Goodbye Bayno, Kas, and Cavagnero---Hello Coach Spoonhour, Marcus Banks, and Ernest Turner! Ok, it may not be that simple, but one thing is for sure when UNLV takes the floor at the Thomas & Mack this fall, we'll see a completely different team than we have for the past 5 years. Gone are the days of underachieving coach Bayno revolving the offense around Kambala, who rarely showed the desire necessary to be a go-to-guy and leader. Arriving is overachieving coach Spoonhour who brings a resume full of turning programs around and getting the most out of his kids. This is sure to be an exciting year for UNLV basketball as we enter the new era of SpoonBall and here is a breakdown of each of the players & positions, as well as what we at RebelReport.com anticipate seeing this season:
Standing a muscular 6-1, Marcus Banks looks to be the most complete, quick, physical, vocal, floor leader that UNLV has had since Greg Anthony (no disrespect to Mark Dickel). Banks was considered the top point guard in junior college last season, where he averaged 17.8 points, 5 assists, 6 rebounds and 2 steals per game for Dixie JC. RebelReport has been in attendance for many of Bank's games at Dixie, and we believe his tenacious defense and up-tempo game will ignite the Runnin' Rebels. Banks was also invited for the senior men's qualifying tournament team by USA Basketball, as has made the first cut.
The Rebs also have a solid backup point guard in shifty sophomore Lafonte Johnson. Tay was hesitant at times his freshman year, but has shown he does have the ability and deadly jumper to be a great point guard at UNLV. A possible redshirt, Johnson averaged 4 points and 2 assists while shooting 36% from three-point range. If Johnson does redshirt look for the backup role to go to either Jevon Banks or Vince Booker. At 6-1 and a very quick leaper, Jevon Banks strengths are in on the ball defense as well as his ability to push the ball up the floor. He missed the majority of the second half of the season with a severely sprained ankle. Vince Booker was a walk-on who eventually started some games late in the season for interim coach Max Good. Vince has a great jumper and decent point guard skills.
Ernest Turner is a 6-2 shooting guard freshman, who knows how to score, score, and score some more. Rated as high as the 30th best high school player in the nation, Turner is in everyone's Top 100 ranking. He averaged 26 ppg this past season at Sterling High School in Summerdale, NJ, and also broke the single game scoring record at the Adidas Big Time Tourney with 40 points. Turner was 2 answers away from passing his SAT test, due partly to a learning disability, so UNLV is currently filing an appeal that should make him eligible this season. Should he be eligible, UNLV's backcourt of Marcus and Ernest will be tough to beat.
Another shooting guard that is questionable this season is senior Jermaine Lewis, who was having a great junior season before tearing his ACL in his left knee. This summer he then torn ligaments in his right knee and is currently working hard rehabbing it in hopes of playing by mid-season. Lewis is a possible redshirt if he doesn't come along fast enough. He appeared in 26 games last year, averaging 9 points and shooting 35% from behind the arc.
With the uncertainty of Turner and Lewis, the UNLV staff was forced to sign another 2-guard in 6-5 Lamar Bigby. Bigby played 2 seasons at School Craft Junior College in Michigan, but failed to complete the required credits and was ineligible for Division I basketball. Bigby, who is originally from Detroit, transferred to San Francisco City College and earned his associate arts degree, thereby enabling him to play this season. A bit of an unknown, Bigby is said to be able to really shoot the ball. He averaged 17 points and 6 boards in JC, and was also all-city and all-state in Northern HS in Detroit.
Maybe the biggest factor in how well UNLV does in 2001-2002 is Lou Kelly. A 6-5 small forward blessed with a lot of basketball ability, Lou sometimes appears not to care about much at all. Last year, he refused to play much defense and rode the pine for the better part of the season. When he is in, let's just say he isn't afraid to shoot to rock. He hoisted a shot every 2 minutes, while playing only 12 minutes a game. Word around campus is Lou is buying into Spoonhour's system. He has already lost over 15 pounds and is the best shape that we've seen him in his time at UNLV, showing he is taking things more seriously. His attitude and performance from the first practice will play a vital role in UNLV's success, or lack thereof this season.
A new face at the small forward spot could be freshman Louis Amundson. He averaged 18 points, 9 rebounds, 3 blocked shots and 2 steals per game for Monarch High School in Louisville, Colorado. Admunson was named the Front Range League's Player of the Year and was an All-Boulder Valley selection while finishing second team all state. He is an excellent perimeter player, but played very well in the post his senior year and we may see him play some 4 for the Rebels this season.
We group these two together, because honestly, we aren't going to be a big team this year and the two positions will interchange. First and foremost is Dalron Johnson. This 6-10 kid just seems to get better and better every minute he's on the floor. Averaging over 12 points, 8 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks a game, while shooting 46% from the floor DJ was arguably UNLV's best player last season. Many around the program believed that last year the offense should have gone through he, rather than Kambala, and that is likely what we'll see this season. The one-two punch of Dalron and Marcus might be the best twosome in the MWC.
Next is an athletic big man who can score and rebound, 6-10 Jamal Holden, who should remind UNLV fans somewhat of former Rebel Keon Clark with this thin frame and jumping ability. In two seasons at Westark College in Fort Smith, AR, Holden averaged 13 points and 7 rebounds a game, for a very deep, very good team that finished 5th in the NJCAA Tourney. Holden chose UNLV over UConn and Arkansas and should be a factor right away in the post for the Rebels.
Chris Richardson, who also continues to improve each year, enters his senior year poised to become a big contributor at the 4 spot. Richardson has developed nicely from just a raw high flyer as a freshman to a hard-nosed power forward who is not afraid to get after it on the defensive end and under the glass. He averaged 5 points a game while shooting 55% from the field, and might also play the 3 spot. He can still finish on the break with the best of them in college basketball.
UNLV's other post player is 6-9 sophomore Omari Pearson. He is a player with a lot of ability with his back to the basket as well as facing up who should have redshirted last season. This year he'll get every chance to earn consistent minutes.