UNLV basketball players attended coach T.J. Otzelberger’s introductory news conference Thursday and sat quietly while he preached the importance of their presence in his program.
“We need to re-recruit these young men,” Otzelberger said. “We need to share with them our vision of what we can be.”
Otzelberger, who agreed to a five-year contract with a $1.3 million average, inherits a roster that includes seven players who have entered the NCAA’s transfer portal, and he affirmed his desire to retain them.
He said he contacted the team via video conference Wednesday and indicated he intends to build relationships quickly.
“They didn’t sign up to be in this situation, and so, more than anything, I want them to know that I’m there for them,” Otzelberger said. “The No. 1 priority is these guys. … I’m going to spend that individual time with each and every one of them and (do) everything I can to be there for them.”
Players were not made available for comment. All but two of them — forwards Shakur Juiston and Tervell Beck — attended the news conference.
Juiston, fellow forwards Mbacke Diong, Joel Ntambwe, Cheickna Dembele and Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua and guards Bryce Hamilton and Amauri Hardy are in the transfer portal, which allows them to explore opportunities at other universities.
They also can return to UNLV to play for Otzelberger, who utilized an up-tempo offense at South Dakota State and wants to do the same with the Rebels.
“We want what’s best for those young men, but we also want young men that want to be here,” UNLV athletic director Desiree Reed-Francois said. “That’s really important. These young men, they committed to UNLV, but he’s going to have to re-recruit them and make sure it’s a fit for them.”
Juiston averaged 10.8 points and 8.8 rebounds but missed most of his senior season with a knee injury. He would be eligible as a graduate transfer to play immediately at another school.
Hardy, who will be a junior, averaged 13.1 points, and Ntambwe averaged 11.8 points and 5.5 points as a freshman.
Diong averaged 6.9 points and 6.8 rebounds.
Otzelberger said he has studied the makeup of the roster and is familiar with how the Rebels played.
“They are absolutely the core of our program, and as we build moving forward, they’re the most important thing, so I want to make sure they know the most important thing,” Otzelberger said. “I want to make sure the time I spend with them reflects that.”