It’s easy to be cynical about UNLV basketball. The program is always in a state of flux, whether it be with another new head coach or the massive amount of roster turnover that seems to happen every single offseason. That old adage of ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same’ has been painfully true for the Runnin’ Rebels. The coaches change, and the players change all the time, but the lackluster product put on the floor of the Thomas and Mack Center remains the same.
The latest new head coach is very familiar to Rebel fans. Kevin Kruger is borderline royalty in Las Vegas. A prince of sorts. His dad, Lon, is the only person besides Jerry Tarkanian to win anything meaningful at UNLV.
When the Rebels went to their only Sweet 16 post-Tark way back on March 24th, 2007, it was Kevin leading Lon’s offense as a point guard. A late rally in that game was spoiled by Oregon (more succinctly it was killed off by tiny guard, Tajuan Porter, and his relentless 3-point bombardment), but UNLV was pretty close to getting to the Elite 8 and facing off against a Florida team that won back-to-back National Championships.
Once you win multiple NCAA Tournament games at UNLV as Lon did, you get a lifetime of goodwill in the Vegas valley. So, when it was announced that it would be a Kruger taking over for TJ Otzelberger (who mercifully left for Iowa State), there was some cautious optimism among the fans.
One of the biggest reasons fans are optimistic is the big-time recruiting staff that Kruger assembled. With an assist from Lon, who recently retired from Oklahoma to spend more time in Las Vegas with his family, he left his lead assistant with the Sooners, Carlin Hartman, looking for a landing spot. One of the top Big 12 recruiters around, he brought his tremendous abilities to UNLV to help lure some of the best talent in the country to reload the Runnin’ Rebels roster.
The other new hot-shot recruiter is an up-and-coming young force on the recruiting trail is Brandon Chappell. Chappell was most recently at Lamar, but he is highly regarded in basketball circles all over, including at the NBA level.
Kevin Kruger is a highly regarded recruiter in his own right, so those three got to work right away once he was officially named the 17th head coach at UNLV on March 21st, 2021. Most of the team from the 16th coach’s regime quickly jumped ship, so it was imperative that the new staff use the infamous transfer portal to their benefit.
Since over 1,700 athletes ended up transferring this offseason alone, they had a lot of supremely talented players to choose from. When it was all said and done, they pulled in nine transfers, one true freshman, and three players who decided it was in their best interest to stick around at UNLV.
As much as I would love to talk about Royce Hamm (Formerly of Texas), Donovan Williams (Formerly of Texas), Victor Iwuakor (Formerly of Oklahoma), David Muoka (Formerly of Lamar), Mike Nuga (Formerly of Kent State), Justin Webster (Formerly of Hawaii), Jordan McCabe (Formerly of West Virginia), James Hampshire (Formerly of Pacific), and Josh Baker (Formerly of Hutchinson CC), this isn’t their article.
It’s more to emphasize that Kruger, Hartman, and Chappell did a great job bringing in transfers from all over the Big 12, and everywhere in between. They added insane amounts of athleticism, shooting, and skill all in one abbreviated recruiting cycle.
The real mettle of a new recruiting staff however is often tested once they have a full cycle to assert themselves. You can often tell straight away the type of precedence that they will set with the type of offers that they put out there. Do they play it safe and only recruit against other Mountain West Schools, or will they recruit on a national level against the Power 5 elite?
To put it mildly, this UNLV staff doesn’t play it safe one iota. They decided to go toe-to-toe with Baylor, Kansas, Texas, and pretty much every other Big 12 recruiting staff. Hartman and Chappell are from that area, and they intend on being big fish in that big pond. And it’s not just Big 12 country where they are trying to poach players. They put the whole nation on notice when they offered nearly three dozen prospects ranging from the 2022 class all the way to the 2024 class, all of whom are on Power 5 radars, many of which are 4 and 5-star caliber.
It’s one thing to offer a player of that ilk, it’s another thing entirely to secure a commitment from them. It’s not common knowledge about Carlin Hartman, but he doesn’t like to play games. He’s not interested in offering players for the sake of offering them. Hartman has been vocal about committable offers. What that means, in a nutshell, is he won’t even waste his breath on you if he doesn’t think you will come to UNLV.
With that in mind, there’s been a whirlwind of recruiting activity for the class of 2022 recently. It started with Las Vegas’ own Pop Isaacs announcing that UNLV was among his finalists. The other three schools in his final four are Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, and Arizona State. The sensational point guard would be a dream player for the Runnin’ Rebels. He’s an elite shooter and playmaker. If Kruger and company land him, they’re landing a game-changer, plain and simple.
Isaacs isn’t the only local point guard who cut his list and had UNLV standing out prominently among his other finalists.
Milos Uzan is another top-flight 4-star floor general who is now down to eight schools in his recruitment. The others besides the Rebels are St. Mary’s, Cal, USC, Arizona State, Utah, Creighton, and Oklahoma. Uzan is an extremely high-IQ player who personifies winning and toughness. He’s also a gifted scorer and facilitator. The question many have about Uzan and Isaacs is if the two of them can coexist in the same backcourt for UNLV. If I’m coach Kruger I make the answer to that a resounding yes. I feel they would not only play well as a tandem, but they would very much flourish in that capacity.
Terrance Arceneaux is probably the most overlooked, but the highest value recruit in UNLV’s entire 2022 stable. The 6-foot-7 wing from Beaumont, TX is a burgeoning Kawhi Leonard. He’s a clutch scorer (do yourself a favor and go check out his TWO buzzer-beaters in the TX state championship game), and also a shutdown defender who can guard the 1-4.
Arceneaux also rebounds at a high level, and blocks shots like a rim-protecting big man if that weren’t all enough. The consensus 4-star top 70 player recently cut his list down as well. His four finalists are UNLV, Houston, Oklahoma, and Texas A&M. Houston will be who UNLV has to beat out for his services. Arceneaux will visit UNLV September 10th.
In other news, KyeRon Lindsay cut his list down to eight, literally as I was writing this article. Lindsay is down to UNLV, Oklahoma State, Georgia, TCU, Texas A&M, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Tulsa. He will take an official visit to UNLV on September 17th. For those unfamiliar with his game, Lindsay is a 6’8 Top 150 power forward who is a killer in transition. Isaacs and/or Uzan would have a field day throwing lobs and running alongside this gazelle on the break. Lindsay also has an arsenal of post moves at his disposal, and a reliable mid-range jump shot to back that up. When you’re fantasizing about optimum roster construction, having a 4-man like KyeRon is usually at the top of your wishlist.
When I spoke about committable offers and the seriousness with which the new staff takes that mantra, you can’t help but be excited about all this recruiting activity if you’re a UNLV fan. None of these players has committed yet, but yet is definitely the keyword in that sentence. With this many talented players, it takes just one domino to fall for an entire blue-chip recruiting class to take shape. It’s just a matter of who signs on the dotted line for the Rebels first. And once they do, hopefully, their play can really change things for the better at UNLV.
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