UNLV basketball hopes to take step forward with 2nd recruiting class

Updated April 11, 2017 - 8:47 pm

It’s the next step in the rebuilding process, the second spring signing period under Marvin Menzies’ watch at UNLV.

This isn’t the class that will by itself turn around the Rebels’ basketball program, but this group of players will play a vital role.

Menzies will announce the class when the signing period opens Wednesday, though more members are expected to be added.

“Obviously, every year you have to design your recruiting class to maximize your potential to win that following year,” Menzies said. “However, at the beginning of a journey, you have to process it even a little bit further out. So that’s why strategically things are done a little bit differently taking over a program as compared to three or four years into it when you should be by then into a more steady flow of recruiting to your philosophy.

“Eventually, we’d like to get to predominately high school players and periodically looking at a transfer or junior college kid, depending on needs to be efficient the next year. At this stage of the game, however, we’re kind of open to trying to collect the best talent available, but also give us a dual-prong approach to having some talent in the cupboard for the long term as well.”

The Rebels are looking to respond from the worst season in program history, an 11-21 record that included a first-round loss in the Mountain West tournament.

Building the class

UNLV announced one signing in November during the fall period — 6-foot 5-inch guard Jay Green of Hillcrest Prep in Phoenix.

The Rebels picked up three more commitments who are expected to be announced Wednesday — 6-11 forward Chiekh Mbacke Diong of Melbourne’s Florida Air Academy, 6-6 forward Tervell Beck of OnPoint Hoops Academy in El Reno, Oklahoma, and 6-7 forward Anthony Smith of Feather River College in Quincy, California.

After three players left the program March 29, two open spots were created for scholarships.

UNLV brought in at least two junior college recruits last weekend, according to a source with knowledge of the visits. CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein reported one of those was 6-7 forward Shakur Juiston of Hutchison (Kansas) Community College, who, according to Zagsblog.com, also is considering Kansas, Oklahoma and Connecticut, among others.

Menzies has to decide whether more than two spots will be open, factoring in the effects on the Academic Progress Rate should other players depart UNLV. And he has to decide whether he has better players coming in rather than leaving before persuading anyone to exit.

“We’re looking at a lot of moving pieces because of the APR situation,” Menzies said. “We need to make sure that guys are staying on top of their academics, but at the same time, we’re evaluating how guys are handling their business daily here from the individual workouts to every component of the program. It’s always an evaluation in your first year with new guys.”

Making a late push

Menzies was working at a major disadvantage in assembling the 2017 class because he recruited a different caliber of player at New Mexico State, his previous coaching stop. Attracting the kinds of players UNLV is accustomed to signing was difficult because such relationships are established over years.

But the Rebels remain in contention for San Diego 6-11 center Brandon McCoy, who also lists Oregon, Arizona, Michigan and San Diego State among his choices. ESPN ranks McCoy as the nation’s No. 6 recruit.

Also, 6-5 guard M.J. Walker of Jonesboro, Georgia, reportedly added UNLV to his list of schools that includes Kansas, UCLA and Florida State, among others. ESPN ranks him 19th.

Menzies isn’t allowed under NCAA rules to comment on unsigned recruits, but he did address whether gains had been made attracting top players.

“I think that we have made some progress,” he said. “However, the talent pool was thin in the early signed period. It didn’t all of the sudden get thick. It’s still thin, but at least for the guys that select to sign late, we’ve had time to groom relationships and become more involved with building a reputation and building a package to present to them.

“I feel like we’ll have some pretty good signatures on signing day.”

Follow all of our UNLV coverage online at reviewjournal.com/Rebels and @RJRebels on Twitter.

Contact Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2914. Follow @markanderson65 on Twitter.

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