A few big plans are in Wink Adams’ future. Near the top of the UNLV junior’s list is a return trip to the NCAA Tournament — and an extended stay.
The sweat on Adams’ shoulders had not even dried Saturday, after the Rebels’ 75-56 loss to Kansas in the Midwest Regional’s second round at Omaha, Neb., and he already was looking ahead.
"Next year we hope that we get back to this stage and come with a better team, and we’ll be well equipped so we can do better in the tournament," he said. "I don’t think we’re too far away."
Adams shrugged off the idea that he could declare for early entry into the NBA Draft, not sign an agent, test the waters and still return to UNLV as a senior.
"We talked to Wink today about that, and he said, ‘No, not interested. I’m going to be here for my senior season,’ " Rebels coach Lon Kruger said Monday.
Adams, a 6-foot guard from Houston, has a shot to emerge as the top player in the Mountain West Conference next season, and he can continue to put his fingerprints all over the UNLV record book.
Adams has 1,432 points to rank 14th on the Rebels’ career list behind Larry Johnson (1,617). With another strong season, Adams could become the fifth UNLV player to score at least 2,000 points.
In the loss to top-seeded Kansas, Adams scored 25 points. He averaged 22.8 points over the last five games, leading the Rebels to the Mountain West tournament championship and a first-round NCAA victory over Kent State.
His supporting cast next season will be deeper in numbers and more impressive in talent.
Kruger says goodbye to two senior starters, point guard Curtis Terry and forward Corey Bailey, but returns eight players from this season’s 27-8 team.
UNLV’s senior class will consist of Adams, 6-7 forward Joe Darger, 6-6 forward Rene Rougeau and 6-3 guard Mareceo Rutledge.
Kruger will also add two players who redshirted, 7-foot freshman Beas Hamga and 6-4 sophomore Tre’Von Willis, and he’ll welcome at least four recruits. He has one scholarship left to give.
The Rebels finished 30-7 in the 2006-07 season and made a run to the Sweet 16. So after the repeat success of this season’s team, Kruger is aware of elevated expectations.
"I think expectations being higher are good," Kruger said. "That’s the nature of having back-to-back good years, and that’s a healthy thing. But that doesn’t mean more wins necessarily, because for next year’s team it’s a trap.
"We could be a better team and not win as many games. It’s always hard to win 27 games. We’ve got some tough road games in the schedule early, and the conference is going to be better."
UNLV opens the season at home against San Diego, which reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament, and also hosts Arizona for the second year in a row. The Rebels have road games against Louisville, Fresno State, Texas-El Paso and UNR.
Willis, who transferred after his freshman season at Memphis, is expected to start at point guard.
"Tre’Von is so talented," Rougeau said. "He kind of reminds me of the Kansas guards, to be honest."
Hamga, declared academically ineligible by the NCAA in October, has performed well in school and made dramatic strides as a player after five months of practice with the team.
"People should understand that Beas has never played in college and Tre’Von has played only a little, and those are two guys who are going to step in and play big roles," Kruger said.
The Rebels can employ a more conventional lineup with Hamga at center and Darger and Rougeau at the forward positions. Willis can run the point, next to Adams at shooting guard, and Kendall Wallace will be a sophomore capable of playing both guard spots.
Matt Shaw, a 6-8 forward who was the sixth man as a sophomore, will be a major part of the rotation. Troy Cage, a 6-5 swingman who played sparingly as a redshirt freshman, and Rutledge must improve over the summer to earn more minutes.
Kruger said Adams won’t move to the point. Oscar Bellfield, a 6-1 point guard from Westchester High School in Los Angeles, made an oral commitment to UNLV this month.
Bellfield is the fourth member of a recruiting class that includes Brice Massamba, a 6-10 forward from Findlay Prep; Deshawn Mitchell, a 6-6 forward from Monmouth Academy in Howell, N.J.; and 6-8 forward Darris Santee from Midland (Texas) College.
"Next year we’ll have some bodies down low, and we’ve got some guards here. Our chemistry is going to be there with Tre’Von and Beas coming in," Adams said. "We’re just going to be a better team."
Contact reporter Matt Youmans at email@example.com or (702) 387-2907.