Every story has at least two sides. The one told by Kevin Olekaibe is convincing and genuine, even if some choose not to see it his way.
Olekaibe is not the first college basketball player to transfer and be viewed skeptically, at least initially. After explaining his story over the summer, he heard from critics trying to read between the lines.
“If they don’t believe me, it doesn’t really matter,” he said. “There have been people who second-guessed it and said I looked for an easy way out. It’s not an easy way out.
“People are going to talk, and I don’t pay attention to any of that stuff. It’s between the lines of the family, my family and the UNLV family.”
Olekaibe, a 6-foot-2-inch shooting guard, announced his decision to transfer from Fresno State in April, and the former Cimarron-Memorial High School star was running with the Rebels by June.
He will be on the floor at 7:30 p.m. Thursday for the Scarlet/Gray Showcase, a free fan event at the Thomas & Mack Center that includes a scrimmage, 3-point contest and Legends game.
The NCAA will determine whether he’s on the floor when the regular season opens in November. Olekaibe said he transferred to be closer to home and his ill father. UNLV submitted a waiver to the NCAA with a request that Olekaibe be cleared to play immediately. He is paying his own way through school as a nonscholarship player.
“I’m really just staying optimistic,” he said. “The NCAA is taking my case seriously. Fresno State supported it, which makes it a big deal. That helps a lot. It’s a real case, and I’m not just transferring to leave the school.
“Hopefully, I get a decision this week. I don’t think it’s going to drag on that long.”
The NCAA requested additional information this week on the health of Olekaibe’s father, Benson, who is paralyzed from the waist down and unable to speak as a result of two strokes. He is under hospice care.
About four times a week, Olekaibe visits his family to assist his mom, Esther, in caring for his dad.
“I try to be there for him and be there for my mom. It’s going OK,” he said. “She’s happy I’m back, and it makes it a lot easier for her. We’re still praying to God and hoping and keeping our faith.
“My mom feeds him, brushes his teeth, shaves him and cuts his hair, stuff like that, and hopefully one day he’ll be able to speak. I talk to my father, even though he doesn’t talk back, just to make sure he keeps hearing my voice.”
Olekaibe, who averaged 35.6 points and was the state’s leading scorer as a high school senior, was not recruited by former UNLV coach Lon Kruger in 2010. At Fresno State, he was a three-year starter, averaging 17.8 points as a sophomore and a career-low 8.3 points as a junior.
An elbow injury hindered him last season, but he still totaled 34 points for the Bulldogs in their two-game sweep of the Rebels.
The UNLV defender Olekaibe exploited the most was freshman Katin Reinhardt, who transferred to Southern California after the season. Ironically, Olekaibe, a skilled perimeter shooter, is in position to fill Reinhardt’s spot.
If Olekaibe is cleared, he will join forward Carlos Lopez-Sosa as the team’s only seniors.
“On a team that doesn’t have a lot of experience, those guys have been through a lot of Mountain West games, and we need both of them,” Rebels coach Dave Rice said. “I know Kevin is eagerly awaiting his decision. I’ve learned to just be patient and wait for a response.”
Olekaibe said his new teammates, the ones he defeated twice last season, welcomed him as family.
“It was a big adjustment, but they accepted me, and I gained their respect quickly,” he said. “Me and Carlos talk about it all the time. We have the most experience, and we have to lead by example on and off the court.
“It’s like I’ve been here my whole three years. It’s just like I never left.”
Contact reporter Matt Youmans at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2907. Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.