It was early April when Troy Cage set out to make good on his promise to get stronger and work harder. Sitting on the bench most of the season was a great motivator.
Cage planned to be a factor for the UNLV basketball team in 2008-09.
But one month later, he was gone.
After a mid-April meeting with Rebels coach Lon Kruger, Cage said he was surprised to find out he did not fit into Kruger’s plans.
“It was disappointing at first,” Cage said, “but I realize at this level it’s a business.”
As cold as the business of Division I basketball might seem sometimes, it’s reality that players are basically forced out at major programs all the time. Cage, a redshirt freshman, could be considered a casualty of UNLV’s success the past two seasons.
He was told to get used to watching from the bench if he remained with the Rebels. Cage instead decided to transfer, announcing his plans in early May, but did not talk about why until recently.
“It was just a situation where I could stay and not really play much or I leave and go somewhere I can be happy,” he said. “I really didn’t understand the whole situation. I understood it to an extent.
“But I respect Coach Kruger. He’s a good guy. I just thought I got the short end of the stick.”
Kruger complimented Cage for being a “good kid, good student and good teammate,” and Cage was popular with teammates.
“I just hope the best for the guys that I left there. That’s still family to me,” Cage said. “I know they’re going to win.”
A 6-foot-5-inch shooting guard, Cage averaged 1.7 points and 5.5 minutes in 13 games last season, when a knee injury proved to be a major setback.
He is home in Baton Rouge, La., pondering his next move. He said he plans to attend a junior college, probably somewhere in Texas, for one year before returning to a D-I program for his final two years of eligibility.
“I can’t afford to sit out another year,” the 20-year-old said. “I still have a lot of basketball left to play.”
After UNLV was eliminated by Kansas in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, Cage said he had no thoughts of transferring.
“The week after we lost in the tournament, I started working out every morning and going at it hard,” he said. “A couple weeks later, Coach Kruger called me in his office and we had a conversation about me not playing much.
“I had made a commitment to him to make sure I worked hard to try to earn my playing time. I really felt I got the short end of the stick. I don’t know what I did that was that bad. I didn’t leave on bad terms or anything.”
Cage’s season got off to a bad start when he had left knee surgery Oct. 12 and missed more than two months. He returned and performed well in practices but never earned a spot in the rotation.
With a running vertical leap of 38 inches, a smooth jump shot and a willingness to play defense, Cage was one of the Rebels’ most athletic players.
Cage showed a glimpse of his potential in a loss at Brigham Young on Feb. 16. He was inserted in the first half and had 12 rebounds and four points in 21 minutes. But he rarely played the rest of the season.
• JASPER TO UNLV? — Derrick Jasper, a 6-6 sophomore point guard, has received his release from Kentucky. Jasper, from Paso Robles, Calif., said he wants to transfer to a West Coast school.
Jasper, a friend of UNLV sophomore guard Tre’Von Willis, is rumored to be favoring the Rebels. Kruger has two scholarships available after Cage’s departure.
• PRACTICE PLANS — The Rebels are allowed 10 practices before leaving June 23 for their summer tour of Australia.
The first practices will be at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. June 10 in the Cox Pavilion practice gym. The sessions will be open to the public.
Contact reporter Matt Youmans at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2907.