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UNLV freshman Vaughn in no hurry to leave ‘second home’

If he misses home, Rashad Vaughn can make a phone call to his family, just as he did early this week. The weather report from Minneapolis made him appreciate where he is now.

“It was cold and snowing,” he said. “I’m just laughing at them. It’s not too cold and not too hot here. Perfect weather.”

One year in Las Vegas influenced Vaughn in several ways, and he liked it enough to stay. The latest Findlay Prep star to make the short move to UNLV, Vaughn is about to become the most visible player in the basketball program. But for how long?

Vaughn is set to debut when the Rebels open the regular season against Morehead State at 7:30 p.m. today at the Thomas & Mack Center. The game is part of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic.

UNLV hosts Sam Houston State on Sunday night before heading to Brooklyn, N.Y., to join Duke, Stanford and Temple for the semifinals. Vaughn’s mom, Bridgette, will leave her winter coat behind to attend today’s game, and his dad, Troy, will meet him in New York.

Feeling homesick is not a problem for Vaughn, who spent his first three years of high school in Minnesota before Todd Simon recruited him to Findlay Prep.

Simon left to take a job as a Rebels assistant before Vaughn’s senior year, but their bond remained strong. Vaughn, a former McDonald’s All-American, committed in February to play for coach Dave Rice, who signed one of the nation’s top recruiting classes.

“I connected with Coach Todd and we built a relationship,” Vaughn said. “He recruited me there, and he left me, but that’s all right. I just loved it here.

“I felt this was home. I’m a family guy, and there’s a big support system here. I met a lot of great people. It’s like a second home.”

It might not be his second home for long. Vaughn’s stated goal is to reach the NBA in the near future, and he has the potential to be a one-and-done college player, similar to former UNLV star Anthony Bennett, another Findlay Prep product who was the No. 1 pick in the 2013 draft.

“Whether it’s one year, two years or three years, I take it one day at a time,” Vaughn said. “I’m not really thinking about the NBA now. That’s always your dream. But you can’t get there today or tomorrow, so I’ll focus on what I’m doing now. I’m just enjoying college.”

A 6-foot-6-inch shooting guard, Vaughn could be the Rebels’ go-to scorer immediately. Rice returns no starters from last season’s team that finished 20-13 and missed the postseason, and UNLV likely needs a big boost from Vaughn to return to the NCAA Tournament.

“The bottom line is the NBA pays winners, and guys don’t go in the first round of the draft if they don’t play in the NCAA Tournament,” Simon said. “One of the reasons why Rashad has got a chance is he’s not focusing on it. Every day, he gets better. He has that potential because of his work ethic and his skill set. He’s made right. He cares about his teammates, and he cares about how he acts.”

Vaughn will start in the backcourt with senior Cody Doolin, a graduate transfer who started 103 games in his career at the University of San Francisco.

“I love playing with Cody. He’s a pass-first guy,” Vaughn said. “We are playing well together.”

Rice, whose teams suffered from inconsistent point guard play the past two seasons, has talked about a symbiotic relationship between Doolin and Vaughn being a major key to success.

“Rashad is going to be at the top of every scouting report,” Rice said. “But he’s a very good player, and he’ll be fine. I do think he’s going to have a big year.”

Six of the 10 scholarship players who will see action for UNLV this season never have played in a Division I game. Vaughn and 6-10 freshman forward Goodluck Okonoboh are probable starters tonight along with Doolin, 6-6 senior swingman Jelan Kendrick and 6-11 sophomore forward Chris Wood.

The Rebels appear to have plenty of offensive firepower, but the defensive end of the floor is what concerns Rice most, and that was an area of weakness Saturday when UNLV was blown out by UCLA in a closed scrimmage.

“Just being a young team, we’ve got to keep growing,” Vaughn said. “It’s a big jump mentally. You’ve got to be focused every second. It’s really going to come down to defense. The scoring is going to come because we’ve got a lot of guys who can put the ball in the basket.”

Vaughn is the team’s most skilled scorer, a fluid perimeter shooter with explosive athletic ability. His reputation preceded him to college, as last month he was voted the preseason Freshman of the Year in the Mountain West.

He was asked about becoming the new face of the program and said, “It’s kind of a surreal feeling. I try to embrace it. I feel like I will have to be a leader for this team.

“There are a lot of expectations on a lot of the players here. I usually lead just by actions. But I’m learning to lead vocally, on and off the court. This is something I’ve been waiting on my whole life.”

■ NOTES — Morehead State returns four starters from a team that finished 20-14 last season. … Karam Mashour, a 6-6 forward who played in 13 games for the Rebels during the 2011-12 season before transferring, is a key player for the Eagles. … Video of today’s game can be accessed at Mountain West Network/UNLVRebels.com.

Contact reporter Matt Youmans at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907. Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.

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