Mitchell eager for larger role

For most of the past month, DeShawn Mitchell has been seated on the bench as if stuck by glue. When the UNLV freshman gets up, it’s to be a cheerleader or to check in and watch the final seconds tick off the clock.

Why he’s not playing much is no mystery to Mitchell.

“You’ve got to practice hard to play. At first, I wasn’t really practicing that hard,” he said.

But if Mitchell plays more tonight when the Rebels (10-2) play Southern Utah (3-8) at the Thomas & Mack Center, it won’t necessarily be because the game is a blowout and coach Lon Kruger feels like clearing the bench.

Mitchell is making an effort to earn minutes by bringing more intensity during recent practices and sticking around to shoot jumpers after some teammates are in the showers.

“He’s had a real good week of practice,” Kruger said. “He can do some things that can help us, and he’s starting to do that in practice, which is the whole key.”

The Thunderbirds, who have lost six games by seven points or fewer, might be better than their record suggests.

“We can’t look past Southern Utah to Louisville (on Jan. 31) because those type of games come back to haunt you,” UNLV senior Rene Rougeau said.

The Rebels are riding high after a 79-64 victory over Arizona on Saturday. Mitchell checked in for only the last minute of the game, which has been sort of his routine lately.

But in his UNLV debut against Texas-Pan American on Nov. 18, he put on an impressive dunking display and scored 14 points in 14 minutes. Two days later he scored five points in 10 minutes in a victory over Northern Arizona.

Since then, the 6-foot-5-inch forward has four points in 14 minutes spanning six games, with few meaningful minutes.

“He wasn’t doing things that indicated he was ready to step on the floor,” Kruger said. “If he was, we would play him.”

Mitchell said he got “kind of lazy” in practices after his 14-point game.

“After that I stopped playing hard, stopped coming early and staying after (practices),” he said. “It was really me. I was just messing up myself. I’m trying to get back on track.”

Mitchell said his role model is Rougeau, a former walk-on who did not even earn a scholarship until this year. Rougeau knows as well as anyone that no Rebels player is entitled to playing time.

“I’ve been in that same position before, so all you can do is just wait and be patient, stay positive and keep working hard,” Rougeau said. “That happens sometimes, and we all get a little complacent.

“Sometimes it can get difficult playing on the practice squad, but you have to remember you’re a freshman and you’ve got three more years after that. You’ve got to be ready at all times.”

Mitchell, averaging 2.9 points in eight games, said he’s not looking for the easy way out.

“I’m not really discouraged. I just know I’ve got to work hard as a freshman to come in and get minutes,” he said. “I’m happy to be here. I love being here.

“It’s about winning, and we have been winning, so it’s fine.”

* NOTES — UNLV will play Southern Utah at Cedar City, Utah, next December. The Thunderbirds are expected to return to Las Vegas in 2010. … The Rebels also will play nonconference road games against Arizona and Santa Clara next year, in addition to an eight-team tournament in Hawaii around Christmas.

Contact reporter Matt Youmans at myouman@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907.

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