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Bryce Hamilton focusing on ‘energy and defense’ in quest for playing time

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Steve Marcus

UNLV Rebels guard Bryce Hamilton (13) covers Cincinnati Bearcats forward Tre Scott (13) during a game at the Thomas & Mack Center Saturday Dec. 1, 2018.

When Bryce Hamilton committed to UNLV in October 2017, he probably imagined the Rebels were ready to roll out the red carpet for him.

The 6-foot-5 scoring guard was rated as a top-50 recruit in the Class of 2018, and with UNLV set to graduate its starting backcourt at the conclusion of the 2017-18 season, it was easy to envision the sweet-shooting lefty from Pasadena (Calif.) High School stepping into the lineup right away and lighting up the scoreboard.

Twenty-two games into his freshman season, it hasn’t quite worked out that way for Hamilton. Though he has played in every game, he hasn’t started once, and he is only averaging 14.1 minutes per game. In Mountain West play, Hamilton is getting just 12.2 minutes.

Against UNR on Jan. 29, Hamilton played seven minutes. A week before, he saw just three minutes against New Mexico.

Hamilton has shown flashes of offensive potential, including three games scoring in double figures. He poured in a season-high 16 points on 5-of-5 shooting against UC Riverside on Nov. 13. Defensively, however, he has some work to do. According to Synergy Sports data, Hamilton is allowing opponents to score 0.95 points per possession, which is the worst mark on the team.

Hamilton said the coaches have promised more playing time if he can limit the defensive miscues.

“Just come in, give good energy and play good defense,” Hamilton said. “That’s what the coaches have been pointing out that they want us to do, so I just know I have to come in here and do that and I’ll get more minutes.”

Hamilton said gaining the trust of the coaching staff begins on the practice court.

“I’ve been doing pretty good [in practice],” he said. “Still making little freshman mistakes, but bringing more energy and playing better on defense.”

Hamilton’s shooting stroke has come and gone. He is making just 36.4 percent from the field in conference play (29.6 percent from 3-point range), and he went through a 2-of-12 stretch as UNLV suffered three straight losses to San Diego State, UNR and Utah State. But he looked better in the Rebels road win at Boise State on Wednesday, knocking down 2-of-5 from 3-point range in 19 minutes of action.

Head coach Marvin Menzies isn’t averse to playing his freshmen big minutes. Brandon McCoy started from opening night last year, and Joel Ntambwe has started every game this season. Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua has also started a handful of games. Menzies said Hamilton (and the other member of the freshman class, Trey Woodbury) knew coming that playing time would be dependent on performance.

“I’m sure the expectations were a lot higher,” Menzies said. “We told them exactly how things were going to be when we recruited them, and what they were going to have to do to be successful and get on the floor and earn minutes. We painted, I think, a pretty clear picture.”

Breaking into the backcourt rotation hasn’t been an easy proposition, as the Rebels have received solid play from their veteran starters. Senior point guard Noah Robotham is shooting 43.5 percent from 3-point range in MWC games and playing 33.2 minutes, senior Kris Clyburn is shooting 38.9 percent from 3 and playing 32.2 minutes, and sophomore Amauri Hardy is connecting on 42.9 percent from deep while playing 30.6 minutes. With that kind of production, there isn’t a lot of time to work in a freshman like Hamilton.

Menzies said he is doing his best to make sure his freshman guards receive enough playing time to develop.

“In retrospect you say, ‘Wow, I wish we could have played these guys 15-10 minutes a game apiece,’” Menzies said. “Well, situations didn’t allow for that. But we do want to try to play them as much as we can when we have the opportunity.”

Hamilton said he’s not focusing on his minutes from night to night. While extended playing time might help him settle into more of a groove, he knows that is ultimately up to Menzies.

“Rhythm is important, but whatever the coaches think is best,” Hamilton said. “I really have no say in that.”

Hamilton said he is feeling good physically as he heads into the final eight games of his first college season. His focus is on helping the team, even if he has to do it in limited minutes.

“Everything happens for a reason,” he said. “I’m just staying the course and doing whatever I can do for my team.”

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

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