Shakur Juiston has a particular gift for rebounding.
Actually, it’s more like a gift for mathematics. At 6-foot-7, he’s not usually the biggest man on the court, but he pulls down rebound after rebound because he has an ability to read angles. When a shot goes up, Juiston can track the trajectory of the ball in the air and anticipate how it’s going to carom off the rim.
The instinct is innate. Juiston can’t explain it. He does all the calculations in his head, instantaneously, without the help of a graphing calculator, with large centers and power forwards leaning on his back.
“I just anticipate it,” Juiston says. “I’ve got a feel for the ball’s geometry, like if it hits the rim I can sometimes just tell where it’s going to go. I don’t just sit there and watch it. I’ll jump a certain way and the ball will just happen to come that way.”
That approach works for Juiston, and the numbers bear it out. As a high school senior, he led his Paterson Eastside team to a New Jersey state championship by pulling down 18 rebounds in the title game. He’s the all-time leader in rebounds at Hutchinson CC with 741, and last year he set the school’s single-game record by ripping down 20 boards in a December contest. For the season, he finished tied for fifth among junior college players with 12.1 rebounds per game.
With a track record like that, it’s not an exaggeration to think that UNLV is adding one of the best rebounders in the country in Juiston. The incoming junior can make that much of a difference for the Rebels, who finished 10th in the Mountain West in defensive rebounds last year.
It’s not often that a player of Juiston’s caliber is so dedicated to one of the ugliest, dirtiest, glory-free jobs in the game. He was the No. 1 junior college recruit available this offseason after leading Hutchinson to the juco national championship, and he had offers from schools such as Kansas and Iowa State on the table. It would be understandable if a star player didn’t want to jump into the muck and battle for rebounds all night, every night.
But Juiston recognizes the importance of controlling the glass. He learned it the hard way.
Juiston didn’t begin playing basketball until he hit a growth spurt in the eighth grade, and the nuances of the game were foreign to him. But he was eager to contribute to his team in any way he could.
While sitting on the bench, he would analyze the action on the court. Left to his own devices, he came to the conclusion that rebounding was often the determining factor between winning and losing.
“When I first started playing basketball, I wasn’t that good,” Justion says. “I would sit there on the bench and learn from the bench. One thing that caught me was watching people miss or make shots and seeing where the ball would go. No one ever taught me to rebound, it was just like an instinct thing. When I would get in the game, I would just try to do what I learned on the bench and it worked for me.”
Juiston mastered the art of rebounding and built the rest of his game around that skill. He’s now an effective scorer in the paint (17.3 points per game last year on 60.9-percent shooting), and he’s a versatile defender who often checked all three frontcourt positions on Hutchinson's run to the national championship.
During his time at the junior college level, Juiston made himself into the kind of prospect who could help any Division I college team. When it came time to make a college decision, he could have chosen any number of big-time Power 5 schools. But he made a deep connection with UNLV head coach Marvin Menzies.
“UNLV came late into the recruiting process,” Juiston says. “I got on the phone with coach [Menzies] and he was just being a people person, asking me how I was doing, asking about my family. There aren’t too many coaches who are like that. They just want to know about you and focus on your play. He was being like a father figure or an uncle figure. He was like, ‘Just give me a chance.’”
Juiston did some research on the UNLV program and was attracted to the history and the fan base. After his official visit to the campus, his mother and his grandfather came away believing that Las Vegas [under Menzies’ tutelage] was the right place for him.
Even though the Rebels are coming off an 11-win, last-place campaign, Juiston believes in Menzies.
“[Menzies] said one thing that stuck with me,” Juiston said. “He said, ‘You’ve got to trust somebody sometime.’ I’ve been trusted a lot throughout my life, and a lot of times in situations when I shouldn’t have been trusted. They trusted me and took a chance on me, so I owed it to myself to give somebody else a chance.”
So Juiston is betting on a UNLV rebound. Even if others can’t see it yet, even if the angle isn’t apparent to everyone else, Juiston has a vision of a winning program.
He’s doing the math.