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New FSM Feature: UNLV Runnin’ Rebels Recruiting

Runnin Rebel Recruitment 2022-23 season

Franchise Sports Media

 

The Rebels acquire transfers in Jackie Johnson, Eli Parquet, EJ Harkless, and Isaiah Cottrell, while Kevin Kruger also hires John Cooper to his staff.

 

UNLV
Photo Credit: LV Sports Biz

As of today, UNLV head coach Kevin Kruger is faced with the dilemma of having to replace 76.8% of his scoring from last season with the departure of first-team all-Mountain West Conference selection and conference scoring leader Bryce Hamilton (21.8 ppg). Aside from the Rebels‘ 9th all-time leading scorer, Kruger must replace scoring from his second-leading scorer Donovan Williams (12.7 ppg). In addition, Royce Hamm Jr, Mike Nuga, Marvin Coleman, and Trey Hurlburt combined for an additional 19.2 ppg. Emptying the cupboards has forced Kruger to work diligently to replace his scoring load, but it has also left a gaping hole in his leadership and rebounding.

Hamm led the Rebels in rebounding (9.3 RPG) and was an honorable mention all-Mountain West Conference selection. Hamm strung together numerous double-doubles and provided Kruger with a vocal leader that led by example and experience. Hamm’s hunger and passion for the program were noticeable to the Rebel faithful and self-evident that his second chance at collegiate success was much obliged. Like Hamm, Williams played with an enthusiasm that was a welcoming sight. If not for his injury, the Rebels may have secured a few more wins and perhaps a better showing in the Mountain West Conference tournament. Unfortunately, coupled with Hamilton’s 5 RPG and Williams‘ 3.3 RPG, the Rebels are losing 66% of their rebounding from last season.

Kruger is now faced with replacing the lion’s share of scoring and rebounding and must also hit the recruiting trail (or transfer portal) without assistants Tim Buckley and Carlin Hartman. They left for similar positions with South Carolina University and the University of Florida.

 

 SO WHO ARE KRUGER’S REPLACEMENTS? 

 

UNLV
Photo Credit: UNLV Athletics

Replacing one of the most prolific scorers in Runnin’ Rebels history is a monumental task that would be hard for any coach. But for the second year, Kruger has a daunting and even more difficult charge as he attempts to replace not one but two assistants while the recruiting process is heating up.

The transfer portal, which Kruger and his staff utilized as well as any program in that nation last year, is percolating with tantalizing options of players from small, lesser-known programs that saw under-recruited players prove their ability, are battle-tested and ready for the bright lights! Of course, there are also many talented players from the mightiest of conferences and programs to appease one’s basketball palate!

Whereas UNLV center David Muoka has shown glimpses of frontcourt brilliance as a rebounder and most significantly as a rim-protector, the more pressing question is who will score? And, who will defend for the Rebels next season?

On the offensive end, the Rebels recently secured EJ Harkless via the transfer portal. Harkless will come to UNLV as a graduate transfer with one year of eligibility. Suppose Hamm was any indication of what is to come. In that case, the Rebels are getting a mature, talented, proven player hungry to win a championship and is looking toward his basketball future. This bodes well for Kruger and his staff, as vital portions of his returning roster are young or inexperienced.

The absence of guards Hamilton and Nuga leaves two pivotal voids in the Rebels’ armor; three-point shooting and perimeter defense! Harkless transfers to UNLV after spending the past two seasons at Oklahoma University, where he was an All-Big12 honorable mention selection. Harkless was a two-year starter for the Sooners and averaged ten ppg, 4.1 RPG, and 1.7 APG and started in 40 games over two years in Norman, Oklahoma. Before joining the Sooners, Harkless was a – year starter at Cal State Northridge, where he also averaged double figures.

Next season another solid defender in the Rebels’ lineup could be Colorado Buffalo transfer Elijah Parquet. The Rebels are getting an elite defender that can guard the bigger, Bryce Hamilton-type guards in the Mountain West Conference. Parquet was an all-defensive selection in the Pac12 in the 2020-21 season. The Pac12 boasted an array of wing players such as Pac12 Player of the Year and All-American Benedict Mathurn. Parquet was one of the elite defenders in the Pac12 and should be able to hit the ground running in the Mountain West Conference next season. As a graduate transfer, Parquet spent the last two seasons as a starter for the Buffalos. Despite last season being cut short due to injury, Parquet was again selected as the team’s best defender.

