UNLV basketball targeting Liberty big man Joshua Jefferson

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Steve Marcus

UNLV Runnin’ Rebels head coach T. J. Otzelberger applauds a play as the Rebels take on the Purdue Fort Wayne Mastodons at the Thomas & Mack Center Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019.

Sat, Jun 20, 2020 (2 a.m.)

UNLV has expanded its recruiting efforts in the 2022 class, as the program offered a scholarship last week to Las Vegas forward Joshua Jefferson of Liberty High.

Jefferson, a 6-foot-8 post player, is the second recruit in the class to receive an offer from the Rebels. Desert Pines point guard Milos Uzan was offered shortly after T.J. Otzelberger took over as UNLV’s head coach last spring.

Liberty was led by Gonzaga-bound scorer Julian Strawther in 2019-20, but Jefferson made an impact around the basket with his powerful frame, scoring touch and rebounding. For the season, the sophomore averaged 14 points and nine boards per game.

As of now, the Rebels are only projected to have two big men on the roster in 2022 (6-foot-8 Moses Wood and 6-foot-11 Jhaylon Martinez), so it makes sense that Otzelberger is looking for some size in the Class of 2022. And Jefferson, though he has mostly operated in the post so far during his high school career, has the potential to develop into Otzelberger’s kind of frontcourt player.

Jefferson said his offensive game is diverse and that he is working to expand it even further.

“I can stretch the floor, dribble, shoot,” Jefferson said. “I just do whatever my team needs to win.”

The Rebels began observing and actively recruiting Jefferson in the fall, with assistant coach Kevin Kruger handling most of the communication.

Last week, the UNLV coaching staff hosted a video conference call with Jefferson during which they outlined a detailed development plan for the young pivot.

The in-depth approach made an impression on Jefferson.

“There was a presentation showing my strengths and weaknesses,” Jefferson said. “They talked about how I can improve, what I can do better. They showed me how I can get my body right, the things that UNLV does to help with that. It was a good time. I was very interested in what they were saying.”

Jefferson is not ranked by most recruiting sites, but Liberty coach Stefan Berg touted his skill set.

“He’s got great post moves,” Berg said. “One of his great attributes is passing. His basketball IQ is really high, he sees the court really well.”

Jefferson, who said he’s currently 235 pounds, conceded he has to continue to work at becoming a better defensive player.

“My biggest steps forward have been on defense,” Jefferson said. “I used to be lazy on defense and not have good defensive awareness, but I’m getting better at that. I’ve been doing sand workouts and that has helped a lot. I’m doing agility work, footwork stuff. I want to get better.”

Jefferson took an unofficial visit to UNLV in November, but he should already be familiar with the campus. His older brother, Cam Jefferson, played football at UNLV from 2010-13 and served as a starter on the offensive line for three seasons before transferring to Arkansas.

UNLV was the second school to offer Jefferson (Texas A&M offered last spring). Jefferson expects more schools to jump in over the next two years, but he’s got a good thing going with UNLV so far.

“Yeah, I like UNLV,” he said. “I enjoyed the campus. My brother went there for four years and they treated him pretty well. I have a good relationship with UNLV.”

Mike Grimala can be reached at 702-948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Mike on Twitter at twitter.com/mikegrimala.

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