Three senior leaders are gone, junior guard Tre’Von Willis returns and UNLV’s basketball team officially begins a transformation when practice opens Friday night.
The Rebels are undergoing radical changes. The graduation of longtime starters Wink Adams, Joe Darger and Rene Rougeau is leading to a transfer of power.
Junior guard Derrick Jasper, a transfer from Kentucky, and sophomore swingman Chace Stanback, a UCLA transfer, headline the new faces on display when UNLV stages its FirstLook practice at 9 p.m. at the Thomas & Mack Center.
”In college sports, you hate to see the seniors move on, but you’re also excited about the younger guys and the new guys,’’ coach Lon Kruger said. ”There are a lot of minutes available and a lot of different roles available.
”I’m not sure what that’s going to end up looking like, but that’s part of the intrigue of it all. The fans probably look at it the same way.’’
The practice, which will last about one hour, is free and open to the public. Kruger said the team will run drills, participate in shooting competitions and hold a 20-minute scrimmage. Fans can meet the players after practice.
Jasper, who sat out last season, said he’s feeling at full strength after a lengthy recovery from microfracture surgery on his left knee in the summer of 2007.
”It’s been a while since I’ve played in front of a lot of people, so I’m really excited to go out there and compete,’’ he said.
Willis, the Rebels’ top returning scorer, was voted preseason all-Mountain West Conference first team, and Jasper was named the league’s Newcomer of the Year.
Kruger’s 15-man roster includes two seniors — forward Darris Santee and guard Steve Jones, who redshirted last season after transferring from Arizona State. Junior forward Matt Shaw also returns after missing last season with a right knee injury.
Jasper, Willis and Stanback figure to be UNLV’s top scorers, but no team leader has been established.
”It’s not like we’re pointing at one guy,’’ Jones said. ”We have a unique group. We have the kind of group where we all take ownership of it.’’
Kruger added three freshmen — 6-foot-11-inch Carlos Lopez from Findlay Prep, guard Anthony Marshall from Mojave High School and guard Justin Hawkins from Los Angeles.
”We have a lot of new pieces, but each player brings something really good to the table, so I’m excited to see how everyone puts it together,’’ Jasper said.
”We have some great freshmen who are willing to learn, and they’re learning quickly. Our freshmen are really talented and smart and know how to play the game, and I think each one will play significant minutes and can contribute early in the season.’’
The uncertainty of this season follows the disappointment of last season, when the Rebels finished 21-11 with a loss at Kentucky in the National Invitation Tournament opening round.
”It made us a lot hungrier,’’ Santee said. ”Everybody went home and worked on different things and thought about the last loss. We thought about what we can do to make it a different ending this year.’’
NOTES — The Thomas & Mack doors open at 8:15 for Friday’s practice. … UNLV’s only exhibition game is scheduled for Nov. 10 against Washburn (Kan.), and the regular-season opener is Nov. 14 against Pittsburg State.
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