Hamga, a 7-foot freshman center, and Willis, a 6-4 sophomore transfer from Memphis, both had to sit out the 2007-08 season at UNLV. But both will get a head start on 2008-09 campaign on Thursday when the Runnin' Rebels play the first of six games on their Australian summer tour against the Sutherland Sharks in Sydney.
So what if the game is almost 8,000 miles away from the UNLV campus and will not be broadcast on TV or radio. Both Hamga and Willis are just happy to finally get to play in a game with their new teammates.
"It was tough man," Hamga said of sitting out last season as part of an admissions compromise after the NCAA Clearinghouse questioned some of his academic records from his native Cameroon. "I'm glad that it is finally here."
"I felt like a piece of me was missing," added Willis, who watched his former Memphis teammates advance to the NCAA Tournament championship game. "I'm excited to get back out there. I can't wait to go."
Both will get plenty of playing time. With forward Matt Shaw sidelined with a torn ACL, UNLV will have just eight players available for a stretch of six games in seven nights.
"I'm looking forward to being in a game situation again," Hamga said. "To sit out one year without playing a game and just practicing is different. Hopefully this will help me for when the (regular) season starts.
"Right now in my mind it's like I just got here. I'm going to do everything the coaches ask to me do. The redshirt year helped me a lot to see how the college game is going on. But right now it's in the past. I'm just focused on the future."
Hamga, rated a top 50 national prep recruit his senior year at Decatur (Ill.) Christian High School, was asked if he was nervous about playing his first game with the Runnin' Rebels?
"Not really," Hamga said. "I don't know how to explain it. Anxious maybe. I just want to play the first game and see how it feels and how it looks like out there."
Willis is expected to vie with sophomore Kendall Wallace and incoming freshman Oscar Bellfield for the starting point guard spot next season.
"Personally, I'm trying to just get into a flow and a nice rhythm that I would like to play at … a nice pace … and control the game and tempo from my point guard spot," Willis said. "I want to get easy shots for my teammates and also get the ball to them in spots where they can be effective.
"I'm definitely taking these games as real games," Willis added. "I'm not a player that takes plays off. I just want to get out there and play my hardest and see where me and my teammates are at."
Both Hamga and Willis said getting an extra 10 days of practice leading into the trip was very beneficial for them. They'll get no argument from head coach Lon Kruger on that account.
"I think both have really benefited from those 10 days of practice," Kruger said. "I think they've done a great job and made progress already and will continue to do that with each game in Australia."
It's finally game time for Hamga and Willis
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