRebelx

If #UNLVmbb misses out on Julian Strawther, do you believe that will be the first domino in a string of highly touted local guys leaving the city for college (i.e: Jaden Hardy, Pop Pop, Noah Taitz, etc)?

@MikeGrimala

Strawther, the top local prospect in the Class of 2020, is set to make his college announcement on Thursday and UNLV is viewed as a heavy underdog, as programs such as Gonzaga and Washington have been recruiting him much longer. He’s probably not going to choose UNLV, but I don’t see why any other local recruits would hold that against the program.

Kids make the best decision for themselves, and everyone’s situation is different. When T.J. Otzelberger was hired a few weeks ago, Strawther was further along in the recruiting process than guys like Noah Taitz and Richard Isaacs, who are still fairly open.

A commitment from Strawther would be a monumental recruiting coup for Otzelberger if he were to pull it off. If not, I wouldn’t be worried about it affecting how future prospects view the program when it comes time to make their decisions.

@KonaSimon

What are some differences, if any, that you’ve observed in Menzies and TJO as far as embracing Las Vegas, the community, with the media, etc?

@MikeGrimala

It’s too soon to tell, for the most part. Otzelberger has said he wants to recruit local stars and schedule top-tier opponents, which would be a departure from the previous staff. But so far it’s just talk. It may be a couple years before we know whether Otzelberger has followed through on those promises.

In terms of “embracing Las Vegas,” Otzelberger has done that. He’s been visible at high school games already, and of course he was at T-Mobile Arena to sound the siren before the Golden Knights’ playoff win over San Jose on Tuesday. The fans eat that stuff up, and he gets credit for hitting the right notes so far.

As for the more substantial differences, we won’t be able to judge that until the 2020-21 schedule is announced and the 2021 recruiting class is signed.

@twoatlowhouse8

Talk about coach Otz going to the @GoldenKnights game four and making a serious showing there pregame? What should fans read into that if anything?

@MikeGrimala

If you’re the type who wants energy from the head coach, you have to like Otzelberger. If he’s able to crank it up to 11 like this while cranking a siren, imagine him on the sideline at practice or during a close game. He’s an intense individual.

@coachp750

Any concrete or specific plans from Sanchez for the remaining scholarships?

@MikeGrimala

UNLV has three open scholarship spots and head coach Tony Sanchez said he plans to stay active on the recruiting trail through the summer in search of grad transfer-types who could potentially help the team right away. The obvious position of need is wide receiver. UNLV was painfully thin at that spot before Brandon Presley suffered a season-ending knee injury in spring practice, and now the Rebels are downright desperate. Look for Sanchez to use at least one of those scholarships on a pass-catcher.

@nevadaracer00v

Biggest challenge facing UNLV football this season to get a bowl bid???

@MikeGrimala

UNLV has three big obstacles standing in the way of a winning record this season: Armani Rogers’s health, the secondary, and the Mountain West schedule.

Keeping Rogers healthy is self-explanatory. The offense is built around his running ability, and the Rebels struggle to score when he’s not on the field. Unfortunately, that style of play exposes him to big hits. If he can stay healthy enough to start 11 of UNLV’s 12 games this season, Tony Sanchez would sign up for that right now.

The secondary played terribly last season, most obviously in the Rebels’ last-minute loss at Hawaii. Sanchez is counting on an infusion of junior-college talent to help bolster the unit, but there’s no guarantee those guys will be any better than the players currently on the roster. If UNLV can’t stop the pass more consistently than last season, they won’t win six games.

And while judging the strength of a schedule before the season begins is usually a waste of time, the slate doesn’t appear to be favorable at this point. With road games at Northwestern and at Vanderbilt, the Rebels will probably have to be content with a 2-2 record in non-conference play. That means they’ll have to go 4-4 in MWC play to qualify for a bowl berth, and since they’ve got a home game against Boise State — which I’ll boldly pencil in as a loss — they’ll have to go 4-3 in the other seven games, with four of them on the road. Tough task.

@jondavid17

What are the assistant coaches’ specialties? Anything they may be known for in the basketball community? Recruiting, development, conditioning, defense etc?

@MikeGrimala

Otzelberger said he’s not going to divide up the coaching duties according to specialties, so there won’t be a designated offensive or defensive coordinator or anything like that. But they all offer different backgrounds and skill sets. DeMarlo Slocum, for instance, is a local product who comes with a strong reputation in player development. I’m sure Otzelberger will tailor their responsibilities as the offseason/season goes along and things start to settle.

@BrownHulk59

What is the roster realistically going to look like next season? Any chance to be in the top 5 again in mountain west?

@MikeGrimala

We don’t know exactly who is staying or leaving at this point, but I think it’s safe to say UNLV basketball will have a top-five roster in the league if we’re going by sheer talent. Unlike the last time the Rebels made a coaching change, the cupboard is far from bare. For starters, Otzelberger will be able to field a backcourt made up of 4-star talent in Amauri Hardy and Bryce Hamilton, and not many Mountain West teams can say that.

UNR’s talent level will be ahead of the Rebels, and San Diego State and Utah State have a chance to be better depending on late commitments/draft decisions. That’s about it. There’s no reason UNLV can’t finish in the top half of the league — and even higher if things go well.

@ZMoreimi

Chance Juiston returns?

@MikeGrimala

Not good. That prediction isn’t based on any inside information, because Shakur Juiston has kept his transfer process pretty quiet. But just assessing the situation — the coach who recruited him is gone, he can leave and be eligible immediately, and he has a bunch of suitors who are virtual NCAA-tournament locks — there aren’t many reasons for Juiston to stick around unless he either loves the UNLV experience or believes in Otzelberger.

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

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