The Rebels are back.
After a long, tumultuous off-season, the UNLV men’s basketball squad finally took the floor recently for a couple of tantalizing displays in a pair of exhibition victories over Grand Canyon and Washburn.
With the first official game of the 2010-2011 season set to tip off tonight, Runnin’ Rebel fever is flaring up locally like a bad rash you just can’t scratch.
It is, therefore, my hope to provide a little soothing ointment to those itching for hoops, to tie a pretty ribbon around a mostly forgettable summer, and to get the sweet, sweet anticipation further percolating.
If you are like me, you probably suffered several sleepless nights in mid-march haunted by the steely glare of Jordan Eglseder and the sideburns of Lucas O’Rear. Perhaps you sat awake in a cold sweat, crying "FAROKHMANESH!!!!" to an empty, indifferent night sky. The first few days were certainly rough, but eventually the grief dripped away. Thoughts turned to the future, and the future, my friends, was bright.
The team was set to return their top nine players. Derrick Jasper would be back and healthy. Quintrell Thomas and Carlos Lopez were set to join the mix. A few impact recruits still had the Rebels on the radar. The fans, myself included, were once again salivating sappily.
Does that count as a marijuana pun? I could have gone with "Three-point shooting goes up in smoke." Anyway, would-be senior Matt Shaw (a plus 40.0 percent shooter from long range) was dismissed from the team after failing a drug test at the NCAA tournament.
Shortly thereafter, another would-be senior, streaky fan-favorite Kendall Wallace, was lost for the year to a knee injury. UNLV would be without its two best shooters for the upcoming campaign.
Every (green) cloud, however, has its silver lining. Both Wallace and Shaw could get scorching hot from outside, but both could be a liability at times at the defensive end. If their more athletic counterparts who gobble up the available minutes can find a consistent stroke, it just might end up a blessing in disguise. Or at least that’s what I’ve decided to force myself to believe.
Sidenote: Get well soon, K Dub. I know there will be about 19,000 fans in Albuquerque who will be glad to see you in street clothes.
In late June, news broke that star guard Tre’Von Willis had been arrested on multiple felony counts for allegedly choking a 28 year old female. Uncertainty, disgust, curiosity, anger, doubt, and general anxiety festered in the pit of Rebel loving stomachs for days. Questions swirled around like raffle tickets being cranked in a wheel of confusion. The effect was a little nauseating.
Why did he do it? Wait, did he really do it? How will the school respond? Will he be able to play? Is he okay? Is she okay? Am I a bad person for caring so much about what really happened at 2:00 am in a Henderson apartment between two people I don’t know?
When the dust settled, Willis agreed to a deal which allowed him to plead no contest to a misdemeanor charge. Head coach Lon Kruger announced that Willis would be suspended for at least three games, including the team’s two exhibitions.
The reaction was as predictable as it was misguided: One regular season game for choking a woman?!? That’s outrageous!!!
Two things need to be said. First, only Tre’Von Willis and Skye Sanders know exactly what happened the night of the incident. All others are left to speculate, hypothesize and assume.
Second, the University allowed the legal system to run its course, then made a decision based on the results. In other words, Willis was not suspended three games for choking a female. Willis was suspended three games for pleading no contest to a misdemeanor domestic battery charge.
I don’t know if Willis actually assaulted anyone, and neither do you. Lon Kruger doesn’t either, and it is not his job to find out.
The suspension was a direct result of the conclusion reached by the courts. Any additional punishment would have been grossly unfair, based exclusively on accusations which, while they may or may not be true, were ultimately dismissed by a judge.
I am very much against domestic violence. Choking another human being is indefensible.
I am, however, very in favor of due process. In this situation, UNLV President Neal Smatresk, Athletic Director Jim Livengood and head coach Lon Kruger, had no choice but to trust it.
Did you know that when North Korea lost to Brazil 2-1 at the World Cup this summer, news organizations in North Korea only showed highlights of the goal scored in defeat without mentioning the final score? And that the squad’s follow up losses to Portugal and the Ivory Coast by a total of 10 goals went unreported?
On a related note, the UNLV football team defeated New Mexico by a score of 45-10 on a warm Saturday night in late September.
(long, uncomfortable silence)
Basketball season can’t start soon enough around here.
This team is criminally underrated. Okay, that’s not true, but they are being slightly undervalued and overlooked. In the past, the Rebels have been downright dangerous when playing with a chip on their shoulder.
Chip or no chip, UNLV is an extremely talented group. On paper, the roster is significantly improved overall. The frontcourt is bigger and stronger. The wings are healthier and more athletic. The guards are more explosive and more experienced.
Last March, the season fizzled out a bit sooner than many had anticipated, but that hasn't stopped a snowball of hype from rolling on all summer.
Nothing left to do now but superglue a big, white mustache to your face, put your trust in Lon, and enjoy the ride.
Tonight, it's official, the Rebels are back.