 

THE POINT GUARD POSITION

 

UNLV Runnin' Rebels
Photo Credit: Trisha LaCoste/Franchise Sports Media

The emergence of Jordan McCabe as a steady hand that made the Rebel offense go was a welcomed one. McCabe assured the Rebel coaching staff that the only issues the Rebels would have on the offensive end would be scoring and rebounding but never turning the ball over. Unfortunately, however, McCabe is on his way out the door as a senior, and the Rebels must look to secure the future of who’s going to lead Kruger’s offense.

The answer may be 5-11 (wink, wink), point guard Jackie Johnson III. Johnson is a transfer from Duquesne, who scored a career-high 30 points and had a 27-point game against UMASS. Johnson is a Nate Robinson-esqe type player who is quick and equally strong. Last season, Johnson appeared in all 30 games for head coach Keith Dambrot (LeBron James’ former high school coach at St. Vincent-St. Mary in Akron, Ohio) and even started 11 games. Cut from the same cloth as former Rebel guard Wink Adams, Johnson was once ranked as the #34 point guard by Rivals in the 2021 class. Johnson will have three years of eligibility and may provide some stability in Kruger’s system for the future.

With Harkless, Kruger gets an intense competitor who can sit down and defend the ball sideline to sideline and baseline to baseline. Harkless is a proven collegiate player with over 100 games under his belt, and, like Hamilton, he is a consistent mid-range shooter. Whether or not Kruger will soften on his tendency to limit his player’s ability to shoot mid-range jumpers or not is yet to be seen, but having a tenacious guard like Harkless with that skill on his tool belt is a welcomed problem to have.

Kruger gets another mature, hardworking graduate transfer with a laser focus in Parquet. Parquet is a well-known defender who came into Boulder, Colorado, and worked diligently to improve his all-around game and become a consistent all-around performer for Tad Boyle’s Buffs. Parquet will step into the role of quiet, “lead by example” leadership that Hamilton has left open for the taking.

In Johnson, the Rebels are getting a high-octane point guard that can attack defenders and knockdown deep, STAND-STILL threes. He’s also a straight-line driver, ala Nuga, that can consistently get two feet into the paint. Johnson is also a lefty with a deep range that can stretch defenses. In addition, McCabe was one of the very best assist-to-turnover point guards in America last season and subsequently in Rebel history. His basketball IQ and understanding of the conference and Kruger’s system could be crucial to his maturation process of Johnson.

The combination of Parquet, Harkless, and returning freshman Keshon Gilbert will give the Rebel faithful a defensive backcourt that they haven’t seen in a long time. Look for Kruger to throw many different defensive looks at teams next season with what he will have at his disposal. Throwing Johnson into the mix affords the Rebels the luxury of developing Gilbert as a 2-guard if he can improve his shooting. In addition, Johnson’s superior athleticism will provide the Rebels with a very athletic, experienced backcourt by 2024.

The next move is to provide on dominant post player, in particular, a 4-man that can rebound, defend and run to complete Kruger’s roster, and the Rebels could be looking down the barrel of a 20+ win season!

 

Rebels added size to the frontcourt with another transfer.

 

UNLV
Photo Credit: UNLV Athletics

The UNLV men’s basketball program has received a signed commitment from West Virginia transfer Isaiah Cottrell to join the Runnin’ Rebels for the 2022-23 season, head coach Kevin Kruger announced on May 2nd.

Cottrell, a 6-foot-10-inch, 245-pound forward, is returning home to Las Vegas from the Big 12 program, returning to UNLV with three years of remaining eligibility. Before attending Huntington Prep (W. Va.) for his final year of high school, he was at Las VegasBishop Gorman High School, where he led the Gaels to the state championship.
 
We are looking forward to having Isaiah be a part of our program,” Kruger said. “He is physical and athletic, and has the ability to stretch the floor, while being a threat at the rim. He has been a part of multiple winning programs, leading his team to a Nevada state championship and playing on a NCAA Tournament team.
 
He played two years at West Virginia, a consensus four-star recruit, appearing in 43 games. His first season was cut short because of injury, but he made 28 starts in 33 games played this past season. He logged 16 minutes per contest during the 2021-22 campaign, averaging 4.2 points and 2.8 rebounds per game.
 
At Huntington Prep, Cottrell averaged 18.9 ppg, 9.3 RPG, and 2.0 blocks per contest, and during the 2018-19 state championship season at Bishop Gorman, he had 15.2 ppg, 9.3 RPG, and 4.3 BPG.

 

With a revamped roster that included nine transfers, the team continually improved as the season progressed, advancing 43 spots in the national KenPom ratings. In addition, Coach Kruger was recently recognized as one of the nation’s top first-year head coaches in Division I men’s college basketball. The Runnin’ Rebels’ future seems to be brighter than it has been in recent years,

 

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-Che Jones – Franchise Sports Media

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