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Rebels’ lineup filling out fast

With an eye on the distant future, UNLV coach Lon Kruger spent last weekend scouting high school basketball players.

Kruger’s assistants also hit the recruiting trail, looking for pieces to fit the Rebels’ puzzle. But scholarships are going fast, and there are only a couple of openings left.

The next one might not go to a high school star, either.

“If we take a transfer, it will only be someone who we feel can make a big impact on the program,” Kruger said.

Two players potentially fit that description — Kentucky sophomore guard Derrick Jasper and Pepperdine freshman forward Malcolm Thomas — and both are showing interest in UNLV.

If Jasper gets his release from Kentucky soon, as expected, he probably would become the favorite to get the Rebels’ fifth and final scholarship for 2008.

Thomas, who visited UNLV less than two weeks ago, is waiting for an offer from UCLA. He also is considering San Diego State and was scheduled to visit Boston College last weekend.

Kruger has signed four players for 2008, and two more orally committed to the Rebels for 2009. So if Kruger adds a transfer, he would have only one scholarship available for 2009.

UNLV has several recruiting targets in the junior class, including two local guards — Cheyenne’s Elijah Johnson and Mojave’s Anthony Marshall. Findlay College Prep forward Clarence Trent is another talented player on the Rebels’ radar.

What appears to be a numbers crunch is not necessarily a dilemma, Kruger said.

“If a transfer wants to come, you have to weigh that against the possibility of who you might get in ’09,” he said.

“If you like the group you have, you don’t worry so much about what you don’t have. And we really like the group we’ve got.”

The departures of seniors Corey Bailey and Curtis Terry left two scholarships for 2008, and three more opened when Emmanuel Adeife and Marcus Lawrence were dismissed from the team and Lamar Roberson transferred.

UNLV’s four signees are prep seniors Oscar Bellfield, Brice Massamba and Deshawn Mitchell, and junior college transfer Darris Santee.

Kruger goes into next season with four seniors — Wink Adams, Joe Darger, Rene Rougeau and Mareceo Rutledge. Rougeau, who started 27 games as a junior, is not on scholarship.

Rougeau is expected to get a scholarship for his senior year if the Rebels do not add a transfer, and that could open a fourth scholarship for the 2009 class.

Findlay Prep junior forward Carlos Lopez and Justin Hawkins, a guard from Woodland Hills (Calif.) Taft High, are the two early oral commitments.

Kruger dismissed the notion that he’s not getting 5-star prospects, at least according to national recruiting analysts.

“We don’t concern ourselves with the star system at all. That might be good for conversation,” Kruger said. “But no one had (former Rebels) Lou Amundson and Joel Anthony as 5-star recruits, and both of those guys are in the NBA.

“We’re always looking for good people who are good athletes and can shoot the ball well, and who want to be here for the right reasons.”

The Rebels are adding six players for next season. Freshman center Beas Hamga and sophomore point guard Tre’Von Willis could step in and start after sitting out a redshirt year.

“With our four seniors, you add Beas and Tre’Von, who have been in the program for a year, and that’s a good amount of experience returning,” Kruger said.

If Jasper or Thomas transfer, they would be required to sit out next season.

Jasper, a 6-foot-6-inch point guard from Paso Robles, Calif., has said he wants to transfer from Kentucky to a West Coast school, and UNLV is believed to be at the top of his list.

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

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