With three scholarship seniors in its backcourt rotation entering the 2015-16 season, UNLV had some holed to fill with regards to the Class of 2016. Dave Rice and his staff have managed to address this issue on the recruiting trail, and Wednesday evening the Mountain West program received its fourth verbal commitment in the Class of 2016.
6-foot-2 point guard Jaylen Fisher, ranked 55th in the Class of 2016 by Rivals, announced that he will be a Runnin’ Rebel. Fisher, who attends Bolton HS in Memphis and played for the Team Thad grassroots program, picked UNLV over Memphis, Arkansas, Baylor and Indiana.
He joins fellow guard Christian Vital, wing Carlos Johnson and four-star forward Justin Jackson in UNLV’s 2016 recruiting class to date.
Adding Fisher to the mix gives UNLV another option at the point in 2016-17, with Daquan Cook due to be a redshirt senior that year with the two freshmen (Fisher and Vital) coming aboard. Fisher’s a good ball-handler and distributor who can also help UNLV defensively at the point. UNLV won’t lack for talent off the ball either, with sophomores Pat McCaw and Jordan Cornish having eligibility remaining as will current freshman Jalen Poyser.
And while the addition of Fisher is a positive for UNLV, having a talented player leave your city isn’t a good sign for Memphis especially when considering the pressure on head coach Josh Pastner to get the Tigers back to playing at the level their fan base expects them to play at.
In a season that fell far short of expectations, UNLV went 18-15 and finished 8-10 in Mountain West play despite having one the the conference’s most talented rotations. There are a number of reasons for the lack of success, one of which being the team’s struggles in close games.
Of UNLV’s 15 losses nine were by six points or less, and another close loss was their nine-point overtime defeat at eventual regular season co-champion Boise State in mid-January. With Rashad Vaughn and Christian Wood among those who have moved on, the Runnin’ Rebels are working on the court and in the weight room this summer to ensure that there’s better chemistry and the team is better equipped to close out tight games.
Strength and conditioning at the college level is a year-round endeavor now.
It’s part of one’s lifestyle in the NBA.
“We have to get physically and mentally tougher,” Rice said. “We were in a lot of games last year that we just didn’t finish. We have to get over the top in those. It’s important for our guys to walk in here and see how big NBA players are. They are obviously extremely talented and athletic, but they’re also physically strong. If you’re going to have an opportunity to play at that level, you better be strong.”
Once again UNLV won’t lack for individual talent, with elite forwards Stephen Zimmerman and Derrick Jones leading the incoming freshmen and transfers such as Jerome Seagears (who sat out last season) and Ike Nwamu available as well. Add in the returnees, including sophomores Patrick McCaw and Goodluck Okonoboh, and the Runnin’ Rebels have the individual pieces needed to take a step forward.
But we’ve said that before. The key question: do they have the collective mindset (and toughness) needed to do so? Rice is hopeful that his team getting to observe some of the best players in the sport will rub off on them, thus sparking a change for the better.