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For 3 UNLV Rebels, trip to Southern Utah like seeing family

CEDAR CITY, Utah — For three returning UNLV basketball players, they are faced with constant reminders of the recent past.

Former UNLV assistant coach Ryan Miller made a visit to the Thomas & Mack Center on Friday with his new Texas Christian team.

Later this season, the Rebels will twice see former head coach Dave Rice, now an assistant at UNR.

And on Wednesday, they visit Southern Utah at 6 p.m. at Centrum Arena. The Thunderbirds now are coached by Todd Simon, who was a UNLV assistant last season and then interim head coach.

“I attack every game like it’s the same, but it’s cool to see everyone taking different paths,” guard Jalen Poyser said.

As for the game itself, Rebels coach Marvin Menzies said he didn’t expect forward Cheickna Dembele, who has missed the past two games with a foot injury, to play. Dembele could play Saturday at Arizona State, but that hasn’t been determined.

Guard Uche Ofoegbu didn’t practice Tuesday because of an illness, but there was no indication regarding his playing status.

UNLV (4-2) and Southern Utah (2-4) are in similar situations, both under first-year coaches facing major rebuilding jobs.

The task is even more difficult for Simon, who takes over a program that went 3-15 last season and 14-70 against Division I teams over the past three years. The Big Sky Conference coaches and media each picked the Thunderbirds to finish last this season.


 


UNLV was picked eighth in the Mountain West after finishing 18-15 each of the past two seasons.

That’s not to say this won’t be a challenging matchup for the Rebels, who are 9½-point favorites. Led by guard Randy Onwuasor, who averages 20.3 points, the Thunderbirds score 83.5 points per game, though they give up 82.0.

The Rebels’ returning trio of Poyser and forwards Tyrell Green and Dwayne Morgan know what it’s like to play for Simon, and could offer some insight to their teammates.

“Some of the play calls that they have, we had last year,” Green said. “So us three returners are familiar with it.”

Menzies, however, said the staff hasn’t asked the players if there are tendencies they should know about.

“We just took the games that (Simon’s) played this year because he’s got different personnel,” Menzies said. “So I don’t know the exact same things are going to be implemented this year going forward.

”He’s kind of in the same boat we’re in trying to rebuild it and get some things going in the right direction with his stamp on it. I’m not sure it was going to be what he did here anyway.”

Poyser’s connection to Simon is especially strong. He played the 2012-13 season under Simon at Findlay Prep. Southern Utah assistant coach Andy Johnson also was at Findlay.


 


“Whether he goes to another school or was here, he always had my back,” Poyser said of Simon. “At Findlay, my first time in the States, he was my first head coach in the States, so we built that relationship.

“So it’s like having a game with family.”

Contact Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2914. Follow @markanderson65 on Twitter.

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