With three players having been out with injuries, first-year UNLV basketball coach Marvin Menzies hasn’t been able to fully evaluate his team.
Junior 6-foot-2-inch guard Jovan Mooring’s absence has complicated how the battle at point guard plays out. The same is true at center, with 6-11 freshman Cheickna Dembele sidelined until about the Nov. 11 season opener and 6-8 freshman forward Troy Baxter Jr. having returned to practice Tuesday.
Menzies did not provide injury information on Mooring and Baxter because of privacy laws, but Dembele is out with an injured right heel.
One of the key questions is at point guard, and Mooring could be out for about another two weeks. He is competing with 6-5 freshman Zion Morgan and 6-2 junior Larry Bush, and 6-4 sophomore Jalen Poyser is being considered as well. Poyser, though, will spend much of his time at one of the wing spots.
“I haven’t come to any conclusions on who walks out there first,” Menzies said Thursday before a sponsored luncheon at Mendenhall Center. “We know who’s going to get some minutes there.
“It will really come down to how they perform the next two or three weeks in practice before we start the season. I would like to have those things identified by then, to say at least, ‘This is how we’re rolling it out.’ You’ve got to give them their roles before you get too deep into it.”
At center, getting Baxter on the court is a bonus. He and 6-7 senior Christian Jones are being used at that spot with Dembele out. Dembele was cleared Wednesday by the NCAA to play after his transcripts were reviewed, but the injury could keep him off the court until about the time the Rebels open against South Alabama at the Thomas & Mack Center.
“He’s going to play a critical role for us early,” Menzies said. “Now it may take a little bit longer for him to settle in to get familiar with the system. He’s doing all the right things. He’s a great kid in terms of his rehab and keeping his conditioning that he had gained over the summer.”
Baxter was a late addition to the team, not signing until after the Rebels put in three weeks of practices and exhibition games in August. He had signed with South Florida, but even with Baxter’s recent injury, Menzies has seen enough to be impressed.
“He’s done a good job with the cardio, keeping that up while he was out,” Menzies said. “I think his athleticism and his instincts are a very, very high level, so even when he messes up a little bit sometimes, he can recover because of how hard he plays.”
Menzies would prefer to play Dembele at center and put Jones and Baxter at forward. But the injury situation has not made that possible — for now anyway.
“We may be able to do a little small ball from time to time, and we’ve got some guys that are versatile and interchangeable at those positions,” Menzies said. “We’ll keep you guys (media) guessing for a little bit before we figure it all out.”
Menzies said that last sentence with a smile. He would be smiling even more if all his players were healthy.
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