When he played for coach T.J. Otzelberger at South Dakota State, David Jenkins Jr. didn’t quite understand at first the importance of fully reaching the baseline during practice sprints.
What does that have to do with winning and losing basketball games, he thought.
Then when the Jackrabbits made the NCAA Tournament two seasons ago, Otzelberger’s attention to detail made sense and made a believer out of him.
Now the two are emphasizing the importance of being detail-oriented with a new group of players at UNLV. Otzelberger, who was hired in March, ran his first official practice Tuesday morning at Mendenhall Center. Because Jenkins is sitting out this season under NCAA transfer rules, he is a de facto assistant coach, stressing to his new teammates Otzelberger’s expectations.
Jenkins, a junior guard, has been all to happy to serve as that messenger
“You’ve got to be disciplined with your teammates and push each person to be disciplined as well,” he said.
Though Tuesday was UNLV’s first practice, Otzelberger worked with his players through summer conditioning, so a familiarity was formed well before this week.
Seven players return from a team that went 17-14 last season, a record that resulted in the firing of coach Marvin Menzies after three years. Six scholarship newcomers join the mix.
Otzelberger said the team was healthy, though sophomore guard Bryce Hamilton dealt with a sprained ankle over the summer.
Media were allowed to watch the final 10 minutes of practice, and it was clear Otzelberger’s open-court, fast-paced strategy was being embraced. Players sprinted nearly nonstop after makes and misses, the point guard constantly pushing the ball to put pressure on the defense.
Junior guard Amauri Hardy said players even sprinted during water breaks. “There’s no walking around,” he said. “The pace is definitely at a high level. We want to run. We want to be a team that doesn’t really get tired.”
Players will continue to adjust to the higher expectations and pace. The key is how far they come by the time the season opens Nov. 5 against Purdue Fort Wayne at the Thomas & Mack Center.
“I think the first 90 minutes or so (Tuesday) our guys were really good,” Otzelberger said. “Hopefully, each day we can press on for a little bit longer. I’m not somebody that believes in being out on the floor for three hours and having extremely long practices. We want to be efficient, and we want to have a really fast pace from drill to drill.”
Tuesday: First official practice
Oct. 15 — Mountain West media day
Oct. 25 — Exhibition vs. West Coast Baptist College at the Thomas & Mack Center, 7 p.m.
Nov. 5 — Season opener against Purdue Fort Wayne at the T&M, 7 p.m.
Dec. 4 — First Mountain West game at Fresno State, 7 p.m.