Monday, July 22, 2019 | 2 a.m.
Going strictly by recruiting rankings, UNLV sophomore Bryce Hamilton might be the most talented player on the Runnin’ Rebels roster this season. And head coach T.J. Otzelberger believes the former 4-star prospect is capable of playing like it.
Hamilton came to the program as the headliner of Marvin Menzies’ 2019 recruiting class, and though the 6-foot-4 guard showed flashes of his ability throughout his freshman campaign — 16 points and 3-of-3 shooting from deep against Riverside, 12 points against San Jose State — he never quite carved out a consistent role.
For the season, the Pasadena native averaged 4.3 points per game on 35.3-percent shooting. He logged 13.0 minutes per contest.
Heading into his sophomore season, Hamilton is preparing to take a big step forward.
“I feel like I got better in all areas of my game,” Hamilton said.
In order to become a main contributor for the 2019-20 Rebels, Otzelberger said Hamilton has two main offseason objectives: improving his outside shooting and defense.
“Bryce has tremendous energy and enthusiasm,” Otzelberger said. “I think he’s going to be a guy that has a really big season, a breakout season for us. For Bryce to continue to reach his offensive potential I think he needs to be a more consistent 3-point shooter, extend his range and consistency, which I know he’ll continue to put in the hard work to do. I think defensively he’s got a lot of versatility. He can defend a lot of positions because his size and strength as a guard.”
Hamilton made 21-of-71 from 3-point range as a freshman (29.6 percent), which would have ranked him eighth on Otzelberger’s South Dakota State team last year.
The lefthanded shooter recognizes that he’ll have to hone his long-distance accuracy in order to take full advantage of Otzelberger’s offensive system.
“The coaches have a game plan for everyone individually,” Hamilton said. “We get up extra shots, get up 150 a day. Shooting is the main focus for next year so that’s what I’ve been working on, mostly. It’s coming along really well.”
If Hamilton wants to stay on the floor when Otzelberger goes small, he would help his cause by adding the strength necessary to defend multiple positions.
Hamilton is listed at 200 pounds, and he said he wants to get stronger in order to be more effective on the defensive end.
“I think I can be a pretty good defender,” he said. “I have length, so it’s about playing with my length and doing my best. I believe I can defend power forwards with a little [added] strength.”
It didn’t take long for Hamilton to buy into Otzelberger’s message. After Menzies was let go, Hamilton put his name in the NCAA transfer portal, but his first meeting with Otzelberger convinced him to stay at UNLV.
“I just wanted to see what coach T.J. was about,” Hamilton said. “Meeting with him and talking with him about what this program can be. I wasn’t really that serious about transferring.”
Otzelberger’s offensive system was a big draw, which is why Hamilton is working on developing the shooting skills that would help him thrive in the spread attack.
“It’s a lot of spacing and ball screens so we can create plays for ourselves and for others,” Hamilton said. “I think it’s a pretty good style. I get a good vibe from coach T.J. I think he’s a real cool coach. He coaches us hard and he wants the best for everybody.”
Otzelberger’s on-court time with Hamilton has been limited to summer workouts so far, but the progress he’s seen has him bullish on his young scorer.
“I think he’s ready to make that leap and be a big contributor for us,” Otzelberger said. “So many things go on during your freshman year that it can be overwhelming at times. I see how Bryce works, I see the passion he has, the personality and his talent. I think all those things come together and he’s going to have a big year for us.”