Tuesday, April 20, 2021 | 2 a.m.
Friday was a big day for Kevin Kruger’s rebuilding effort at UNLV, as the new head coach added a couple of intriguing new players via the transfer portal. And just like that — despite losing 10 potential returners from the 2020-21 squad to the portal — UNLV’s roster for next season is almost complete.
And if you squint just right, you can already see a cohesive team unit developing.
“These are two more great pieces into forming the team we’re looking to get on the court,” Kruger said of Webster and Muoka. “Everything they talked about was having the opportunity to be a focal point of a team that has a chance to go to the NCAA Tournament. Their goals really align with the rest of the team.”
The reconstruction of the UNLV roster has been as stark as it was fast.
The only three players coming back from last year’s disappointing team are guard Marvin Coleman, guard Nick Blake and forward Reece Brown. Kruger and his staff have fleshed out the majority of the roster with transfers, collecting signatures from West Virginia point guard Jordan McCabe, Texas forward Royce Hamm, Oklahoma forward Victor Iwuakor, Texas guard Donovan Williams and Muoka and Webster.
That gives UNLV nine players locked in for next year (barring a late trip into the portal for Coleman, Blake or Brown). The program already held letters of intent for two incoming high school recruits, guard Keshon Gilbert and forward Arthur Kaluma, who both committed when T.J. Otzelberger was the head coach. Gilbert has announced that he will honor that commitment and come to UNLV despite Otzelberger’s departure; Kaluma is a different story.
Rated as a 4-star prospect and a top-50 player in the Class of 2021, Kaluma could be a potential difference-maker as a freshman and thus would have a lot of suitors if he were to reopen his recruitment.
Kruger has maintained a continuing dialogue with Kaluma in hopes of coaxing him to stick with UNLV.
“We’re continuing to have open conversations and stay in constant communication,” Kruger said.
Counting Gilbert, that puts UNLV at 10 scholarships for 2021-22. Kaluma could be the 11th, but as of now his status is up in the air (and the longer things drag out with no word from Kaluma, the less likely it becomes that he’ll end up in Las Vegas).
With each team allotted 13 scholarships, that puts UNLV pretty close to a full roster for Kruger’s first season at the helm.
His vision is going to look decidedly different than an Otzelberger team. While Otzelberger emphasized offensive skills (particularly shooting and passing) and de-emphasized athleticism, length and defense, Kruger is looking to jack up the roster with plus athletes who can grind out defensive possessions.
Kruger believes building the team around experienced defenders will help everyone get on the same page in Year 1.
“The guys we’ve got coming in from the Big 12, they all come from programs that guard,” Kruger said. “West Virginia, Texas, Oklahoma, all three have defensive-minded approaches. And David coming over was the Southland Defensive Player of the Year, and obviously he has a knack for blocking shots and rebounding. So with the way we want to make defense a priority, those guys already have that experience.”