One thought will stay with UNLV senior forward Shakur Juiston this season.
That’s where the Rebels were picked to finish in the Mountain West basketball poll at the league’s media day on Tuesday at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.
“It’s a good little motivational tip to go out there and each day have sixth in our head,” Juiston said.
The Rebels received 122 points in voting by the media.
UNR was picked to defend its regular-season title, receiving 18 of 19 first-place votes and 207 points. The other first-place vote went to No. 2 and reigning conference tournament champion San Diego State, which had 188 points.
The Wolf Pack, who went 29-8 and made the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament, dominated the all-conference team with three players making the five-man roster. One was senior forward Caleb Martin, also chosen the preseason player of the year.
“A lot of the hype that we’re receiving has to do with how we finished the year,” UNR coach Eric Musselman said. “We’re a talented team, for sure. We’ve got a lot of guys back. We’re a veteran team. But we’ve got a lot of moving parts, a lot of new pieces that we’ve got to try to figure out how they’re going to fit.”
No Rebels were on the all-conference team, though an argument could be made for Juiston’s inclusion. He averaged 14.6 points and 10 rebounds last season to earn second-team honors.
He is one of two returning starters — sophomore forward Tervell Beck is the other — from a team that went 20-13. But senior guard Kris Clyburn started 20 games before Beck took over, and senior point guard Noah Robotham is a transfer from Akron, where he started three seasons.
UNLV also is counting on freshman guards Bryce Hamilton and Trey Woodbury to help make up for the loss of its starting backcourt.
Unlike Juiston, however, Robotham said the Rebels’ spot at No. 6 wasn’t a major source of motivation.
“I look at it as preseason rankings, and that’s the extent for me,” Robotham said. “It makes sense why people put us at sixth this year because a lot of guys haven’t played. We’re going to go out there and use it as motivation, but it’s not the driving force of this team to go out there and prove people wrong.”
Third-year coach Marvin Menzies said he wasn’t surprised about where his team was selected because of the available information to the media.
“I thought you guys did an admirable job top to bottom,” he said of the poll. “You guys don’t get to see all our practices. You don’t get to see the young kids perform. We’re just starting to see the young kids perform. We have 11 freshmen and sophomores, so it will be hard to put them in the upper echelon being as unproven as they are.
“However, I do think there’s an anchor in our program with Noah and Shakur and Kris that’s pretty strong. They have to have a good year for us to have a good year. If they do and some of that young talent surfaces the way I think it will, then hopefully we finish a little bit higher than the projection.”
Mountain West media poll
Predicted order of finish
1. UNR (18) 207
2. San Diego State (1) 188
3. New Mexico 153
4. Boise State 139
5. Fresno State 138
6. UNLV 122
7. Wyoming 88
8. Colorado State 80
9. Utah State 78
10. Air Force 42
11. San Jose State 19
Note: First-place votes are in parenthesis.