T.J. Otzelberger got into coaching as a teenager in Milwaukee by creating an AAU basketball team that quickly became a national power.
DeMarlo Slocum returned to Southern Nevada after playing at Dixie State and Georgia Southern and saw the need for a local AAU team. He helped create the Las Vegas Prospects, who didn’t take long to find success of their own.
Both coaches are in the building business again, with Otzelberger having been hired in March to take over UNLV. He soon hired Slocum, a longtime friend through the AAU circuit, off Utah’s staff.
“I’m blessed to have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Slocum said. “I couldn’t say yes fast enough.”
Slocum, 41, is one of two assistants with Las Vegas ties that Otzelberger added to the staff. He also hired former Rebels point guard Kevin Kruger, 36, away from Oklahoma, where he coached for his dad and former UNLV coach Lon Kruger.
“Coach Slocum (is) a guy who can speak not only to recruits but to our current players about what this program meant to him as a kid when he came to games, when he came to watch practices, how much he would’ve loved to have played here,” Otzelberger said. “There couldn’t be a better teacher, a better coach. He’s going to be a tremendous head coach some day.”
Otzelberger said all the assistants have a hand in each part of the preparation, but Slocum’s specialty is on defense.
Point guard Elijah Mitrou-Long said Slocum is so detailed that he will stop and restart a drill if what might appear a minor point to many isn’t properly executed.
“That teaches championship-level success,” Mitrou-Long said. “This program needs that, and we do, too, if we want to be a championship-level team. So he harps on the little things just like every other coach on the staff does. At the time, it’s probably hard and annoying. But in the long run, when we’re winning games and we’re doing good, we’re probably going to thank him.”
UNLV, which plays West Coast Baptist in an exhibition at 7 p.m. Friday at the Thomas & Mack Center, is in a rebuilding mode under a new staff. The Rebels went 17-14 last season, which was Marvin Menzies’ last after three years as UNLV’s coach.
Slocum can borrow from how he built the Prospects. He was the state Gatorade Player of the Year in 1996 at Eldorado High School, but he wasn’t offered a college scholarship.
He was determined to make sure other quality Las Vegas players wouldn’t face that kind of situation when he helped create the Prospects in 2003 with his cousin, Anthony Brown, who still runs the program. In the five years that Slocum was with the team, the Prospects were one of the West’s top AAU teams.
Slocum has been part of the rebuilding process in various stages at four colleges as well.
“It’s not new to me,” he said. “It’s exciting because you can build your brand and stamp your brand and your style of play, and then hopefully you can get the kids sooner than later excited about what it is you’re putting on the floor.”
UFC Hall of Famer Forrest Griffin showed up at UNLV’s basketball practice Tuesday morning at the Thomas & Mack Center with a belt that will go to the Rebels’ top defensive player each week this season.
The honor will be known as the “Top Stopper,” and the belt will be presented each Monday.
“Forrest has been so good to our program, unbelievable in helping train our guys,” Rebels coach T.J. Otzelberger said.