Birch declares for NBA Draft 

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It was considered the biggest decision during UNLV’s offseason.

Now that it’s made, the Rebels will have to figure out how to replace Khem Birch

Birch, UNLV’s two-time Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year, will forego his senior season and declare for the NBA Draft.

“I loved playing here at UNLV for Coach Rice and with my teammates,” Birch said in a statement released by the university. “It was a tough decision, one that I thought about for a very long time.”

Former Runnin’ Rebels forward Khem Birch blocks a shot during UNLV’s home game against Fresno State at the Thomas & Mack Center. DANIEL WARD/THE REBEL YELL

Former Runnin’ Rebels forward Khem Birch blocks a shot during UNLV’s home game against Fresno State at the Thomas & Mack Center. PHOTOS BY DANIEL WARD/THE REBEL YELL

Birch first announced that he was going pro on Twitter on Thursday, and the university made it official with a statement a couple of hours later. He added that he will finish the rest of this semester.

Although it was a year to forget for UNLV, Birch was one of the lone bright spots. He averaged 11.5 points and 10.2 rebounds last season in his junior year, his first season as the Rebels’ fulltime starting center.

His 17 double-doubles ranked eighth in the nation.

He finished his UNLV career with 192 career blocks, just two shy of the program’s all-time mark, held by Dalron Johnson.

“I loved coaching Khem for the last two years,” said head coach Dave Rice in the statement. “He is a hard worker and a gifted player. We appreciate all of his contributions to UNLV and support him 100 percent in this decision. We wish him great success as a professional.” The Montreal, Quebec native becomes the fourth starter to leave the Rebels in the offseason. One of them due to graduation (Kevin Olekaibe), one due to issues in the locker room (Bryce Dejean-Jones) and now two to the NBA Draft (Roscoe Smith and Birch).

Birch becomes the eighth player to leave the UNLV program early in the last two years.

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Unlike Dejean-Jones and Smith, however, Birch could’ve been a consensus starter for the 2014-15 Rebels had he stayed. Plus, he would have played alongside Rashad Vaughn, Goodluck Okonoboh and Dwayne Morgan.

Playing with the three incoming freshmen seemed enticing for Birch to stay back in February, and nothing seemed to change over the next couple of months.

Now with Birch gone, there’s a chance that the three freshmen could start next year. There’s also a reasonable possibility that sophomore Christian Wood will see an increase in playing time as the Rebels’ starting center.

As for Birch’s draft stock, it’s nowhere near the first round. ESPN draft expert Chad Ford has Birch ranked as the No. 59 player in his top 100 prospects list.

Birch is still a raw talent offensively, and scouts picture him as a Developmental League player at the start. His shot-blocking ability at 6-foot-9 will be enticing for some team to draft him in the second round.

“I will be a Runnin’ Rebel for life,” Birch said.

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