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The rejuvenation of UNLV’s rebounding machine, Roscoe Smith

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In two seasons at UConn, forward Roscoe Smith was a contributor on two NCAA tournament teams, with his freshman season featuring improbable runs to the Big East and NCAA tournament titles with guard Kemba Walker leading the way. After averaging 6.3 points and 5.2 rebounds per game as a freshman and tallying 4.4 points and 3.4 rebounds per contest as a sophomore, Smith made the decision to transfer with the hope of enjoying a greater role on the floor.

Smith would wind up at UNLV, and after sitting out last season few people expected him to be as productive as he’s been through 11 games. The Baltimore native’s averaging 12.8 points and 13.2 rebounds per game, with the latter also being the nation’s best by nearly a full rebound per game. While the greater number of opportunities that have come in Dave Rice’s system can be cited as a reason for the jump, there’s also the fact that Smith made good use of his season away from game action.

And while there were physical strides to be made, Smith used the time in which he could only practice with his teammates to become a better player mentally as well.

“In my year off I really just focused on my game mentally,” Smith told NBC Sports following the Runnin’ Rebels’ 82-50 win over Sacred Heart on Friday night. “Nothing too specific physically, I just really worked from a mental standpoint because sitting out is extremely hard.

“Playing college basketball nonstop for two years at UConn and then sitting out,” continued Smith. “It was definitely hard, so I really had to come in and be mentally strong and be a leader for the young guys who were on the team as well.”

Last season Smith had the chance to compete against players such as Anthony Bennett, Mike Moser and Khem Birch, testing them as a member of the scout team while also honing his craft with an eye towards the 2013-14 campaign. And the results have been remarkable, as a player who tallied just one double-double and three double-digit rebounding performances in his entire UConn career has seven double-doubles this season. He’s been aggressive on both ends of the floor, especially when it comes to attacking the boards.

“I think that his experience is huge for us,” Rice said of Smith following Friday’s win. “He thinks that every loose ball is his, and it just seems as if he gets a double-double every night. To have a guy like that is big.”

One question that was asked when Smith made the decision to leave UConn was what position does he play. Was he best utilized as a three or a four? At which position did he hope to be utilized? At UNLV it can be argued that he’s played the four primarily, forming a talented and productive partnership with another Big East (at the time) transfer in Khem Birch. But Smith doesn’t exactly subscribe to the rigid positions that many have grown accustomed to in basketball.

“I’m a basketball player,” Smith said with a smile when asked about his position. “I do anything the team needs in order to win. Whatever coach needs me to do I’ll do. I don’t go home every day wondering what position I am because that doesn’t define me. I’m just trying to do whatever it takes to win basketball games.”

Now 7-4 on the season entering Monday night’s game against Mississippi State, the majority of UNLV’s issues have been on the offensive end of the floor. And given the number of newcomers looking to establish their roles that’s to be expected, even with the amount of talent that the Runnin’ Rebels possess. Defense hasn’t been an issue however, and UNLV has its two transfers to thank for this. UNLV currently ranks sixth nationally in effective defensive field goal percentage, and they’re tops in defensive free throw rate.

They may not turn teams over, but with Smith and Birch leading the way the Runnin’ Rebels have made life difficult for teams in the half court. And those two have a competition of sorts when it comes to rebounding, and it’s one that has benefitted both players to this point in the season.

“It’s always a good thing when you have a guy who wants to out-rebound you every night,” Birch said of Smith. “Usually guys don’t want to go after every rebound, but playing with Roscoe is a blessing because he wants to get every rebound.”

UNLV didn’t get off to the start that many expected when the season began, but the way in which they’ve overwhelmed opponents they should beat convincingly is a positive sign for this group moving forward. And for that they’ve got Smith to thank, as he’s been a valuable commodity for UNLV both physically and mentally. With the start of Mountain West play right around the corner, his championship experience will be something the team can draw from as it looks to make a run at a conference title especially when it comes to the development of a young player like Christian Wood.

“I just tell Christian that it’s a process,” said Smith. “You have to take things one day at a time. I know he wants to run before he walks, so I just tell him to slow down a little bit and let the game come to him.”

With the improved production and leadership abilities Smith has found a concrete role in the desert, even if we can’t affix a specific label to him in regards to the position he plays. And whether he’s a three or a four, Roscoe Smith’s been an integral player for UNLV and that will continue to be the case as the season wears on.

Five-star 2017 forward Porter Jr. releases top five schools

Father Tolton Catholic's Michael Porter, Jr. (1) celebrates after sinking a basket and drawing a foul during the first half of the Missouri Class 3 boys high school championship basketball game against the Barstow Saturday, March 12, 2016, in Columbia, Mo. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
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As one of the top players in the Class of 2017, 6-foot-8 small forward Michael Porter Jr. has been on the receiving end of attention from many high-major programs. Monday night Porter, a native of Columbia, Missouri who’s ranked second in the class by Rivals.com, revealed his top five schools at this point in time.

The five schools that made the cut (in alphabetical order): Indiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, Virginia and Washington.

