College players asked to embrace a reserve role can often act immaturely and pout about the supposed demotion.
Others can accept the challenge and try to prove they deserve more minutes.
UNLV junior Jelan Kendrick chose the latter path on Wednesday night, scoring 18 points in UNLV’s 81-62 home win over Radford.
“When we came to him and told him about the decision, he just said, ‘Whatever you need me to do,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said of Kendrick’s reaction to the news he would be coming off the bench. “I thought Jelan probably had his most consistent game of the year. I just thought he was fantastic. He scored, he defended, he did a little bit
of everything for us tonight.”
Kendrick said he was just pleased the team was able to move above .500 with a victory.
“I was just glad we won the game and i could contribute to the win. It was just fun to go out and play at home again,” he said after the team’s return to the Thomas & Mack Center following the annual forced road trip due to the National Finals Rodeo. “I just want to win.”
Kendrick had started four of the team’s first eight games, including the last two. Rice told Kendrick before the game he would be coming off the bench and Bryce Dejean-Jones would be reinserted in the starting lineup.
Rice couldn’t have been more pleased with Kendrick’s reaction. He made his first five shots and first four free-throw attempts of the game and finished 6 of 9 from the field, including 2-for-2 from 3-point range.
“Starting is a big deal and it sends a message to everyone to handle it the way he did and go out and play like he did,” Rice said. “The guy made a terrific sacrifice coming off the bench and he absolutely played team basketball tonight. I talked to the entire team about that.”
Kendrick came into the game averaging 6.9 points per game, but was struggling with his shot. He had made 41 percent of his shots and just 2 of 10 from long range.
“JK is extremely important to this team. His attitude is sensational. He’s a team guy and he’s always looking to make a play for others,” Rice said. “He’s a much better shooter than he’s shown and I’ve told him I’m not worried about him shooting. They’ll start to fall.”
That was the case on Wednesday night.
Kendrick said the confidence everyone has shown in him has kept it easy to maintain a positive approach.
“I’m feeling more comfortable and when you have teammates that continue to let you play your game, you can build on that. Guys having confidence in you is great. I love my teammates. They’re my family,” he said. “When they continue to pass the ball and continue to encourage you to shoot the ball, it makes you feel good. I’m in the gym all the time working on my skills and I’m glad my shots are starting to fall a little bit.”
Junior forward Khem Birch, who had 16 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks, feels Kendrick can be a matchup problem as a reserve.
“When you have a player like Jelan coming off the bench it’s very tough for the other team because you have to worry about another scoring threat,” Birch said. “I’m happy for him that he had a good game and there’s many more to come.”
The unselfish attitude may be a surprise for many who have read about some of Kendrick’s issues in the past. He has on his fourth school and written off by many pundits before he ever landed at UNLV.
Rice thinks that’s all part of the past.
“One thing I’ve always said about him is he’s a great person who’s had some adversity. The first time I ever sat down and talked to him he told me, ‘Coach, I just want to start fresh and move forward,’” Rice said. “He’s doing a great job in school and he’s a great teammate. Whatever all those people wrote and said about JK, I haven’t seen any of that.”
Rice also hopes to see more of what he saw from Kendrick on the court on Wednesday night.