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Exhibition games allow Rebels an early start on practices

Updated August 3, 2022 - 12:20 pm

UNLV basketball coach Kevin Kruger repeated an old saying from his father, Hall of Fame coach Lon, when asked about his mindset as the Rebels began practice Tuesday.

“There’s no shortcut for reps,” Kruger said.

The Rebels began the first of 10 practices in preparation for their three exhibition games in Canada beginning Aug. 16. By partaking in a foreign tour, the Rebels, who finished 18-14 last season, will be allotted 10 days of full practices before their exhibition games.

With eight new players, Kruger said having full practices and getting to play games will help everyone get acclimated to his system.

One of Kruger’s focuses during practice is to get everyone on the same page, which he feels will help his team be prepared when the games in Canada take place.

“A lot of people are going to find out their roles,” freshman guard Keyshawn Hall said. “(The Canada trip) is going to help a lot. It’s going to let us know where we are coming into the season.”

Through the summer, the team was allowed to practice four hours a week per NCAA rules. During those practices, Kruger said the athleticism and defensive skill set shined through.

“We’re happy with the size and physicality on the roster,” Kruger said. “It will give us a lot of chances to do things differently because they are incredibly skilled defensively.”

Fifth-year guard Jordan McCabe took part in a foreign trip to Spain during the summer of 2019 when he was at West Virginia. He credited that trip with West Virginia’s success that season and believes the same can be true for UNLV this season.

“We don’t take these days for granted,” McCabe said. “We’re in here on the court getting a full practice schedule today. It especially helps our new guys.”

Six of the eight additions were transfers from Division I schools, many of whom were highly touted defensive players. One of the goals for Kruger this season is to create more turnovers that lead to transition offense.

“We’ll be able to get people to rush more, force them into turnovers and run out on offense,” Kruger said. “Last year, we didn’t get quite as many as we’d like.”

While Kruger hopes he can turn defense to offense, he did not dismiss their offensive abilities. He said they all can make plays offensively, but might not have had the opportunity to be in an offensive role at their previous schools.

“We all have the ability to score at a high level,” West Virginia transfer and former Bishop Gorman forward Isaiah Cottrell said. “It can be anyone scoring on any night.”

Kruger said the Rebels will not be fully healthy when they go to Canada. Oklahoma transfer guard Elijah Harkless and forward Victor Iwuakor will not play in Canada due to injury.

The Rebels will also be short-staffed after former assistant coach Brandon Chappell left for an assistant coach position at the University of Texas. With Chappell’s departure, Kruger will have three new assistants entering his second season.

Kruger said UNLV began the process of looking for a new assistant when talks between Chappell and Texas started, but admitted it will take its time in finding his replacement.

“We’re really in no rush,” Kruger said. “We just want to make sure we get it right.”

Contact Alex Wright at awright@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AlexWright1028 on Twitter.

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