UNLV basketball:

Rebels trying to learn from last season as they begin practice

Senior Carlos Lopez-Sosa says he notices a big difference in the players and the way Dave Rice addresses the team

Image

Steve Marcus

Daquan Cook, center, passes the ball during the first UNLV basketball practice of the season at UNLV’s Mendenhall Center Monday, Oct. 7, 2013.

Updated Monday, Oct. 7, 2013 | 8 p.m.

UNLV Rebels First Basketball Practice of the Season

Bryce Dejean-Jones drives by Kevin Olekaibe during the first UNLV basketball practice of the season at UNLV's Mendenhall Center Monday, Oct. 7, 2013. Launch slideshow »

Dave Rice yells a little more than normal, veterans say no one’s guaranteed a job and all the players gather weekly away from the court just to hang out. This is Rebels basketball 2013-14, a season they hope contains similar on-court success as last year without all of the drama.

Monday was the first official practice for UNLV, which took advantage of the extra practice time the past week and a half with conditioning and skill drills. A new NCAA rule gave every team extra practice days to use, and Rice, who’s entering his third season as UNLV’s coach, wanted to use those to fine-tune the players. On Monday in the Mendenhall Center, he set them loose with the goal of running everyone into the ground.

“I want them to feel very, very tired,” Rice said.

That included Rice calling out junior Roscoe Smith for lollygagging through a drill. Smith, who is eligible after transferring from UConn, could have gotten away with that while sitting out last season. Those days are gone, and getting yelled at was a nice reminder that he’s about to get to play for real.

“I was like, ‘Oh yeah, I’m really in practice,’ ” Smith said. “I was so excited I barely got any sleep (Sunday) night.”

Rice’s raised voice was a familiar sound in the gym and a sign of a different game plan. Considering all that went on behind the scenes last year — including since-departed freshmen Katin Reinhardt (transferring to USC) and Anthony Bennett (being drafted first overall) — Rice probably gained as much as three years’ experience in one season. That’s bound to bring about some changes, and the players are already taking notice.

“He’s more firm with his decisions,” senior Carlos Lopez-Sosa said. “We’re going to go one way, and no one’s going to stop him from going that way. If you don’t feel like you can help this team in the direction we’re going, there’s no reason to be here.”

Like Mike Moser, who went to Oregon for his final season, Lopez-Sosa had a chance to play his final season elsewhere. He and the coaching staff didn’t always see eye-to-eye last year because of Lopez-Sosa’s playing time, but he returned in part because he trusted Rice to follow through on rewarding players based on play more than promises.

“We don’t have any guys who think they’re going to start,” Lopez-Sosa said. “Every guy is fighting for their position and fighting for their right to play. Last year, to a point, there were situations where you knew who was going to start and who was going to play no matter what.”

Players also knew who was going to hang out with whom away from the court. Off-court divides don’t always show up on the court, but it was all too obvious an issue for UNLV last year.

“There were the old guys and there were the new guys,” Lopez-Sosa said. “The old guys felt like the new guys were getting everything without actually working for it. That was one of our main problems.”

The players are trying to combat that with weekly get-togethers at someone’s house or even just watching TV downstairs at Mendenhall. It doesn’t really matter what they do, Smith said, as long as they do it together.

“We make sure that we’re bonding off the court,” Smith said. “That was something I made sure I wanted to do.”

It’s easy to be optimistic in October. The real challenges lay ahead as the Rebels try to grow together and take the positives from Rice’s first two seasons into Year Three.

NOTES

• Junior forward Khem Birch missed practice because he overslept for a weight training session at 8:30 a.m. Rice decided to suspend him for the rest of the day but said he expected Birch to return to practice tomorrow.

• Freshman Jamal Aytes had to watch the last half of practice from the sidelines after hyperextending his knee. The initial prognosis is Aytes is day-to-day. Fellow freshman Chris Wood is scheduled to see a doctor for his broken finger on Friday and could return to practice that day or early next week.

• Bishop Gorman junior and UNLV mass mail recipient Stephen Zimmerman was courtside with his parents for practice.

• On Monday morning, UNLV announced TV or streaming coverage for 10 additional regular-season games plus the two exhibitions this season. The full list can be found here, and below I’ve listed all of the affected games. This could still change, but right now there are only two games — Dec. 14 at Southern Utah and Dec. 22 vs. Santa Clara at Orleans Arena — that lack viewing coverage.

All games listed will be played at the Thomas & Mack Center unless otherwise noted:

Fri., Nov. 1 — Dixie State (exh.), 8 p.m., UNLVRebels.com/MWN

Tue., Nov. 5 — Adams State (exh.), 7 p.m., UNLVRebels.com/MWN

Fri., Nov. 8 — Portland State, 7:30 p.m., UNLVRebels.com/MWN

Tue., Nov. 12 — UC Santa Barbara, 7 p.m., Cox 96 LV

Fri., Nov. 15 — Nebraska-Omaha, 7 p.m., UNLVRebels.com/MWN

Sat., Nov. 30 — Tennessee-Martin, 7 p.m., Cox 96 LV

Wed., Dec. 18 — Radford, 7 p.m., UNLVRebels.com/MWN

Fri., Dec. 20 — Sacred Heart, 7 p.m., UNLVRebels.com/MWN

*Mon., Dec. 23 — Mississippi State or South Florida, 5 or 7:30 p.m., CBSSN

Sat., Dec. 28 — Cal State Fullerton, 7 p.m., Cox 96 LV

Sat., Jan. 4 — Air Force, 7 p.m., Cox 96 LV

Sat., Jan. 25 — Fresno State, 7:05 p.m., CBSSN

*At Orleans Arena

Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Taylor on Twitter at twitter.com/taylorbern.

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