Summer school is about to begin for the Runnin’ Rebels, as UNLV’s first team workout under new coach T.J. Otzelberger is set for Monday.
The NCAA’s offseason calendar gives teams an eight-week window during the summer when coaches are allowed to work with players on the court for four hours per week (plus four hours per week in the weight room). That stretch will have added importance for the Rebels, who are transitioning from Marvin Menzies’s post-oriented offensive system to Otzelberger’s pace-and-space system.
Only one current Rebel has played for Otzelberger previously — junior transfer David Jenkins — so the majority of the roster will be learning the system from scratch.
Otzelberger thinks the next eight weeks will be vital in setting the foundation for how he wants his UNLV teams to play.
“I’m excited to develop and work with the guys, excited to learn their games and what they do best and have that time together,” Otzelberger said. “I think in the summer it’s more of a clear vision of how we’re going to run our program. That comes down to condition, how we want to be in shape to play an up-tempo style. It comes down to fundamentals, a lot of offensive skill development, understanding spacing, concepts that we’re going to implement.”
Last year under Otzelberger, South Dakota State fielded one of the nation’s top offensive attacks, ranking No. 3 in points per possession (1.055) and No. 5 in points per game (84.5). The Jackrabbits did it by spreading the floor, moving the ball and making 3-pointers; as a team, they hit 327 3-pointers (24th in the country) and ranked third in accuracy (40.8 percent).
Teaching the Rebels how to space the court and get open will be Otzelberger’s top priority over the summer.
“Offensively it comes down to spacing, which to me is non-negotiable,” he said. “When the ball is somewhere, the spacing needs to be set up a certain way. I think the pace that we cut and move, you’ve got to cut at 100-percent effort. You’ve got to make sure if you’re going to have that flow and continuity and ball movement, all of that has to go hand in hand. You’ve got to get that rhythm and establish it, so you’ve got to have that pacing and space. I think that will be something that we really work hard to implement.”
The NCAA added a wrinkle to the proceedings by announcing that the 3-point line will be moved back to 22 feet, 1.75 inches for the 2019-20 season. Adding nearly a foot-and-a-half to the 3-point line should open the floor and make it more difficult for defenses to stretch all the way out cover shooters beyond the arc.
In Otzelberger’s offense, that should theoretically open up wider driving lanes for attacking the basket.
“I think it’s a good thing,” he said. “It gives you more opportunities to get the ball into the paint. You have to have shooting on the court so [the defense] honors those shooters and they’re trying to take that away, but I think off of ball screens and handoffs and isolations it will give you more space to operate and be more effective getting to the rim.”
UNLV has not had a chance to resurface its practice courts to reflect the new 3-point arc, but Otzelberger doesn’t expect to run his practices much differently.
Thin roster for first practice
Grad transfers Elijah Mitrou-Long and Vitaliy Shibel are still in classes at Texas and Arizona State, respectively, as they work toward their degrees, so they won’t be on campus at UNLV until they graduate. That leaves the Rebels with 10 active scholarship players for the beginning of summer workouts.
Otzelberger said the short roster will limit the opportunities to scrimmage full-court but that the coaches will dedicate some of that time to working with players individually.
“I think until we have everybody here we probably won’t do as much with 5-on-5 or how the whole system fits together,” he said. “But it’s a chance for us to learn and develop guys individually, what their strengths are both offensively and defensively.”