Rebels lean on four seniors

If he believed in psychics, Lon Kruger could pay a visit to one and get a reading on his basketball team’s future. That is unnecessary, though, because the UNLV coach already knows what to expect.

Kruger has at least four reasons to believe he will like what he sees between now and the middle of March.

And those reasons are the Rebels’ four seniors — Wink Adams, Joe Darger, Rene Rougeau and Mareceo Rutledge.

Young teams are more inclined to disappoint. Experienced teams with strong leaders are more likely to meet high expectations.

“I think anytime you have good senior leadership, it helps you realize all your goals,” Kruger said. “You always feel better when you have four seniors like we have right now.”

Dependable players who work hard get results — it’s not exactly a forecast from a crystal ball; it’s more reliable than that.

Kruger’s fifth season at UNLV opens against San Diego at 2:30 p.m. today at the Thomas & Mack Center.

The Rebels return three starters from last season’s 27-8 team that reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Adams, Darger and Rougeau form the foundation for what many expect to be a highly successful run.

“It’s not going to be easy,” said Adams, a three-year starter and last season’s leading scorer at 16.9 points per game. “To meet expectations, we’ve got to go out and earn it.”

When the schedule was released, the Toreros figured to pose a rigid test. In coach Bill Grier’s first season, San Diego went 22-14 and upset Connecticut in the NCAA Tournament’s first round.

Grier welcomed back five starters this season. But at least two of them, and maybe three, will be missing in action today.

Grier handed down a one-game suspension to Gyno Pomare, a 6-foot-8-inch senior forward, for an unspecified violation of team rules.

Pomare was a first-team All-West Coast Conference pick last season when he averaged 14.1 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. He had 23 points and 10 rebounds in the Toreros’ 66-55 loss to UNLV in San Diego last November.

Sophomore point guard Trumaine Johnson also is suspended, and junior guard De’Jon Jackson is questionable with a knee injury. Reserve forward Clinton Houston also is suspended.

San Diego was short-handed in a 71-67 exhibition victory over Cal State Los Angeles last week, so all things considered, it would be a major surprise if the Rebels stumble in their opener.

Kruger is taking a cautious approach, saying: “It will be a real tough test. It’s an unusual opener because it’s not one where you can just expect to empty the bench.”

The Toreros still have a star to lean on in senior guard Brandon Johnson, who averaged 16.9 points and made 80 3-pointers last season.

“He does for them what Wink does for us,” Kruger said.

Adams scored 27 points in UNLV’s 74-56 exhibition victory over Division II Washburn of Topeka, Kan., on Tuesday. The Rebels committed 22 turnovers and realized their need for improvement.

“We learned from it, and I think everybody is more focused on what we have to do,” Adams said. “We’ve got to be disciplined and play defense for 40 minutes.

“We can’t overlook this team.”

Rutledge is the only senior who will come off the Rebels’ bench. Adams, Darger and Rougeau will start with junior forward Darris Santee and freshman point guard Oscar Bellfield.

Sophomore point guard Tre’Von Willis will begin the season as a backup to Bellfield. Willis has shown the potential to be a key scorer.

“It will be a work in progress for a while with Oscar and Tre’Von,” Kruger said. “I think they will develop into a good tandem.”

Bellfield is new to the UNLV program, but he’s aware of what the future might bring.

“Expectations are high, and that’s what we need,” Bellfield said. “We know that we’re going to have a target on our back against every team we play.”

Contact reporter Matt Youmans at or 702-387-2907.

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