UNLV’s returning players look to provide spark for new season

The names Brandon McCoy, Shakur Juiston and Amauri Hardy, which made news over a two-day period in April, got many UNLV basketball fans excited.

Those players made it a nationally ranked recruiting class and gave hope the Rebels could see genuine improvement this season.

But it’s important not to forget about the returning players, who will be counted on to play key roles and provide leadership beginning with the season opener Nov. 11 against Florida A&M at the Thomas &Mack Center.

“You have eight new (scholarship players), you have to talk to them in different ways, especially when you’re still learning yourself,” guard Jovan Mooring said. “I may be a senior, but Coach (Marvin Menzies) still teaches me each and every day and I know Coach is going to help those guys, but I also have to help those guys because players respond different to each other than coaches. It’s just natural.

“I mean, there’s only so much a coach can tell a player. But once you hear it from the guys around you, that’s when you really start to take it in because you’re around those guys much more off the court than you are the coaches.”

Leadership comes more naturally to Mooring than it does with many other players.

He took on such a role at South Suburban Community College in South Holland, Illinois, averaging 26.6 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.8 assists in the 2015-16 season. Then last season when there was a leadership void at UNLV, Mooring filled it, even though he was new to the program. He went on to average a team-best 12.6 points (15.1 in Mountain West play), and was the player counted on to take the big shot.

But it was a disappointing season for a program that returned only three players. The Rebels went on to finish 11-21.

“I take last year very personal,” Mooring said. “I come into this season with a chip on my shoulder. I haven’t forgotten about one team we lost against, but I won’t allow that to affect the progression we have with this current team. For me personally, yeah, I have a goal to beat San Diego State, beat Reno. I want to beat those guys.”

So Mooring will do what he can, but he won’t be alone.

Sophomore forward Cheickna Dembele started 17 games and averaged 4.0 points and 4.4 rebounds. He will cede the starting spot to McCoy, the five-star prospect who was the jewel of the recruiting class, but Dembele still will play a key role in protecting the rim.

Junior guard Kris Clyburn started 22 games and averaged 7.3 points and 5.3 rebounds and figures to receive significant minutes given his athleticism.

“Everybody has different things that they can teach one another,” Clyburn said. “Everybody has different things they need to improve on.”

Mooring isn’t afraid to be the bad guy when it comes to leading the team.

“We go back and forth all the time,” Mooring said. “That’s with any team. Some guys, they aren’t in the mood (and) they react, but at the end of the day, nothing’s personal. When you’re teaching someone something, you just take it and deal with it.”

Contact Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com. Follow @markanderson65 on Twitter.

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