Now that UNLV’s basketball season has ended, another is about to begin.
The annual roster shakeup is about to take place, with UNLV coach T.J. Otzelberger having signed five more players than he has available scholarships. At least one of the signees could go to prep school for a year, but there is little doubt big changes are coming.
In addition to the signees, UNLV will be able to play transfers David Jenkins Jr., a 6-foot-2-inch junior guard from South Dakota State, and Moses Wood, a 6-8 sophomore forward from Tulane, creating even more competition for roster spots and playing time.
“I’m excited to get started on next season,” Otzelberger said after Thursday’s 67-61 loss to Boise State in the Mountain West quarterfinals. “I know our guys may not quite be ready for this and in some ways maybe I’m not, but I want to start practice tomorrow. I love the young men we have in our program and as much as I respect the conference … we believe in what we’re going to do moving forward, so we’re really excited about the future.”
The Rebels became one of the hottest Mountain West teams with a five-game winning streak to end the regular season, and the returning players hope to build on that success while also trying improve on this year’s 17-15 record.
“You want to be playing your best basketball at the end of the season, and I feel like we did that,” guard Marvin Coleman said. “I feel like we came together as a group. … It’s not the ending we wanted, but I’m happy with what we did this year.”
Here is a look in order at who’s most likely to return for the 2020-21 season and who’s most likely to leave.
1. Marvin Coleman, 6-2 sophomore guard. He embodies what Otzelberger wants in a player from effort and leadership standpoints. Where Coleman fits into the lineup next season as the Rebels upgrade their talent remains to be seen, but he should still have an important role as a heady player who usually makes the right decisions.
2. Bryce Hamilton, 6-4 sophomore guard. The former four-star recruit looked lost in his freshman season under then-coach Marvin Menzies and appeared an ill fit nearly two months into his first year under Otzelberger. But Hamilton has since been sensational, especially in Mountain West play. The concern for UNLV fans would be if a power program tried to poach him.
3. Jonah Antonio, 6-5 junior guard. He had an uneven season, but there is little question Antonio’s outside shooting fits Otzelberger’s offensive philosophy. Whether he can shoot consistently enough to get on the court with the incoming set of shooters is not certain.
4. Mbacke Diong, 6-11 junior forward. He had trouble finding his place in the lineup as the Rebels went to a four-guard look down the stretch, but his rebounding and shot-blocking ability are valuable to UNLV. If he returns, Diong could play an important role.
5. Amauri Hardy, 6-2 junior guard. Hardy was the Rebels’ go-to player at the beginning of the season, and they ran their offense through him. He still had big moments as the season progressed, but he became less of a factor. Where he fits in Otzelberger’s system is a big question, and both parties could decide to part ways.
6. Donnie Tillman, 6-7 junior forward. Even before transferring from Utah, Tillman was thought to be a one-year player because of a potential pro career. That kind of future is in question, however, and his return to UNLV is anything but certain. If he returns, Tillman is capable of providing double-doubles if he can work his way into the rotation.
7. Jay Green, 6-5 sophomore guard. Though Green is more of an end-of-the-bench player, Otzelberger and his staff found ways to use the guard, who showed promise as a rebounder. But with the new players coming in, there simply isn’t room on the roster for someone who is more of a practice than a game player.
8. Cheickna Dembele, 6-11 junior forward. He showed signs as a freshman that he could develop into a decent player, but injuries hampered his progress. Dembele’s body has taken a beating as a result, and his playing days very well could be over.