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UNLV basketball:

Rebels recruiting in decent shape entering the spring signing period

Now with two open scholarships, much of what UNLV will try to do depends on its chances of getting Anthony Bennett


Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Coaches Dave Rice and Heath Schroyer talk during practice before their second round NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship game Wednesday, March 14, 2012 at The Pit in Albuquerque. The Runnin’ Rebels will take on Pac 12 champions Colorado on Thursday.

Wed, Apr 11, 2012 (5 p.m.)

The decision that Las Vegas has been talking about for the past few years is history. Shabazz Muhammad is going to UCLA.

Muhammad cut UNLV from his list at the end of March, ending a long flirtation that had Rebels fans dreaming of a hometown hero running out on the red carpet.

The funny thing is, both sides are probably better off with reality.

As long as he doesn't face a long suspension, Muhammad has a chance to be a star as part of a top-10 recruiting class. And second-year UNLV coach Dave Rice has built a roster that actually would have had trouble accommodating him.

With Muhammad’s big decision in the books on the first day of the spring signing period, it’s a good time to take another look at what UNLV will try to do the rest of the way.

First, the Rebels now have two open scholarships because of sophomore Karam Mashour’s decision to transfer. The move wasn’t surprising considering Mashour’s frustration with his limited playing time, highlighted by his refusal to enter a game at the end of February.

Don’t expect UNLV to spend both of their scholarships in this signing period, though. Their targets are limited, and keeping a scholarship allows Rice the freedom to pick up a midseason transfer.

The team’s top target is still Findlay Prep’s Anthony Bennett. A 6-foot-7 power forward, Bennett is the top-ranked uncommitted player after Nerlens Noel makes his decision tonight.

UNLV’s Khem Birch has been selling the program to Bennett, his former AAU teammate, since January. And no doubt Birch will play tour guide when Bennett makes an official visit to UNLV later this month.

Because the Rebels only had one available scholarship up until this week and they’re clearly in for the long haul with Bennett, there aren’t really many other high school targets for this year’s class. Findlay Prep 7-footer Matt Willms is a possibility, but most of the premier uncommitted guys have their lists cut to a few choices, and it would be nearly impossible for UNLV to swoop in and sway them.

Click to enlarge photo

Findlay Prep's Anthony Bennett talks to the media after a ceremony for the 2012 McDonald's All American Basketball Team, in which he and two other local highschool students were selected, Wednesday March 21, 2012.

Bennett recently told Adam Zagoria that his decision won’t likely come until early May, after he’s made all five of his official visits.

The benefit of UNLV’s second open scholarship now is the Rebels have freedom to pursue their back-up options with more vigor in case they fall out of the Bennett sweepstakes. Renaldo Woolridge is likely near the top of that list.

A transfer out of Tennessee, Woolridge, a 6-foot-9 forward, has just one year remaining, but he’s eligible to play right away. CBS Sports’ Jeff Borzello tweeted that Woolridge has already taken unofficial visits to USC and Pepperdine and will reportedly do the same in Las Vegas. The No. 53 overall player in the 2008 class, according to Rivals.com, Woolridge has the athleticism to attack the rim.

As for JUCO options, 6-foot-8 Luke Cothron is a possibility. He was a top-50 recruit committed to Auburn in 2010 before academics dropped him to the College of Southern Idaho, where he averaged 14 points and 8.1 rebounds per game this year.

The list of transfers is enormous and ever growing, giving UNLV an even bigger pool to sort through. Whatever they come up with this year, it will likely be in the post.

After considering the NBA, Mike Moser is back for his junior season. Seniors Anthony Marshall and Justin Hawkins will control the backcourt, with support from junior Reggie Smith and incoming freshman Katin Reinhardt. Junior Bryce Jones will man the slashing wing role, which is why UNLV doesn’t really need Muhammad.

That’s a solid core of guards/small forwards, but the forwards/centers are less certain.

The coaching staff has been raving about Birch since he stepped on campus, but his December debut will be his first game in about a year. And forwards Quintrell Thomas and Carlos Lopez were far from consistent last season.

Reinforcements in the paint would be well received, and it’s probably best if that doesn’t fall on incoming freshman Demetris Morant. The 6-foot-8, 205-pound forward from Bishop Gorman is known more for his jumping ability than basketball skills. The talent is there, but it’s probably best if the Rebels don’t have to rely on him this year.

Bennett is the best-case scenario. Considering his decision isn’t expected for a few more weeks, Mashour’s departure gives UNLV a lot of freedom that it didn’t have beforehand.

Still, don’t expect to hear about much action in the interim. The Rebels will probably wait until they know they can’t get Bennett before making other moves.

Or until he signs with UNLV.

Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or taylor.bern@lasvegassun.com. Follow Taylor on Twitter at twitter.com/taylorbern.

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