August 6, 2022 - 2:56 pm
Updated August 8, 2022 - 12:22 pm
Entering his second season, UNLV men’s basketball coach Kevin Kruger will have to manage a roster with more than 50 percent of the players being new to the program.
Of the Rebels’ eight new players, five are coming from Division I schools in power conferences. Each is looking to make the most of the opportunity he will have with the Rebels.
“A lot of people on the team have something to prove, including myself,” senior guard and Ole Miss transfer Luis Rodriguez said. “It’ll go a long way toward building a team that has that fight and hunger.”
The Rebels have completed their first week of practice in preparation for their Canadian tour that begins Aug. 16. After their first four practices, Kruger has been pleased with how the transfers have integrated themselves into the program. He’s confident each will find his role with the Rebels.
“With a few more minutes, their production can be even better,” Kruger said. “We really like this group of transfers.”
As Kruger evaluated potential transfers, he admitted it was difficult with players who did not play a lot of minutes or were in different roles than he intended to use them. He and his staff focused on having genuine communication with each player to know if they would be a good fit.
Rodriguez said the relationships he developed with staff and current players were key in his decision to join UNLV. He even reached out to former UNLV guard Bryce Hamilton as he mulled his options.
On the floor, Kruger has praised the group’s versatility. He said the athleticism of transfers who have several years of experience at a power conference school, like Rodriguez, Colorado transfer guard Elijah Parquet and West Virginia transfer forward Isaiah Cottrel, has allowed him to experiment during practice.
The Rebels have been able to practice with lineups that have multiple forwards and that are guard heavy. With the versatility of the group, the players believe they can be effective in any lineup.
“We’ve rolled out four- and five-guard lineups and it’s worked pretty well for us,” Parquet said. “We’re a deep team so we can be able to do that.”
Each player brings their own experience from their previous stop. Shane Nowell, a 6-foot-6-inch guard, was a four-start recruit coming out of high school, but only played 66 minutes in 19 appearances with Arizona last year.
Even though he was in a limited role at Arizona, Nowell believes his experience at a winning program and the knowledge from other transfers can help the group.
“We’ve experienced different things being in different programs,” Nowell said. “That’s going to help us be versatile on the floor and with learning this system.”
With a full week of practices ahead before their departure for Canada, Kruger said his focus is making sure everyone is as close to game shape as possible for the exhibition games.
He said he understands this is a unique time to be having full practices and playing games, but he has been impressed with how the team has pushed themselves in practice. He believes the experience from the older transfers has helped the group connect early in practice.
“With this group being an older group, I think when they can figure out their routine they’ll maximize the hours on the court,” Kruger said.