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FSM Preview- 2021 UNLV Runnin’ Rebels – Frontcourt

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The second portion of the FSM UNLV Runnin’ Rebels preview is the front court. UNLV has been looking for the right combinations down low for years, Che Jones breaks down the 2021/22 Runnin’ Rebels frontcourt.

 

UNLV vs San Jose State
Photo Credit: UNLV Basketball

Over the past couple of decades, there were years in which the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels were in desperate need of top 100 level backcourt players or in dire need of an elite frontcourt presence to return to prominence.

However, in the past few seasons, the descendants of the once most excellent college basketball team of all time looked to be in desperate need of players that simply looked as if they belonged at the NCAA Division I level. Like a teenager looking for a midnight snack, Rebels fans were often left scouring the cupboards for anyone that could put forth a gallant effort in the Mountain West Conference.

Although Mountain West-leading scorer Bryce Hamilton has proven time and time again that he is THAT GUY, he has also proven that he is not capable of doing it all by himself. That reality was never more evident than when the Rebels were bounced from the Mountain West Conference tournament last season by Utah State.

After being tied 24-24 at halftime, the more talented Aggies withstood another valiant Hamilton effort by simply putting their foot on the gas and handling the Rebels’ on-ball pressure with ease, shooting 56% in the second half. The Aggies also cashed in on their frontcourt advantage and dominated the boards while outscoring the Rebels 50-29 in the second half and ultimately “Runnin” right past the Rebels, 74-53.

It was no secret to anyone who cared to pay attention to the Runnin’ Rebels last season as to where they were lacking. Another person that recognized the shortcomings of the Rebels’ roster was new head coach Kevin Kruger. The former Rebels point guard excelled at distributing the ball to talented frontcourt players in his day. Kruger understood that the Rebels would need to provide Hamilton with serviceable big men down low to improve this roster.  UNLV needed players that could provide a presence on both ends of the court. On paper, it appears as though Kruger and his staff have done precisely that.

 

Taking a page from legendary Rebel coach Jerry Tarkanian’s “recruiting 101” manual, Kruger has brought in new faces that may not have eye-popping statistics but possess eye-popping ability.

 

UNLV Basketball
Photo Credit: Vincent Carchietta/USA TODAY Sports

One player that will indeed get Rebels fans jumping out of their seats again will be Royce Hamm Jr. He has the kind of athleticism that can electrify the crowd with a single play! Hamm brings a variety of attributes to the Rebels frontcourt, such as his athleticism, as mentioned earlier, maturity, and experience at a high level of college basketball in a highly competitive conference that had some of the best teams in the nation.

Hamm’s modest averages, 1.9 points and 2.5 rebounds on 53% shooting, while only averaging 9 minutes per game, aren’t proper indications of what the 6’9” Big 12 conference veteran can offer the Rebels in the Mountain West.

Another attribute that the Rebels will have on display this season will be plenty of length, another staple of the golden era of Runnin’ Rebels basketball. Pacific University transfer James Hampshire led the Tigers in blocked shots and rebounding last season and moves well for his size. A natural shot-blocker who stays on the ground and doesn’t leave his feet carelessly, Hampshire is also a great ball screener. He’s lengthy, active, and comfortable finishing around the rim with either hand. Hampshire primarily allows the Rebels to funnel ballhandlers into him with his shot-blocking ability. He’s the first 7-footer on the Rebels roster since Marvin Menzies recruit Brandon McCoy during the 2017-18 season.

Amongst the many traditions such as “Runnin” at the Thomas & Mack or “The Streak,” another staple of golden era Runnin’ Rebel basketball is defense! Aside from Bryce Hamilton, a sure-fire candidate to become a fan favorite may be Lamar University transfer David Muoka. Muoka is the reigning Southland Conference Defensive Player of the Year. Unlike Hampshire, Muoka is an explosive jumper that can quickly jump when drivers jump and adjust to the ball in mid-air. At 6’10”, Muoka will provide more rebounding and the ability to run the floor and finish above the rim.

 

Perhaps the most imposing of all new Rebel recruits is the 6’9” Victor Iwuakor, a true physical specimen.

 

UNLV Basketball
Photo Credit: KFOR

Although Iwuakor is an “undersized” center, the smaller, less-imposing players in the Mountain West Conference will enable him to make plays at a much higher rate than his 3.1% at Oklahoma displays. He moves his feet well and can move around the interior with the smaller, more skilled wings he may have to protect the rim from, yet he’s physically capable of playing a physical style of basketball with taller opponents.

Look for Iwuakor to get Rebels fans excited with a unique skill set that has the potential to make him a matchup nightmare for opposing coaches in the Mountain West Conference.

Reece Brown will provide depth and even more length to an already deep frontcourt. Brown’s 6.9% block rate leads the Rebels, and his comfort within the program instantly makes him an elder statesman. The Albany, New York native, possesses the ability to block shots and helps to create a defensive post presence that the Rebels so desperately needed last season. Rebels fans should not be surprised to see Brown crack Kruger’s lineup.

It has been well-documented that the issues plaguing the Rebels frontline were a primary focus of Kruger and his staff from day one. It’s safe to say that these issues have been addressed, and the Rebels are poised to be one of the better frontcourts in the Mountain West Conference. Look for “BIG” things from this group.

 

Our former point guard will be breaking down the backcourt and what they need to do to improve after a rough 2020/21 season.

 

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-Che Jones – Franchise Sports Media

Follow Che on Twitter @CoachCheJones

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