Expectations are now high
The 2014 recruiting class for the Runnin’ Rebels is like nothing seen before at UNLV.
The class was completed when five-star guard Rashad Vaughn chose UNLV over Iowa State on Tuesday. Vaughn will join Goodluck Okonoboh and Dwayne Morgan to make up UNLV’s freshman class.
According to Rivals, Vaughn is the No. 1 shooting guard in the nation, and the No. 7 player overall. Morgan is ranked 15th and Okonoboh sits at No. 32.
Even the most optimistic UNLV fan couldn’t have predicted such a star-studded class. It was just last year when the Rebels got Anthony Bennett, now they have three players of Bennett’s caliber.
Dave Rice is so good at recruiting, it shouldn’t be called that anymore. It’s more like Rice picks the players he wants, and it’s over.
This class is extraordinary because of how little they’ve done on the court this year. UNLV hasn’t won an NCAA Tournament game since 2008. The National Championship was won years before Vaughn, Morgan and Okonoboh were even born.
Vaughn, Okonoboh and Morgan even stand out when compared to the days of Jerry Tarkanian. Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon and Greg Anthony were great players, but only Augmon was recruited out of high school. UNLV recruited well in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, but Rice’s haul this year bests even Tarkanian’s best classes.
Tarkanian got the most out of those players, though. While Rice has owned the recruiting trail, his teams have underperformed. Next year, the expectations will be through the roof.
Every night UNLV takes the floor, they will be the more talented team.
No one in the Mountain West will even hold a candle to the Runnin’ Rebels when it comes to sheer ability.
UNLV’s frontcourt is already arguably the best in the conference. Add Okonoboh to Khem Birch and Roscoe Smith, and Las Vegas could be home to the most formidable frontcourt rotation in the country.
Okonoboh’s biggest struggle will be not hitting his head on the backboard. At 6-foot-9 he can jump out of the building and is a monster shot blocker. Perhaps The Rebellion should start brainstorming now.
Bryce Dejean-Jones should be back for his senior season and will have to fight for playing time. That’s how good Morgan and Vaughn are. Morgan is a long, athletic forward with a good mid-range shot, and Vaughn is a complete scorer. Vaughn can fly, and is also a sniper from behind the arc.
Players like Christian Wood and Kendall Smith will have another year under their belts. Don’t forget Deville Smith too.
The team will be stacked, however, with great talent comes great expectations, and if they aren’t met, Rice’s only decision will be whether he wants to be steamed or fried.
The question is, what are fair expectations?
UNLV will overflow with talent at every position, but it will also be young and inexperienced. Great freshmen don’t always equal automatic success — Kentucky and Kansas are perfect examples of that.
The locker room presence of veterans like Smith, Birch and Dejean-Jones will be critical to meeting expectations. They start with a Mountain West Title, but will they end with a Sweet 16, Elite Eight, Final Four or another ring for Rice?
That is for the fans to decide.