One look at Quintrell Thomas is all it takes to understand why he started his college basketball career at Kansas. At 6 feet 8 inches and 245 pounds, he’s a powerful presence.
In fact, Jayhawks coach Bill Self once described Thomas as a “prototypical power forward.” But Self had more talented big men than he could count, and Thomas was left out.
“It was a numbers game,” Thomas said.
So he decided to transfer and made a call to the program that was his second choice, UNLV, which has become a second-chance destination for several players.
The Rebels will start three transfers this season — senior guards Tre’Von Willis (Memphis) and Derrick Jasper (Kentucky) and junior forward Chace Stanback (UCLA) — and Thomas figures to be the fourth at some point as a sophomore.
“He’s a big body inside, something we have not had for a couple years, so he adds a lot,” said UNLV coach Lon Kruger, who courted Thomas in high school at Newark, N.J. “During the recruiting, we liked the family, and his mom was great.
“Even the first time around, I think if you ask her, she might have been on our side.”
But Thomas, ranked the nation’s 149th-best player in the class of 2008 by Rivals.com, admits with a smile that he was more impressed with what Kansas had to offer and somewhat leery of the temptations of Las Vegas.
“When I came out here, my mind wasn’t in the right place as far as what I needed at the time,” he said. “I came thinking Vegas has a lot of distractions and things like that. That was kind of my impression.
“I was worried about my focus, and I guess Kansas was a higher profile school at the time. So my mind wasn’t in the right place.”
The Jayhawks had no place to play Thomas as a freshman. He appeared in 26 games and averaged only 5.4 minutes, 1.5 points and 2.0 rebounds. He transferred to UNLV in May 2009 and redshirted last season.
“I can’t complain,” he said. “I got a chance to learn from (former Kansas star and current Jayhawks assistant) Danny Manning, so that was good. I learned things there that I could bring here.”
What he could bring to the Rebels, who have been a doughnut with a hole in the middle, is what they lacked the past three seasons.
“Quintrell’s certainly a big, powerful rebounder, and I think he will score more in time,” Kruger said. “He will be a very physical and aggressive player inside.”
UNLV finally has more interior manpower with Thomas, 6-10 junior center Brice Massamba and 6-11 freshman forward Carlos Lopez.
“Seeing the team go through certain games last season, like San Diego State or USC, for example, there were times when I wished I could be in there and help,” Thomas said. “I have to be more physical than I have in the past because we need that right now.
“When I first got here, I wasn’t as physical as the coaches would have liked, so they were on me all last year about using my body more.”
He benefited from the redshirt year by getting surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder.
“I feel 100 times better than I did before the surgery,” he said.
And after spending more time in Las Vegas, his impression of it has changed.
“Vegas is a good place. You only find trouble if you’re looking for it,” he said. “You would need to have a lot of money to get in trouble out here, and I’m not in a position to do such things.”
Contact reporter Matt Youmans at email@example.com or 702-387-2907.