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March 8, 2013

Fond farewell

It will be a celebration on Saturday afternoon for a senior class that is completely different in every way imaginable but has been very impactful on where the Runnin' Rebel program stands today.

The trio of Quintrell Thomas, Justin Hawkins and Anthony Marshall were instrumental in making the transition from Lon Kruger to David Rice as head coach so seamless.

Here's an in-depth look at all three of their careers:

QUINTRELL THOMAS

OVERALL - Thomas came to UNLV after spending one season as a member of the Kansas Jayhawks. An undersized center, Thomas was supposed to add a physical inside presence that the Rebels hadn't had since Kaspars Kambala or J.K. Edwards.

Thomas probably felt more of the brunt of the coaching change than anyone on the roster last season. Planning to be a starter in his junior season, Thomas didn't quite pick up Rice's system and his playing time went to senior Brice Massamba.

This year, Thomas brought a renewed sense of urgency to his work ethic over the summer and it immediately brought dividends. Even though his time on the court doesn't show his efforts, the staff is still high on what Thomas can bring in certain matchups.

Although he hasn't lived up to expectations, Thomas has certainly been a valuable role player for the Rebels during his three seasons.

BEST GAME - It was February of Thomas' sophomore season. He had only been seeing spot time on the court and had been all but forgotten with Brice Massamba and Carlos Lopez getting the nod on most nights.

Fortunately for Kruger, he had the sense to throw Thomas and his big frame into the mix at the Pit for a 27 minute span that was a night to remember for the Rebel big man.

Going up against the Lobos' top player, Drew Gordon, Thomas showed his promise but using his brute strength and agility to have career highs in both points and rebounds. He scored six of his 19 points in the overtime session, while also hauling in 13 rebounds, seven of which were on the offensive end.

It was the last victory the Rebels have gotten at New Mexico, and it was a memorable one. Thanks in large part to Thomas' efforts.

BEST MOMENT - Hitting a game-winning shot is something that every basketball player grows up dreaming about.

There's no way that Thomas could've ever imagined how his deciding bucket at California would've played out, but the Rebels can be awfully happy he was in the right place at the right time.

With time running out and UNLV trailing by a point, Thomas carved his way underneath the hoop and caught an airball tossed up by Marshall. He quickly turned and put the ball into the basket for a, 76-75, win over the Pac-12 foe.

If the ball had even grazed the rim a bit, the Rebels would've ended up on the shorthand of the outcome. Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good. That night, both Thomas and UNLV were both lucky and good.

JUSTIN HAWKINS

OVERALL - One of the few underclassmen from high school to ever commit early to Kruger during his tenure at UNLV. Hawkins was billed coming out of Taft High as a role player and glue guy.

He has been exactly what Kruger tabbed him as. An absolute quality person on and off the floor, Hawkins is the type of player that every coach is proud to have be a part of their program.

Hawkins has had an up and down career on the offensive end, currently going through one of the worst funks that UNLV fans have seen, but one thing has remained constant, his ability to lock up an opponent on the defensive end and wreak havoc on teams trying to get into an offensive flow.

Although he hasn't finished his senior year the way he would've liked, Hawkins' effect on the Rebels can't be minimized.

BEST GAME - It was billed as Mike Moser's homecoming. Unfortunately, Moser was injured and unable to compete whenever the Rebels headed north for a nationally televised game against the Portland Pilots.

Without Moser in the lineup, UNLV looked sleepy for the first 20 minutes of the game before Hawkins gave the Rebels the boost the so desperately needed.

After UNLV had trailed by as many as nine points, Hawkins put the Rebels on his back during a second half surge that included three triples from the senior. He finished with 15 points and all of them came in the second half whenever UNLV was in dire need of someone to pick up the slack.

A win over Portland will never go on the resume as a "quality" win, but a loss that night in December could've certainly hurt the Rebels' seeding when the NCAA Tournament is announced in a couple weeks.

UNLV wouldn't have made it out of Portland with a victory without the stellar efforts of Hawkins that night.

BEST MOMENT - It's fitting that the most memorable moment of Hawkins' long career came on the defensive end of the floor.

The San Diego State Aztecs had been a nemesis for the Rebels during much of Hawkins' time in Las Vegas and they were invading the Thomas & Mack Center as the No. 14 team in the country in a big time showdown of ranked teams.

With the clock winding down and the Rebels trying to hold on to a narrow 65-63 lead, Hawkins did what he does best when he took the ball away from Xavier Thames with three seconds remaining.

The Mack was as loud at that moment as any you could imagine. Hawkins was the hero as he sent everyone home happy.

ANTHONY MARSHALL

OVERALL - Marshall will go down in a long line of great hometown legends as the Mojave High graduate has already carved out a spot as one of the toughest Rebels to grace the Mack floor.

What has stuck out about Marshall during his four years at UNLV is his undying passion for winning. Sure, he's blessed with a ton of talent, but when the game is close in the final minutes, that's when Marshall seems to do most of his best work.

When Rice took the job at UNLV after being an assistant head coach at BYU, the first name that popped out of his mouth whenever talking about his new roster was Marshall's. Rice knew he had something special and planned to use him accordingly.

Little did we know that Marshall would be forced into the starting point guard role in his senior campaign, trying to utilize the most talented roster the Rebels have had in many years. All of a sudden, Marshall went from being a slashing two guard to a methodical point guard with duties he had never had to deal with.

Marshall's improvement at the position is a testament to his will to win. From the beginning of the year until this past game against Boise State, Marshall has made an amazing transformation. He posted 16 points, seven assists, five rebounds and no turnovers against the Broncos. That type of play could keep the Rebels playing well into the month of March.

BEST GAME - Marshall's grit and determination are what have stood out over a fabulous career at UNLV. Both of those attributes were on display in his greatest effort in a Rebel jersey, even if UNLV came up short that afternoon.

It was a game where no other Rebel finished in double-digits scoring. Oscar Bellfield was 1-of-12 from the field. Chace Stanback and Moser finished a combined 6-of-20 from the floor.

Yet, UNLV was still in a position to earn a victory at the Viejas Arena last season as Marshall continued to push the offense and make play after play.

Marshall scored 26 hard earned points against SDSU while the Rebels came up just shy of the win, 69-67.

Sure, UNLV had failed to earn that elusive victory in San Diego, but Rebel fans couldn't have been more proud of the way Marshall carried himself on the road that day.

BEST MOMENT - Marshall had struggled mightily to make an impact on the offensive end a few weeks ago when the ranked Colorado State Rams came to Las Vegas riding a six-game winning streak.

The Rams were on a run and had completed a second half comeback on the Rebels' home floor that had all the fans in the building on the edge of their seats. The game was in the balance with the game tied at 59-59 and UNLV in control of the ball.

Playing in his 128th game at the time, Marshall knew he had to make a big play, despite shooting 2-of-8 from the field until that point. With the clock winding down under 10 seconds, Marshall took a high screen from Khem Birch and rolled to his right before rising up and swishing a jumper from inside the 3-point arc.

It was his first game-winning shot as a Rebel and one that he'll certainly never forget.

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



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