Coach's Corner with Lon Kruger

Our team is getting a head start on the 2008-09 season thanks to a 10-day, six-game trip that we are taking to Australia beginning next week.

The NCAA allows programs to take a foreign trip once every four years. Not only do you play games, you also are permitted 10 days of practice prior to leaving. We began workouts on June 10 and will continue them until we leave for Sydney on Monday, June 23.

In our case, the timing of the extra practices and games could not be better.

Two players who redshirted last year and figure to play key roles this season, center Beas Hamga and point guard Tre'Von Willis, can now get more live practice experience as well as six games under their belts going into next season. Returning players like Joe Darger, who will move to the four spot this year, and Rene Rougeau, who moves to the three, will get a head start and some experience at their new positions.

It also is a real good opportunity for our four returning seniors – Wink Adams, Mo Rutledge, Darger and Rougeau – to step into their senior leadership roles and get comfortable and accustomed to those expectations.

Another benefit of the trip is that some of our former players are allowed to occasionally practice with our team as part of our "scout squad". Ex-Rebels like Joel Anthony, Kevin Kruger, Kaspars Kambala, Wendell White, Sunshine Smith, Warren Rosegreen, Mark Dickel and Corey Bailey are among the professional players who have stopped by to assist at practice.

Perhaps the one negative is that our four incoming players – center Brice Massamba, forward Darris Santee and guards DeShawn Mitchell and Oscar Bellfield – won't be allowed to make the trip or practice. Only players who were enrolled full-time in the spring semester are allowed to participate.

This is the third time that we have taken a team to Australia for an exhibition tour. In 1993 our Florida squad went over and had a terrific trip, and that squad the following year went to the Final Four as they really benefited from that experience. We also toured while at Illinois prior to our 1999-2000 season and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Both teams really made the most of the opportunity.

Taking a trip like this obviously isn't cheap and we've had a lot of contributions from individuals who helped make it happen. The people at Spanish Trail Country Club recently raised over $70,000 with a one-day golf tournament which was very significant in funding the trip.

In closing I want to remind you that non-donor season tickets for next season go on sale on Wednesday, June 18, at 10 a.m. Prices begin for as little as $90 for balcony-level seats behind the baskets. The atmosphere at the Thomas & Mack Center has been great and we have the potential now, with your help, to take it to another level. This team will be easy to cheer for and fun to watch. It will be exciting to see the progress this group can make against a very attractive but difficult pre-conference schedule.

Be sure to check back in this space on Friday, June 27th, when we will go over some of the highlights from the early part of our Australia trip.

EDITOR'S NOTE: UNLV head basketball coach Lon Kruger writes a column for the Rebel Nation print publication put out by the Las Vegas Review Journal. Rebel Nation resumes weekly publication on Aug. 28.

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