June 13, 2015 - 11:25 pm
On the brink of his fifth season as UNLV basketball coach, Dave Rice has pieced together what might be his deepest roster yet. He has talent stacked at each position, with several players versatile enough to handle multiple positions. He also has one vacancy.
Who is the best fit to complete the Rebels’ puzzle? Rice has pondered that question for weeks.
Eli Carter, a graduate transfer from Florida, could be the answer. A 6-foot-2-inch combo guard, Carter is making an official visit to UNLV this weekend. He’s one of two players currently in the running for the last remaining scholarship.
Justin Jackson, a 6-7 forward from Findlay Prep, is another option. But Jackson’s eligibility for the 2015-16 season remains a mystery.
Filling out the roster and finalizing the nonconference schedule are Rice’s immediate priorities, and he’s moving to conclude both matters.
Carter is intriguing because of his experience and scoring ability. He spent his first two years at Rutgers, topped 1,000 career points in February and had three 20-point games for the Gators last season.
But his two years at Florida were complicated by injuries and inconsistency. He missed most of the 2013-14 season and was a medical redshirt while recovering from a broken right leg. Last season, Carter missed time with a sprained left foot and started 17 of his 28 games. He averaged 8.8 points and shot 30.5 percent (43 of 141) from 3-point range.
The Rebels have plenty of depth at point guard and shooting guard, so there might not be much time available for Carter in a crowded backcourt.
Senior Jerome Seagears, junior Daquan Cook and freshman Jalen Poyser are the point guards. Seagears transferred from Rutgers, where he played with Carter. The shooting guard spot, loaded with experience and talent, features sophomores Patrick McCaw and Jordan Cornish and senior Ike Nwamu, a transfer from Mercer.
Rice is planning to utilize more players and frequent three-guard lineups next season. He envisions a team that plays pressure defense and runs, and he needs depth to execute his plan. But he already has 12 scholarship players who are expecting to see significant minutes, and Carter would be the 13th. No college coach in the country uses more than 10 players regularly.
Jackson, a highly touted UNLV commit, left Findlay Prep a year early with hopes of reclassifying as a 2015 recruit, but his status remains in limbo. Jackson made Canada’s Under-19 National Team roster and will compete in the FIBA World Championships in late June.
Rice could wait on Jackson, sign Carter, who is also considering Georgetown and Memphis, or hold onto the scholarship to keep his options open. Jackson might still wind up in the Rebels’ 2016 recruiting class.
In the meantime, Rice is close to releasing the nonconference schedule, which includes the Maui Invitational before Thanksgiving and three true road games against Wichita State (Dec. 9), UC Riverside (Dec. 12) and Arizona (Dec. 19).
UNLV is working to finalize a contract with Oregon for a Dec. 4 game at the MGM Grand Garden, the last puzzle piece to a challenging nonconference schedule.
The eight-team bracket in Maui — including Indiana, Kansas and UCLA — and Mountain West schedule are expected to be announced in early August.
Contact reporter Matt Youmans at email@example.com or 702-387-2907. Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.