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October 24, 2012

Just one goal

It was widely regarded as one of UNLV's best recruiting classes of all-time, and they are in Las Vegas for the ultimate goal.

No, it may not be Michigan's "Fab Five" from the 1990's, but this year's 2012 class for the Runnin' Rebels is striving to do something that the Wolverine group was unable to obtain - win a national championship.

Starting with freshman sensation Anthony Bennett, the 2012 haul has to top the list for Rebel classes when you consider quality and quantity. The other four freshmen - Katin Reinhardt, Savon Goodman, Demetris Morant and DaQuan Cook - would be enough alone to warrant the type of buzz surrounding the Runnin' Rebels, which were ranked No. 19 in the preseason ESPN/USA Today Coaches Top 25.

You throw in USC transfer Bryce Dejean-Jones, who started as a true freshman for the Trojans, Pitt transfer and McDonald's All-American Kehm Birch, and UConn transfer Roscoe Smith in the mix and you are talking about a program changing face-lift for a team that was whacked in the NCAA Tournament by Colorado in its opening game.

This is the recipe to go from pretender to immediate contender.

And the players know it, too. I know it's premature talk and the season hasn't started but the UNLV newcomers all say the same thing - and it isn't reigning supreme in the Mountain West. It's all about cutting down the nets in April.

"We all together on this," Cook said when asked what the goal for the Rebels is, "(The freshmen) all said that we wanted to win a championship before we leave so that's what we are trying to do."

Believe it or not, it's a motto that head coach Dave Rice seems be behind. Typically, you hear players talk about going out and having great seasons and hoping to win the conference and make NCAA Tournament appearances.

This coaching staff has kicked up expectations one step further and the roster isn't shy about what the intentions of the program are.

Fellow freshman, Reinhardt, backed up those claims during an interview back in June, before he'd ever thrown on the Scarlet & Grey jersey for the first time, saying, "I was talking to the coaches before I committed and they talked about wanting to build a powerhouse program and get UNLV back on the map.

"When I committed I knew their hopes were to build a big program. Everyone is on the same page and wants to go as far as we can towards winning a national championship."

That sounded very familiar to what the newest Rebel, Jelan Kendrick, said whenever he was asked about what drew him to Las Vegas. Kendrick quickly pointed out that the Rebel coaching staff was the only one that talked specifically about winning a national championship to him.

He said that mindset was a major selling point to the program and that he couldn't wait to get here and help the Rebels toward their main goal.

For years, Rebel fans have believed that UNLV basketball could once again garner the nation's spotlight and compete with the likes of Kentucky, North Carolina, Duke, Syracuse and Florida for the ultimate prize.

Finally, that same belief is back on the Thomas & Mack floor, and it's permeating throughout the city once more. It's that swagger and Rebel attitude to not be afraid of anything that is locked in the minds of the players wearing UNLV across their chest.

It's been a long time coming. Reggie Theus believed it. Freddie Banks believed it. Greg Anthony and Larry Johnson believed. Now, so does Anthony Bennett, Mike Moser and Anthony Marshall.

The expectations have changed rapidly. Once a meandering thought of, if everything goes well, maybe we can capture the MWC crown. That thought currently is, we will sacrifice to win big.

The masses around the nation may not know it yet, but the mantra at UNLV has changed. It's now or never for the Runnin' Rebels to reclaim their spot as the best in the country.

And that's what this new batch of Rebels plans on doing.

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




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