On two occasions in the second half Saturday, an exhausted Horace Spencer walked to a spot near the baseline, grabbed the bottom of his shorts and looked up at his teammate in anticipation of an inbounds pass.
Seated about 10 feet away in a red T-shirt was UNLV basketball coach Dave Rice. And two of his assistants.
They were impossible to miss.
“Yeah, I saw them,” Spencer said with a wry smile.
Rice and his staff made sure to stay in Spencer’s sightline as much as possible during the travel circuit this spring and summer, and they left one final impression on the 6-foot-8-inch rising senior forward at Findlay Prep at the conclusion of the July evaluation period.
Of the five coaches seated along the baseline for the 9:40 a.m. game at Henderson International between Spencer’s Gym Rats (N.J.) and Team Pennsylvania in the consolation bracket of the Las Vegas Fab 48 tournament, three were from UNLV: Rice, along with assistants Stacey Augmon and Todd Simon. (Auburn and Holy Cross were the other schools present.)
The Rebels are actively recruiting a handful of big men from the class of 2015, but it’s obvious they’ve made Spencer a high priority.
“It feels like they really want me to go to their school. It feels good to be wanted by somebody,” Spencer said. “I can see myself fitting in, but as of right now I’m keeping that a secret.”
Spencer, who is originally from Warminster, Pa., is a four-star recruit and consensus top 100 player by ESPN.com, Rivals.com and Scout.com. Spencer admitted it was an adjustment coming to Las Vegas from the East Coast, and he endured an abbreviated junior season with the Pilots.
Spencer averaged 6.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.8 blocks before he suffered a broken thumb on his birthday on Jan. 31 and missed the rest of the season. Findlay Prep (31-5) bowed out in the semifinals of the High School National Tournament with only seven healthy players.
“It was painful being hurt to watch my teammates fight without another big man to fight with,” Spencer said. “I did what I had to do. I came back stronger, bigger, faster and hungrier.”
Jerome Williams was fired as the Pilots’ coach in April after only one season, and assistant Andy Johnson was promoted to take over the program. Spencer said he never considered transferring from Findlay Prep.
“I can’t speak for everybody, but me personally, it didn’t really bother me because I knew what I had to do for myself to get better,” Spencer said. “I was going to be at Findlay no matter what happens.”
Along with UNLV, Spencer has scholarship offers from several other schools, including Cincinnati, Georgetown, Louisville, Maryland, Oklahoma State, South Carolina, South Florida and Southern California. He previously made unofficial visits to Auburn, Seton Hall and Temple.
Spencer said he doesn’t have a timetable for selecting a school and will discuss it with his father before making a decision. The first day recruits can sign a letter of intent is Nov. 12.
“I don’t care where the college is at,” Spencer said. “It matters how the program is set up, how it fits me.”
Spencer is known for his energy, especially at the defensive end, and finished with 18 points, seven rebounds, three blocked shots, two assists and two steals as the Gym Rats were eliminated from the Fab 48 with an 81-55 loss Saturday.
Spencer blocked Team Pennsylvania’s first shot before he picked up three fouls and headed to the bench after the first 3 minutes, 11 seconds. He went 8-for-14 from the field and showed range out to 18 feet to go with two alley-oop dunks, but most of Spencer’s points came after the Gym Rats fell behind by double digits in the second half.
Spencer also suffered the indignity of having his name spelled incorrectly (“Spencr”) on the back of his jersey. Not that he minds.
“Everybody knows who I am,” he said.
Especially the members of UNLV’s staff.