October 4, 2016 - 10:13 pm
By grabbing nearly every rebound in sight and dominating inside, Christian Jones showed in August he could play center.
UNLV coaches hope he won’t be needed there.
Their best scenario is to post 6-foot-11-inch freshman Cheickna Dembele at the five position and move the 6-7 Jones, a graduate transfer from St. John’s, to the four spot, or power forward.
“Let’s hope we get the true fives, or guys that’s their stronger position, up to speed and healthy,” UNLV coach Marvin Menzies said. “I like to play (Jones) at the four, but it’s good to have (center) as an option. But that’s not how we see him playing within the system.”
UNLV coaches aren’t getting a look at Dembele in practices at Mendenhall Center because he is out a few weeks with an injured right heel. They hope to have him back by the Nov. 11 season opener against South Alabama at the Thomas & Mack Center, but even if he returns by then, Dembele will need to work his way into game shape and within the framework of the system.
The Rebels also have 6-8 freshman Troy Baxter Jr., a four-star recruit who could fill the No. 5 position if necessary
“When Cheick and Troy come back, I see myself being back in my natural position,” Jones said. “Playing (center) helped me out a lot playing against bigger guys. Basketball is really all matchup problems.”
Jones played in all 32 games for St. John’s last season, making 19 starts. He averaged 8.4 points and 5.2 rebounds, numbers that more resemble that of a role player.
But UNLV would love Jones to be an impact player, and he was exactly that in three August exhibition games at Nassau, Bahamas, even while playing out of position. He played with energy and owned the inside, producing a double-double in each game, averaging 15.7 points and 13.0 rebounds.
“As a fifth-year senior, that’s something I’ve got to bring to this team — rebounding and putting up points,” Jones said.
What exactly Jones will deliver for the Rebels will become clearer for the coaches over the next two or three weeks as preseason practices continue. Those coaches, however, know they have a veteran player who should be an instant leader.
Jones said he was excited to be in Las Vegas to help move the program forward. He joins a team with only three returning players and an all-new coaching staff.
“I like the way Menzies coaches,” Jones said. “It’s like free play, but it’s structured free play. It’s not too structured to where you can’t get out of your comfort zone and show your abilities.”
Contact Mark Anderson at email@example.com or 702-387-2914. Follow on Twitter: @markanderson65
Year: Graduate transfer from St. John’s.
Size: 6-7, 225
Last season: Played in 32 games, started 19, averaged 8.4 points and 5.2 rebounds, had three double-doubles.
Preseason: Averaged 15.7 points and 13.0 rebounds for UNLV in three August exhibition games.