It was the memory of his dad’s voice that persuaded Kevin Olekaibe to come home to finish college.
“I don’t remember the last words he said to me, to be honest. He doesn’t talk at all,” Olekaibe said. “But I remember my dad telling me when I was little, ‘Family comes first.’ That’s the main reason I left.”
In mid-April, Olekaibe announced his decision to transfer from Fresno State, where he was three-year starter at shooting guard. At the time, he said a different program could help his development as a basketball player. He also said he wanted to be closer to his family.
As a senior at Cimarron-Memorial High School, where he was the state’s leading scorer, the 6-foot-2-inch Olekaibe did not have the option of staying home for college. But UNLV, which passed on recruiting him in 2010, is welcoming him as a nonscholarship player now.
Olekaibe said Monday he is enrolled in summer school at UNLV and intends to play as a senior for the Rebels this season, if the NCAA approves his eligibility via a waiver.
“I think I have a legitimate case,” he said.
His dad, Benson, is paralyzed from the waist down and unable to speak as a result of suffering two strokes, the first in 2008. He wants to assist his mom, Esther, in caring for his dad.
“UNLV is where I wanted to be because of my father and mother, and I wanted to be as close to home as possible,” he said. “My mom is happy I’m back home.”
Olekaibe contacted the Rebels’ coaches last week. The school will submit a waiver on his behalf to the NCAA with a request that Olekaibe be cleared to play immediately. It could be late in the summer before a ruling is announced.
Rebels coach Dave Rice is not permitted to comment on Olekaibe, who is enrolled in classes but has not been officially admitted to UNLV. Olekaibe said he is paying his own way through his final year of school.
Rice has 12 scholarship players, one below the limit, after freshman guard Katin Reinhardt announced his transfer plans May 26. Reinhardt, who is going to Southern California, was outplayed by Olekaibe in Fresno State’s two-game sweep of the Rebels last season.
Olekaibe, defended primarily by Reinhardt, scored 21 points in the Bulldogs’ 64-55 victory over UNLV on Feb. 6 at Fresno, Calif. Olekaibe’s 13 points and eight assists helped carry Fresno State to a 61-52 upset victory in Las Vegas on March 9.
As a sophomore at Fresno State, Olekaibe started all 33 games and averaged 17.8 points. Last season as a junior, while recovering from an elbow injury, he started 24 of 30 games, shot 34.4 percent (52 of 151) from 3-point range and averaged a career-low 8.3 points.
He averaged 35.6 points as a senior at Cimarron-Memorial, but did not get a scholarship offer from former UNLV coach Lon Kruger.
“I know what I’m capable of,” Olekaibe said. “I’m very excited.”
Contact reporter Matt Youmans at email@example.com or 702-387-2907. Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.