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June 19, 2012

Focus on champions

It's mid-June and Dave Rice and UNLV coaching staff have finally concluded their pursuit for the roster they dreamed of having when the 2012-13 season begins in August as the program prepares for a bonding trip to Canada.

Rice has been head coach for just over a year at UNLV and you can now see the vision that he had when he was first announced at the position coming to fruition.

Since the day Rice arrived he has been churning the wheels to assemble a cast of players from around the country and beyond to give the Runnin' Rebels their best chance to succeed, not only at the present time but well into the future.

It's time to connect the dots on what bonds the eight members newest members that will grace the Thomas & Mack crowd for the first time next November.

Yes, they are from all different areas - California, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Canada - and have varying types of skills, but, if you look closely enough, it's easy to see what Rice believes in more than any other characteristics.

The first attribute that sticks out is toughness. This group has seen it all, whether it be injuries, tough environments growing up, a lack of respect, you name it, one of these players has had to deal with some obstacles in their life.

Holding these members together is their unwillingness to let the difficult times hold them down. They have all persevered during their struggles and have found a way to come out on top.

It's these hardships that make the game of basketball easy for this group of athletes. The hardwood is where they have found a comfort zone. Being in a tight game in a hostile environment is going to push this group of eight rather than make them wilt.

There was a lot of debate on whether last year's version of the Runnin' Rebels had the grit and fortitude to overcome in the most trying of circumstances. Whether you believed it or not, there's no denying that UNLV didn't look comfortable in two areas - on the road or in the last minutes of a close game.

When everything was rosy, the Rebels looked like a top 15 team. When the pressure was turned up, you could tell that the majority of the team could feel that heat.

Rice has done his due diligence to reverse that trend and it should pay off as expectations and pressure rises this upcoming season.

After toughness and attitude, the area where these eight have also excelled is heading to the winner's circle.

These guys, simply put, get it done when the stakes are at their highest. That's something that you can't teach. You can't put a price tag on it, either.

Throughout their scholastic careers, each one of these eight players has come up huge at crunch time. That should certainly alleviate the fear of who is going to make a play in the last minute with the score tied.

Here's a breakdown of what each has already accomplished before donning their Rebel jersey:

Roscoe Smith - A transfer from UConn, Smith played 22 minutes in the NCAA National Championship game against Butler as a freshman.

Katin Reinhardt - Reinhardt has won back-to-back California State titles at Mater Dei. With a cast on his shooting hand due to an injured thumb, Reinhardt didn't just gut it out, he was the difference for the Monarchs, scoring 30 points and hitting six 3-pointers, in the State title game this year.

Savon Goodman - Carried his Constitution High School team to a PIAA Class A championship against a hungry South Park club, which had been beaten in the state championship game the year prior. Goodman had 27 points and 10 rebounds in the deciding contest.

Anthony Bennett - Won MVP honors at Findlay Prep in the ESPN National High School Invitational. Bennett averaged 15 points and 8 rebounds during three games as the Pilots captured the ESPN National Title.

Demetris Morant - Morant was surrounded by greatness at Bishop Gorman but still added 14 points and five blocks in the Nevada State Title game, helping the Gaels avenge a loss the previous year in the event.

Khem Birch - Birch was instrumental in Notre Dame Prep reaching the National Prep Championship game before losing in the finale.

Bryce Jones - He led Taft High School in Los Angeles to a LA City Section final. Showing off his clutch ability, Jones hit a 24-foot 3-pointer at the buzzer to advance in the 2nd round of the California State playoffs his senior season.

DaQuan Cook - Cook scored 31 points and earned MVP honors as a member of the U.S. Elite Select Basketball's under-19 team in an event in Italy. That stellar play came on the heels of leading his Digital Harbor High School team to a Maryland Class 2A as a junior.

Sure, this haul has plenty of stars plastered next to their names, but those stars were earned and not simply given.

This is a group that has a knack for winning, but even more importantly, a hatred for losing.

When doing a recent interview with Reinhardt about the upcoming season, he said that while the upcoming journey to Canada would be a good bonding experience for him and his new teammates, the Rebels won't settle for coming home anything but undefeated.

In that same conversation, Reinhardt pointed out something that would make Rice awfully proud. He spoke of how he will handle the almost certain possibility of suffering a loss as a Rebel like this, "Losing for me, personally, I absolutely hate it. This year I'm not going to take it lightly. The next game (after a loss) I'm going to go out and make sure we win by 50."

That type of statement is music to Rice's ears. And it is the exact reason that Reinhardt and the seven other Rice recruits were picked out with precision and a purpose.

Welcome to UNLV, guys.

For more in-depth information, be sure to check out Rebel-Confidential.



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