Although it was still heartbreaking for Rebel fans to hear, it wasn't all that surprising whenever Khem Birch officially announced on Twitter this afternoon that he would forego his senior season and declare for the upcoming NBA Draft.
Birch's tweet ended speculation as to whether he would return to UNLV or not, "After careful consideration with my family Coach Rice and inner circle I've decided to declare for the 2014 NBA draft #rebel4life."
Again, it was disappointing news, but not news that the Rebel staff was caught off-guard with. Over the weeks, head coach Dave Rice had done his diligent work to arm Birch and his family with the information that they needed to make the correct decision.
Will this turn out to be the correct decision? We'll have to wait and see on that. As of this moment, it doesn't look like Birch is any type of lock to be drafted in the two, and only, rounds of the draft, which could have the Rebel star and two-time Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year heading off to the NBA Developmental League to hone his craft.
As a junior, Birch made serious strides to his all-around game, averaging 11.5 points, 10.2 rebounds and 3.8 blocks a game. Right now, Birch's influence is felt mainly on the defensive end of the floor, where he has shown he has the potential to dominate opposing offenses.
With a brand new crop of players coming and a chance to be a leader, it might have been to Birch's best interest to return to the Rebels, especially with the chance to play against top flight talent at Duke, Arizona and Kansas, which are all featured on UNLV's 2014-15 schedule.
It's not like the Rebels are going to be completely void in the interior, despite the fact that both power forward, Roscoe Smith, and Birch have entered the draft prior to their eligibility expiring. The Rebels will feature Chris Wood, who showed steady improvement over the course of the season as freshman, along with four-star center recruit, Goodluck Okonoboh.