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Bryce Hamilton returns to UNLV refocused for senior season

Updated September 29, 2021 - 5:40 pm

Bryce Hamilton explored his options after the 2020-21 college basketball season.

Kentucky. Kansas. The NBA.

But “I love UNLV,” the senior wing said Tuesday after the first practice of the 2021-22 season at the Mendenhall Center. “I love that I’m able to stay here. I think that we’ve got big things ahead of us.”

Hamilton is back for his senior season after an offseason in which he declared for the NBA draft and entered the NCAA’s transfer portal. He ultimately decided to continue playing for UNLV after coach Kevin Kruger retooled the roster via the transfer portal, noting that his relationship with the first-year skipper played a role in his return.

“That relationship that (Kruger and I) had, it’s hard to go to a new school with a coach that you really don’t know,” Hamilton said. “Coach Kruger, we already had that good relationship. I felt like that was the best decision.”

Hamilton returns as the undisputed alpha, after consecutive years of All-Mountain West caliber play as one of the program’s best players in recent memory. He averaged 16 points per game as a sophomore in 2019-20 and 17.9 last season as a junior.

Naturally, the NBA appealed to the 6-foot-4-inch scorer.

He declared for the draft in March, mainly to solicit feedback about his professional prospects after three years with the Rebels.

“I got a lot of good feedback. About playing defense, shooting and just proving that I’m a winner,” Hamilton said. “I’m happy to be able to show that I can do all that. I’m excited.”

After withdrawing from the draft, though, he entered the transfer portal and generated interest from Power Five programs in search of a natural scorer. Kruger didn’t waver and maintained interest in Hamilton, revealing Wednesday that he met with Hamilton and his mother multiple times about the idea of returning to UNLV.

He decided in May to come back for one more year.

“That was a huge piece for us,” Kruger said. “Bryce’s ability to score, it’s just one of those things that’s an instinct for him. It’s natural. You’ve got nothing going and he just throws the ball in. And it’s great. All the coaches get a pat on the back, but he’s the one out there making things happen.”

Hamilton said Wednesday that this summer was perhaps his best as a basketball player, now that he knows specifically what NBA teams want to see from him and how he can apply it to his play. He shot from 3-point range at practice without hesitation and continued to maneuver into the mid-range and attack the basket like he so often did the last two seasons.

“We’re going to lean on him. Heavy. We told him that from the time he decided to come back,” Kruger said. “He’s just got that ability that a lot of people don’t have.”

Hamilton reiterated that he wants to win more than anything. To play in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in his college career.

If the Rebels are primed for any type of postseason run, he’ll surely be a part of it.

“I kind of had a feeling that he was going to come back,” said senior point guard Marvin Coleman. “But that was music to my ears (when I found out he was returning). He’s my guy.”

Contact reporter Sam Gordon at sgordon@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BySamGordon on Twitter.

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