Friday, June 14, 2019 | 2 a.m.
This is shaping up to be a busy week on the recruiting front for UNLV, with two key prospects visiting campus as T.J. Otzelberger looks to lock down his first commitment from the Class of 2020.
Las Vegas natives Nick Blake and Jhaylon Martinez are the two recruits in the spotlight, and both could end up as cornerstones of the Rebels’ 2020 class. Blake, a 6-foot-7 swingman, took an official visit on Monday and Tuesday, while Martinez, a 6-foot-11 forward, is scheduled to visit on Saturday and Sunday.
Blake began his high school career at Durango before moving to Middlebrooks Academy in California and reclassifying from the Class of 2019 to the Class of 2020.
While on campus for two days, Blake got a chance to see how Otzelberger conducts summer workouts, which began on Monday, and he came away impressed.
“It went great,” Blake said. “I was just hoping to get more face time with the coaches and learn about how UNLV stacks up academically with my major. I really, really love the coaching staff and the guys are all cool. I got a chance to sit in on a couple of their workouts and the high intensity of the workouts was something I enjoyed.”
Blake announced last week that he is down to two finalists: Kansas State and UNLV. He visited Kansas State at the end of May, and now that he has taken an official visit to UNLV he plans to announce his decision on Friday afternoon.
As a versatile perimeter scorer, Blake can see himself fitting into Otzelberger’s up-tempo system.
“He doesn’t always want to set a play,” Blake said. “When we get a rebound he wants us to go out and use our athleticism to get out and score quickly. I feel like no matter what position I am on the floor, I’ll be able to do something with the ball because everybody out there is able to score.”
Blake also said the pull of playing for his hometown is something he’ll have to seriously consider when it comes time to make his decision.
“It definitely means way more,” Blake said. “I feel like almost every kid dreams about playing for their hometown. UNLV used to be a high-major school, now it’s mid-major but I think it’s big time. Being able to play in front of family and friends, it’s big for me.”
The Rebels are hoping that Martinez is similarly swayed by the allure of his hometown school. He’s also got offers from St. Mary’s and VCU, and he plans to take unofficial visits to Stanford and USC before the end of the summer.
Martinez averaged 12.7 points and 8.3 rebounds per game as a junior at Coronado last season, and his ability to stretch the floor on offense while protecting the rim on defense makes him an intriguing prospect.
Martinez said Otzelberger has used an interesting comparison for him during the recruiting process: former South Dakota State star Mike Daum. The 6-foot-9 Daum was a perfect floor-spacing big man under Otzelberger, as he scored 25.3 points per game as a senior last year while hitting 67 3-pointers.
It’s a comparison Martinez embraces.
“They said they see me as playing like Mike Daum,” Martinez said. “He would pick-and-pop and get shots and take it to the basket with his versatility, and they’ve seen me playing and they said I have the skill set for that because I can pass and shoot it as a big. Coach Otzelberger said my skill set fits the style he wants to play.”
Landing a commitment from Blake or Martinez (or both) would signal a good start to Otzelberger’s 2020 recruiting class. The Rebels are currently set to have two open scholarships for that incoming class, but as always transfers could increase that number.
A pledge from Blake or Martinez could also go a long way toward repairing the Rebels’ image in Las Vegas prep basketball circles, as local prospects largely felt under-appreciated in recent years.
“It means the world, honestly,” Blake said. “The last coaching staff, I wouldn’t say they didn’t recruit Las Vegas kids, but I just didn’t feel like they recruited them hard enough. Going back to the 2016 class to 2018 there were a lot of good players, and more should have stayed home. And I feel they would have if other coaching staffs had made an effort. I feel like this coaching staff isn’t going to let that be an excuse, and they’ve really gone out there and gotten to know so many kids in the valley. And I believe that’s going to be a key to getting UNLV back to where it was.”