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.
Five-star 7-footer Stephen Zimmerman commits to UNLV
Zimmerman attended Bishop Gorman HS in Las Vegas, where he played alongside another highly regarded big man in Duke signee Chase Jeter. This spring Zimmerman played in both the McDonald’s All-American Game and the Nike Hoop Summit, and he’ll play in the Jordan Brand Classic Friday night in Brooklyn.
UNLV gets a versatile big man who can score in the post as well as step out onto the perimeter and knock down shots, and he’s a big recruiting get for head coach Dave Rice. With Rashad Vaughn having moved on to the professional ranks and sophomore forward Christian Wood yet to decide his plans for next season, this is an important personnel boost for the Runnin’ Rebels.
Zimmerman joins a front court that should be solid even if Wood decides to turn pro, with Goodluck Okonoboh and Dwayne Morgan being sophomores and high-flying Derrick Jones also on board as part of the 2015 recruiting class. UNLV also adds Oregon transfer Ben Carter to its front court, and like Zimmerman Carter played his high school ball at Bishop Gorman.
Zimmerman was also considering Arizona, Kansas, Kentucky and UCLA before deciding to remain home and play for the Runnin’ Rebels.
UNLV fans show up to support five-star recruiting target Stephen Zimmerman at high school game (PHOTO)
But the local college basketball program, UNLV, is also heavily involved in Zimmerman’s recruitment, and on Tuesday, Runnin’ Rebel fans came out in full support at Zimmerman’s high school game at Bishop Gorman.
Zimmerman’s mother, Lori Stevens, told NBCSports.com that approxiamately 60 UNLV fans showed up to the Gaels’ home game and did a couple of Rebel chants during the contest.
Overall, this is a cool show of support from UNLV’s fan base and it shows that they care about Zimmerman staying home and playing for the Rebels. It certainly beats annoying a high school kid on Twitter like most college fans tend to do, although there was an #AllIn4Zimm hashtag going on the social media site.