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New Rebels center Hamga adapting to college game

Every practice is a learning process for Beas Hamga. One lesson UNLV’s 7-foot freshman has absorbed is the importance of remaining realistic and ignoring the hype.

A lot has been said about him, and Hamga has heard most of it. He acknowledges he is a major curiosity because he has gone mostly unseen, and because the team desperately needs a talented center.

When he debuts for the Rebels in November, he will not immediately inspire comparisons to Tim Duncan or Dwight Howard or any other great big man.

“I know all the fans, that’s what they’re waiting for right now,” Hamga said with a smile. “I know the expectations are big, but this will be my first season to play college basketball.

“It’s not like right away I will step on the court and do what the fans want me to do. I just want to tell them I’ve never played college basketball in my life. So we need to take it slow.”

Hamga arrived at UNLV last fall as a raw recruit, a relative newcomer to the game after growing up in Cameroon. His skills and strength improved dramatically while he redshirted last season, but he still has miles to go in his development.

So as the Rebels prepare to depart June 23 for a tour of Australia, where they will play six exhibition games, Hamga might be the player with the most to gain.

“The games and practice are two different things, so it’s going to be a good opportunity for me,” he said.

Hamga had an eye-opening experience during Wednesday afternoon’s practice at Cox Pavilion. He got the chance to bang against a true brawler, 6-foot-9-inch, 270-pound Kaspars Kambala, who played for the Rebels from 1997 to 2001 and is now a heavyweight boxer.

Kambala presented a physical test, and the 225-pound Hamga sometimes struggled with it.

“It was a great beginning going against him. He’s tough and very big,” said Hamga, who has gone toe-to-toe with UNLV post players Joe Darger, Rene Rougeau and Matt Shaw in practices.

Rebels coach Lon Kruger has recruited some former players for the pre-Australia practices. Two NBA big men, Joel Anthony and Louis Amundson, are expected to show up within a week.

“All this is great for Beas,” Kruger said. “He hasn’t really been in situations where possessions are significant for a long time. When you’re on the scout team, it’s different.

“He’s got a good attitude about working to get better. He has worked hard, and this will be a real good 10 days of practice for him. He’ll get better and better with each week.”

Kruger said Hamga is no exception from most freshmen in that he needs work on both ends of the floor. Hamga was a step slow Wednesday when trying to score in the paint.

“It’s just being tired from going hard all the time in practice,” Hamga said. “This is all new stuff for me.

“Right now, I’m just trying to focus on what the coach is saying and do what the coach wants me to do. It’s kind of confusing, but I’m getting it. I still have a lot to learn.”

• NOTES — Kruger said Kambala expects to return Friday, when the Rebels practice at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. … The team is off today. The final practice this week is scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday.

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

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