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Rebels’ Smith awaits NCAA’s call

Sooner or later, Roscoe Smith will get the chance to show what he’s all about as a basketball player. In the meantime, he can show off his personality.

“If you ask anybody, I’m a nice guy,” he said. “People always like me.”

UNLV coach Dave Rice confirmed that statement, endorsing Smith as popular with his new teammates because of his attitude and experience. Smith can play, too, and that always helps.

But when he will be allowed to play again is the side of his story that no one knows.

“Right now, it’s a waiting game,” said Smith, who sat out the Rebels’ fifth day of practice Thursday. “The NCAA has a lot of rules, so we’ve got to be patient and wait on it.”

Smith announced he was transferring from Connecticut to UNLV on May 25, following an NCAA ruling banning the Huskies from participating in the 2013 postseason. In that situation, some players are allowed to transfer and compete immediately.

Alex Oriakhi left UConn for Missouri, where he will play this season as a senior. Smith, who has two years of eligibility and a redshirt year remaining, might not be granted the same status. In early July, UNLV submitted a waiver to the NCAA to seek Smith’s immediate eligibility, and the answer is up in the air.

“I have no idea,” Smith said. “It’s definitely a different situation between me and Alex because he’s a senior.”

The possibility exists Smith, a 6-foot-8-inch forward, could be forced to redshirt this year. With his status pending, he’s being held out of practice this month as the Rebels prepare for a four-game exhibition tour to Canada.

Rice initially said he expected Smith and Pittsburgh transfer Khem Birch, a 6-9 center, would be eligible for practices, but some confusion arose over NCAA rules on transfers. Birch’s case is more unexpected because he practiced with UNLV from January to March.

Regardless, neither player was going to make the Canada trip next week. But now, both players sit in folding chairs, watch and wait.

“Every college kid that transfers wants to play right now,” Smith said. “I’m definitely anxious to go out there with the fellas. If I’m able to play, I’m going to be ready. But if I don’t, I’m going to cheer my guys on and continue to work hard.”

Smith has a perspective that is different from his new teammates. A two-year starter at Connecticut, he helped the Huskies defeat Butler in the 2011 NCAA championship game.

“The thing that impresses me most is how Roscoe has been a leader for us,” Rice said.

Smith left after the UConn program was nailed by NCAA sanctions, saying he parted on good terms and not because of problems with coach Jim Calhoun. Smith’s two-day visit to the UNLV campus in May made a positive impression.

“I’m an East Coast guy. This is something new in my career,” Smith said. “It’s a better situation. It’s a family-oriented team here.”

Rice said if the NCAA does not approve the waiver for Smith, he will redshirt and Savon Goodman, a 6-6 forward from Constitution High School in Philadelphia, will play as a freshman. Goodman’s potential is obvious, and he appears ready to contribute soon.

But Smith, a strong defender and rebounder, has more shooting range and two years of seasoning in the Big East Conference.

“A guy like Roscoe, who has won a championship, knows what it takes. I think that’s just the kind of experience that we need,” junior forward Mike Moser said. “Hopefully, we’ll see if we can get him on the court.”

If not, Smith said he won’t walk around with a frown. That’s not part of his likable personality.

“I’m still having fun,” he said. “If I’m fortunate enough to play, that will be a great piece to the puzzle for us.”

Contact reporter Matt Youmans at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907. Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.

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