Thursday night UNLV held its annual “Runnin’ Rebel Madness” event, taking Jerry Tarkanian Court to the Downtown Las Vegas Events Center for a night outside. Fans were able to meet the men’s and women’s basketball teams and also take in three-point and dunk contests, with one of the judges for the dunk contest being Las Vegas native and Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper.
And while it won’t mean much when it comes to wins and losses, UNLV may have the best group of dunkers in college basketball this season. Freshman forward Derrick Jones’ exploits have appeared on this site in the past, and to no one’s surprise he won last night’s dunk contest. But guard Jaylen Poyser and Ike Nwamu can get up as well, and 7-foot freshman Stephen Zimmerman’s no slouch either.
Above are highlights from the dunk contest, with MyLVSports responsible for the footage.
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.
In a story by Ed Graney of the Las Vegas Review-Journal that focused on the impact that USA Basketball calling Las Vegas home for part of the summer has on the UNLV program, head coach Dave Rice touched on the team’s efforts to turn things around in 2015-16.
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.
One of the major remaining dominoes in the Class of 2015 fell late Thursday night, as five-star 7-footer Stephen Zimmerman announced via Twitter that he’ll attend UNLV next season.
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.