Time for the reboot to begin.
There will be no more basketball for UNLV this season after the Rebels were bypassed Sunday by the 32-team National Invitation Tournament and the team opted not to accept a bid to either the College Basketball Invitational or the Collegeinsider.com Tournament.
It will be the first time since 2006 that UNLV did not play beyond its conference tournament. That year, the Rebels went 17-13 under Lon Kruger and were not selected.
This year’s team under third-year coach Dave Rice was defeated in the semifinals of the Mountain West Tournament on Friday by San Diego State 59-51. At 20-13, the Rebels were not an at-large candidate for the 68-team NCAA Tournament.
“We need to move forward and start focusing on next season,” Rice said after the school announced its decision not to continue playing, thus ending a streak of seven straight years of postseason play, the last four coming in the NCAA Tournament. “We want to get better in the practice gym, in the weight room and in our conditioning.
“It’s an honor to be at a program that does not automatically embrace a 20-win season. Pressure is a privilege.”
Changes are already underway. Rice said guard Bryce Dejean-Jones, the team’s leading scorer this season, has been dismissed from the team after a second physical altercation with teammate Jelan Kendrick following Friday’s conference tournament exit. Dejean-Jones had been suspended for a game just recently after a March 5 loss to San Diego State at the Thomas &Mack Center. The transfer from Southern California was reinstated following the March 8 UNR game and played in both Mountain West tournament games.
“I met with Bryce and his parents Sunday and he will not be on our team next year,” Rice said. “He’s on track to graduate this summer and he will remain on scholarship so he can concentrate on graduating and then pursue his opportunities to play professionally.”
In a text message, Dejean-Jones said: “I just wanted to clarify that I will be focusing on my degree here at UNLV and no longer play basketball in order to pursue a professional career or other avenues. It wasn’t for disciplinary reasons at all. Just a decision that me and my family decided was best.”
Rice said Kendrick, who like Dejean-Jones is scheduled to graduate this summer, is still a member of the team. Ultimately, however, Kendrick may not be back, as well as several other players on the roster. Junior forwards Khem Birch and Roscoe Smith may go pro. Freshmen Christian Wood, Kendall Smith and Demetris Morant may decide to transfer in the pursuit of more minutes.
Rice said he will meet with each member of the team individually in a week after spring break concludes and he’ll have a better idea where things stand as far as roster movement.
There could be changes forthcoming on Rice’s coaching staff as well. Associate head coach Heath Schroyer is a finalist for the head-coaching vacancy at Tennessee-Martin and he formally interviewed there during the weekend.
Max Good, whose contract as Loyola Marymount was not renewed last Tuesday, was in Las Vegas for the Mountain West Tournament. Good, who worked with Rice from 1999 to 2001, is a close friend of Rice’s and he also owns a home here.
A known disciplinarian and well-respected in-game tactician, Good could find himself back at UNLV whether or not Schroyer stays.
Rice said he plans to add a position of special assistant to the head coach which might be perfect for Good. But he did not say if Good has or will be offered that spot once it’s created.
UNLV athletic director Tina Kunzer-Murphy is a staunch supporter of Rice, who is under contract through 2016-2017. Sunday, she stood by her coach.
“I’m focusing on the future and I’m not going to dwell on the past,” she said. “Obviously, it’s Coach Rice’s job to right the ship and we talked about what needs to be done. I believe he will get the program to where we all want it to be. He has my total support.”
Contact reporter Steve Carp at 702-387-2913 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twiiter @stevecarprj.