UNLV has watched UNR use transfers to become a Mountain West power and rise in the national rankings, but Rebels coach Marvin Menzies hasn’t wavered from the plan of building a winner his way.
He often says he wants to “get old and stay old,” and Menzies is still working to lay that foundation with 10 freshmen and sophomores.
Will it work? Menzies is banking it will, but as for this season — which begins at 7 p.m. Saturday against Loyola Marymount at the Thomas &Mack Center — outside expectations are lukewarm. UNLV was picked by the media to finish sixth in the 11-team Mountain West.
Menzies enters his third season in charge of the program, but the first one was a disaster not entirely of his making.
A botched coaching search in 2016 — in which Chris Beard was initially hired before he bolted to Texas Tech — resulted in Menzies not coming aboard until mid-April. Players dashed out the door like there was a fire, leaving Menzies with only three players.
So he scraped together a roster and began looking for players more in line with how he wants to build the program.
“I would’ve liked to have done this earlier,” Menzies said. “However, I don’t think it’s too late because of the talent level that we did end up getting in. We had two years to recruit the guys that we signed now.
“I think the bottom line is you’ve got lots of people that have been looking for consistency with UNLV basketball, looking for a team that not only competes at the upper echelon but stays there. The only way to get old and stay old is to have a depth chart that matches up with that. I feel like we’ve got that in place now.”
UNLV bounced back from 11-21 in Menzies’ first year to go 20-13 last season. The Rebels went 11-2 in non-conference and 8-10 against Mountain West competition before going 1-1 in the league tournament.
Menzies has a young team, but three of the Rebels’ most important players are seniors. Forward Shakur Juiston averaged 14.4 points and 10 rebounds last season. Point guard Noah Robotham redshirted after transferring from Akron, where he started 85 games. Guard Kris Clyburn is athletic and capable of making big plays.
All three players stood out in Friday’s 83-81 exhibition victory over Montana State-Billings, combining for 47 points.
“You’ve got a lot of freshmen, so you’re trying to get everybody to have a good feel for each other,” Clyburn said. “Then you’re trying to see what’s the best fit to be able to get the win.”
And winning is the key for these seniors. Menzies might be building the program for the long run, but for them, this is their last chance.
For Robotham in particular, who grew up in Las Vegas loving the Rebels, this is especially personal.
“It’s hard for me to understand why people wouldn’t stay home,” Robotham said. “I understand there are the Kentuckys and Dukes of the world, but being at home, being in Las Vegas in front of your family and friends, able to represent the city of Las Vegas, that’s very near and dear to my heart.
“It is a great feeling.”