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Graduate transfers counted on to bring leadership to UNLV

It’s like St. John’s all over again for Christian Jones, who for the second year in a row is playing for a basketball program under a first-year coach and on a roster dramatically different from just months earlier.

“I’m really kind of used to it,” he said.

Jones and fellow UNLV graduate transfer Uche Ofoegbu, making the transition from San Francisco, are being counted on as much to guide the Rebels through this turbulent time as to provide on-court production.

This is a UNLV team of many first-year players after all — there are only three returnees — and experience is in as much supply as positive campaign ads during an election year.

“The two that we have are big time,” coach Marvin Menzies said. “You saw (in Ofoegbu) what I’ve got every day, a high-character kid really about the team, as well as Chris, an experienced guy out of the Big East who brings a lot to the table. When you come in and you ask for some input on some things, they’re kind of the first guys who jump out there, and Jalen (Poyser) as well.”

UNLV wraps up its second week of practices Friday before leaving Saturday for the Bahamas, where the Rebels will play three exhibitions over a weeklong stay. Their first game is at noon PDT Sunday against the University of Toronto.

This three-week stretch is about putting the personnel pieces together and getting early answers in advance of preseason practice, which begins in late September.

The answers include the roles that will be filled by Jones and Ofoegbu. Their specific responsibilities will be worked out leading to the Nov. 11 season opener against South Alabama at the Thomas & Mack Center, but signs of how they will contribute are emerging.

Jones, a 6-foot-7-inch forward, will be counted on to bolster the front court with his defense and rebounding. He averaged 8.4 points and 5.2 rebounds last season with the St. John’s, blocking 17 shots and registering three double-doubles.

Ofoegbu, a 6-4 guard, brings an ability to shoot from long range, having made 50.8 percent of his shots last season at San Francisco, including 43.5 percent on 3-pointers. He averaged 9.2 points.

“I’ve been here before, so I consider myself a vet,” Ofoegbu said. “The trials and tribulations, the ups and downs with the season, I feel I can help the team with that. Offensively, I know how to get to my spots. I’m a pretty good 3-point shooter. I can get to the rim using my body. I know how to play defense. I’ve played for three different coaches now, so I feel like I can help make a difference overall. It’s like another coach on the court.”

With a soft November schedule, Jones and Ofoegbu can help the Rebels get off to a strong start before December arrives and opponents such as Duke, Kansas and Oregon show up.

“Being that I played three years of college basketball already, I know the ins and outs of playing, so the biggest thing is being that leader,” Jones said. Leadership is important “because coming in St. John’s as a freshman, I didn’t have any experience at all. I asked the older guys the questions of how the game is played and what to expect.”

Contact Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2914. Follow on Twitter: @markanderson65

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