UNLV’s efforts to rebound from a disappointing 2014-15 season received a considerable boost late Thursday night, as five-star 7-footer Stephen Zimmerman announced his decision to remain home and play for the Runnin’ Rebels. With his skill set UNLV will have a talented front court next season. But how talented will this group be? That question remains unanswered, as head coach Dave Rice and his staff are still awaiting two important decisions.
The most important decision is that of 6-foot-10 forward Christian Wood, who was a second team All-Mountain West selection and finished the year with averages of 15.7 points, 10.0 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game. With Khem Birch and Roscoe Smith moving on Wood was the leader in the front court for a young UNLV team last season, and that would once again be the case if he were to return for his junior season.
But according to Matt Youmans of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Rice believes that Wood is torn in regards to whether to stay in Las Vegas or move on with the NBA’s early entry deadline of April 26 on the horizon.
“I’m quite sure he’s undecided,” coach Dave Rice said.
If Wood declares, he is projected to be a late first-round pick. If he stays in school, he could lead one of the tallest and most talented front lines in college basketball. So it’s obvious his decision is an important one for the Rebels.
With Wood undecided UNLV is sure to have five players in its front court: freshmen Zimmerman and Derrick Jones, sophomores Dwayne Morgan and Goodluck Okonoboh and redshirt junior Ben Carter, with Carter eligible after sitting out the 2014-15 campaign following his transfer from Oregon. Those bodies give Rice a number of possibilities from a skill standpoint. But without Wood, UNLV would be in a similar position to last season from an experience standpoint even with Carter having two years of Division I experience under his belt.
And Wood isn’t the only question mark in the front court either, as 6-foot-7 small forward Justin Jackson is reportedly considering a move into the 2015 class. Jackson attended Findlay Prep last season, and if he were to move up a year the Canadian would join Morgan and Jones in the competition for minutes at the three.
Having a surplus of talented options certainly isn’t a bad thing, and it isn’t as if UNLV would be in panic mode when it comes to available bodies if Wood were to leave and Jackson were to remain at the prep level. But it’s clear that, at the very least, retaining Wood would be a major boost for a program looking to once again be a factor in the Mountain West and make some noise nationally as well.