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T.J. Otzelberger’s ex-players offer rave reviews of new UNLV coach

Updated March 28, 2019 - 7:59 pm

T.J. Otzelberger’s first priority as UNLV’s basketball coach is to convince the current players to stay with the Rebels.

It was the same way when he took over at South Dakota State three years ago and needed to sell his vision to Jackrabbits players, including Mike Daum, one of the best players in Summit League history.

“We were going through that sketchy time period where we didn’t really know what was going on,” Daum said. “We had our core group of guys that were trying to figure it all out, and he did such a great job of coming in and just wanting to make it a point to build relationships with us and our families. Everything kind of clicked. He had done his research, he knew our backgrounds.”

That personal connection was also something Royce White appreciated about his time playing for Otzelberger when he was an assistant coach at Iowa State.

“I’ve got big love for T.J.,” said White, a first-round pick in the NBA draft after one season with the Cyclones. “He was instrumental in us turning it around at Iowa State. He’s relatable. He’s a funny guy. He’s lighthearted and talks to you on a real level. He doesn’t treat guys like he’s above them. I could go in there and talk to T.J. any day of the week, and we could chat for an hour about anything. That’s a main quality you need to relate to players now.”

Otzelberger parlayed his work as an assistant at Iowa State and Washington into the head coaching job at South Dakota State, where his success caught the attention of UNLV athletic director Desiree Reed-Francois.

Daum, who just finished his senior season, was a major factor in Otzelberger’s two NCAA Tournament appearances in three seasons in Brookings, and he credits his coach with helping him become just the 10th player in Division I history to score 3,000 points.

“He’s one of the best guys I think I’ve ever met in my life,” Daum said. “He’s a one-of-a-kind guy. He’s totally a players’ coach. He’s a guy willing to do whatever it takes to make sure his players are taken care of.”

It’s not surprising that Daum thinks Otzelberger will quickly make UNLV a Mountain West power.

“He’s one of those rare coaches where he’s able to find key guys in certain areas that you might not think have star potential and able to pull something out of them that nobody else could have,” Daum said. “He’s going to be able to take a group of guys who may be broken down some or a group you might not expect to do anything and be able to make a run.”

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Contact Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com or 702-277-8028. Follow @AdamHillLVRJ on Twitter.

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