Approximately 600 years ago, Pocahontas and Sacajawea sat down with Benjamin Franklin and Abraham Lincoln for a delicious turkey dinner, and Thanksgiving was born.
Each year, on a Thursday (Sacajawea’s favorite day), millions of Americans gather in their homes and collectively stuff themselves with poultry, potatoes, and pumpkin pie before slumping over for a festive nap.
Turkey naps are terrific, but there’s more to Thanksgiving than food and football and family and 4:00 am sales. The essence of Thanksgiving is gratitude.
For this reason, it seems prudent to take a moment to count blessings and reflect on good fortune in generally unstable times.
College basketball is well underway, and cause for gratitude abounds. With a tip of the cap to Chris Columbus and Lon Kruger, please enjoy 10 reasons for Rebel fans to rejoice and give thanks this holiday season.
Blistering triple-digit heat and embarrassing pigskin poundings are but a memory. The arrival of winter in Las Vegas means hooded sweatshirts, a football coaching search, and LJ and Tark sitting courtside at the Mack.
While much of the country is busting out snowblowers and ice picks, Las Vegas is settling in for three months of cozy climate and competitive basketball games.
The forecast is sunny.
There are two Division I basketball programs in Nevada. They aren’t fond of each other.
Just a few days into the young season, Rebels fans were able to relish a savory 88-75 come-from-behind victory over the rival Wolf Pack of UNR. UNLV had their way late in the game, closing the game on a 46-21 run.
The Rebels are now proud owners of a four-game win streak over their in-state nemesis.
The Wolf Pack have dominated the series in football, but basketball bragging rights belong to UNLV.
As a reward for playing a couple of solid opponents to kick off the season, the Rebels currently possess the top RPI in the land. Though largely irrelevant in November, it’s still better to be No. 1 than number No. 120.
More significant is the impact this stretch of the schedule could have on the team’s fate when the NCAA tournament selection committee meets in March.
While BYU and New Mexico are racking up early victories over creampuff opponents, the Rebels will be trying to navigate a tricky seven-game stretch with six contests versus teams with reasonable NCAA tournament potential.
Though UNLV may not compile a gaudy win streak, the early schedule will generate exciting matchups now and pay postseason dividends later.
UNLV loves transfers.
Memphis transfer Tre’Von Willis is leading the Rebels in scoring. Fans have high hopes for Kentucky transfer Derrick Jasper and UCLA transfer Chace Stanback. Kansas transfer Quintrell Thomas will be eligible to suit up for the Rebels next season.
Willis, Jasper, and Stanback help form the core of a talented, deep, and athletic team poised to compete for a conference championship. Without them, the Rebels would be in rebuilding mode.
For the last two years, the Rebels have been forced to wade around in the shallow end of the NCAA basketball pool. Bench production had been unspectacular and unreliable.
Depth was an issue.
This year, Coach Kruger is utilizing an 11-man rotation, with all 11 players contributing significant minutes. Seven guards are averaging 10-plus minutes, and the slew of active bodies eventually wears down the opposition.
UNLV has outscored its opponents 147 to 95 in the second half this season.
The bench is averaging just a hair under 40 points per game.
It’s good to be deep.
For the last two seasons, the Rebels have struggled mightily against opponents with imposing low post players. Lack of production and consistency from the big men on the roster led to an undersized, three-guard, two-forward lineup. Rebounding and interior defense were serious issues.
Rebel fans are both grateful for and relieved by the encouraging development of this year’s bigs.
The "three-headed monster" of Brice Massamba, Darris Santee, and Matt Shaw has combined to average about 19 points, 11 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks in 40 combined minutes per game.
At this early juncture, UNLV leads the MWC in rebounding.
That kind of progress merits sincere appreciation.
In three games, the Rebels are averaging 85.7 points. Last season, the Rebels managed to eclipse 85 points on a mere two occasions.
The UNLV offense is benefiting from multiple offensive weapons capable of creating opportunities for themselves and for teammates. Willis, Jasper, Stanback, Oscar Bellfield, Justin Hawkins, and Anthony Marshall have been prolific.
Pressure defense, fast breaks, and high-paced offense keep fans happy.
Gratuitous points equal pointed gratitude.
It was announced recently that two big-time prospects will make official visits to UNLV in the near future.
Corey Joseph is one of the top PGs in the class of 2010. Rebel fans have long lusted after his skills, as he plays his high school ball at nearby Findlay Prep.
Joseph does a little bit of everything. He's quick and explosive. He can run an offense efficiently or create his own shot. He can score. He can pass. He can defend. He would make an immediate impact.
Dwayne Polee will visit campus this weekend. Polee is hyped as the highest-flying athlete of his class. He's 6'7" with long arms and is a human pogo stick.
He's not as polished as Joseph but would fill a bigger need. Needless to say, his ability to block shots and finish around the rim would make him an instant fan favorite.
The Rebels are very appreciative of their interest. UNLV has just one scholarship left. Landing either one would be huge.
The Thomas and Mack center is a beautiful building. Fans love to pack the Mack.
The Rebels find themselves right in the middle of a stretch of five home games in a two-week span. The crowd has willingly lent zealous support, and the fervor and confidence build with each contest.
UNLV has won 53 of its last 60 games at home.
Not only will the Rebels enjoy the comfortable familiarity of the Mack in the early going, they'll also benefit from it in March. Once again, the MWC tournament will be held in lovely Las Vegas at the Thomas and Mack Center.
With the depth and talent this group has demonstrated, knocking them out will be a tall task.
Above all else, Rebel fans are thankful for Lon Kruger. Not since the days of Jerry Tarkanian has the program been as successful and healthy as it has grown to be under Kruger.
Las Vegas loves Lon. The community genuinely admires and respects him as a person, a coach, and an ambassador for the university and the city.
The season is young and could turn sour in a hurry. For now, the Rebels have three wins and no losses. The schedule is compelling. The fans are anxious. The players are hungry.
UNLV will be in the hunt for a conference title and an NCAA tournament bid. A trip to the tourney would be the third in four years, with three victories and counting.
The Rebels are nationally relevant, and the future is bright.
Fans are truly thankful for Lon Kruger.
(Happy Thanksgiving. May the season yield a cornucopia of wins.)