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Keshon Gilbert embraces expanded role for UNLV basketball

The word UNLV basketball coach Kevin Kruger uses to describe sophomore guard Keshon Gilbert is stubborn, but he means it in a positive connotation.

“He’s stubborn in the fact that he wants to be better,” Kruger said. “He hates the thought of someone beating him. When you have a guy with that kind of drive and competitiveness, it can be scary.”

The Rebels play their first of three exhibition games in Canada on Tuesday when they face the University of British Columbia at 7 p.m. in Vancouver.

Gilbert, one of four holdovers from last season’s team, understands the coaching staff is expecting more from him this season.

“I know what (Kruger) expects and wants from us,” the 6-foot-4-inch guard said. “So I have to be a leader for the other guys who are getting into the program.”

Gilbert said he’s become more comfortable being a vocal leader. With eight new players on the roster, he’s seen the trust with his new teammates continue to grow, which has allowed him to embrace his leadership role.

As a freshman last season, Gilbert appeared in all 32 games. He earned his way onto the floor by being a disrupter and setting the tone defensively.

Kruger believes that still can be an anchor for Gilbert’s game, but wants to see his game expand on offense.

“He’s going to have more of an expanded role offensively to take open shots and make plays for others,” Kruger said. “His role will just continue to grow.”

In the summer workouts and practices leading up to the Canadian tour, Gilbert has spent time working on his jump shot. One thing the coaches wanted him to improve on was the rotation of the ball coming out of his hands.

Kruger has seen Gilbert’s shot become more consistent. Gilbert said he is a lot more confident that his shot is going to go in. Kruger believes that confidence stems from the improvements he’s made since last season.

“He’s playing with a high level of confidence and security because he knows we’re going to trust him,” Kruger said. “We’re going to let him loose to make plays on both ends of the floor.”

Through the summer workouts and 10 full practices the Rebels were allotted for their tour, Gilbert has seen the team embrace its defensive identity. He said its defense first mentality in practice will benefit them on both ends in Canada.

“Everyone takes pride in defense,” Gilbert said. “It makes every day a battle to get good shots and make clean passes. It’s going to help focus and play on point.”

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

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