"Top 5 Top 5 Top 5" 🙏🏽 #Blessed

A photo posted by Michael Porter Jr. (@m1chael_porter) on

Of the five schools on Porter’s list Missouri and Washington may be the most interesting given the family connections. Not only is Missouri the hometown school, but Porter’s older sisters Bri and Cierra are members of the women’s basketball team.

And one of the assistants on that coaching staff was Porter’s father, who earlier this spring joined Lorenzo Romar’s staff at Washington. The elder Porter isn’t the only Washington connection either, with Michael’s younger brother Jontay being a commit in the Class of 2018.

Texas A&M lands Spanish forward Eric Vila

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With the loss of all-conference forward Jalen Jones, Texas A&M was in a position where they could afford to add another front court body alongside the likes of Tyler Davis and Tonny Trocha-Morelos. Thursday afternoon head coach Billy Kennedy and his staff managed to do just that, as 6-foot-9 forward Eric Martinez Vila made his pledge to the SEC program.

News of Vila’s commitment was first reported by TexAgs.com, and the FC Barcelona Lassa (that’s the club’s basketball program) product took visits to Texas A&M, Missouri and Wake Forest earlier this spring. Vila’s viewed as more of a combo forward, with the ability to step away from the basket and hit perimeter shots, giving the Aggies some added versatility in the front court.

Vila has plenty of experience playing for both FC Barcelona’s B team (however he did appear with the A-team during the 2014-15 season), and he represented Spain in the 2014 FIBA U16 EuroBasket and 2015 FIBA U18 EuroBasket events. Vila is the fifth member of Texas A&M’s 2016 class, joining guards J.J. Caldwell and J.C. Hampton, wing DeShawn Corprew and forward Robert Williams.

Nevada forward Cameron Oliver to return for sophomore season

LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 11: Angelo Chol #3 of the San Diego State Aztecs drives to the hoop against Cameron Oliver #0 of the Nevada Wolf Pack during a semifinal game of the Mountain West Conference basketball tournament at the Thomas & Mack Center on March 11, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Getty Images)
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With the deadline for early entrants to withdraw from the NBA Draft set for Wednesday, some college basketball teams will receive important news as it pertains to the 2016-17 campaign. One of those teams was Nevada, which surprised many last season by winning 24 games in Eric Musselman’s first season at the helm. And with one of the key contributors from that team deciding to withdraw from the NBA Draft, the Wolf Pack will be well positioned to be even better in 2016-17.

Forward Cameron Oliver, who was one of the Mountain West’s best freshmen this past season, will return to Reno for his sophomore season with Musselman making the news official Monday afternoon.

The 6-foot-8 Oliver averaged 13.4 points, 9.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game for Nevada, shooting 50.8 percent from the field in his debut season. Oliver was named third team All-Mountain West while also earning conference All-Defensive team honors.

Oliver and wing D.J. Fenner (13.7 ppg) are the team’s top two returning scorers, with guard Marqueze Coleman (15.1 ppg) out of eligibility, and they’ll lead the way for a team that can contend in the Mountain West next season.

In addition to Oliver and Fenner, Nevada adds two talented transfers in Leland King and Marcus Marshall, with the latter averaging 19.5 points per game at Missouri State in 2014-15.

Georgia’s Juwan Parker granted medical redshirt

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 28: Juwan Parker #3 of the Georgia Bulldogs shoots under Joey King #24 of the Minnesota Golden Gophers in the first half at Madison Square Garden on November 28, 2014 in New York City.  (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)
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ATHENS, Ga. (AP) Georgia guard Juwan Parker has been awarded a medical redshirt, leaving him with two years of eligibility, after missing the 2015-16 season with a partially torn Achilles tendon.

Parker, from Tulsa, Oklahoma, played in Georgia’s exhibition game against Armstrong State but missed the regular season. He originally suffered the injury in the 2014-15 season, when he averaged 4.9 points and 3.7 rebounds while starting 14 games.

Parker will be a junior in the 2016-17 season.

Georgia also announced that forward Osahen Iduwe will transfer after averaging 0.5 points in 18 games.

Iduwe, from Nigeria, attended Central Park Christian School in Birmingham, Alabama, in 2012-13 and St. John’s Northwestern Military Academy in Delafield, Wisconsin, in 2013-14.

Xavier star to return to school for junior year

Xavier's Trevon Bluiett celebrates after scoring in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Butler, Saturday, Jan. 2, 2016, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
(AP Photo/John Minchillo)
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Xavier forward Trevon Bluiett will return to school for his junior season.

Bluiett did not receive an invitation to the NBA Draft combine, but he did get a few workouts with NBA teams after declaring for the draft in March. He did not sign with an agent, meaning he can withdraw his name from consideration without losing any eligibility.

This is big for the Musketeers. Bluiett, a 6-foot-7 combo-forward that gives Xavier some lineup versatility, averaged 15.1 points and 6.1 boards while shooting 39.8 percent from three last season. With Bluiett back in the fold, the Musketeers return their top four perimeter scorers and may have the best 1-2 punch in the league with Bluiett and point guard Edmond Sumner.