It was recently announced that the undrafted, Derrick Jones, Jr., former forward for UNLV last season, successfully made the 15-man roster for the Phoenix Suns. His addition to the roster was an unlikely conclusion to a college season that ended early for him just a few short months ago when he was ruled ineligible due to an ACT score cancellation. This kind of unusual circumstance exemplifies some of the strife that Runnin’ Rebel fans would learn about in recent seasons.
In fact, UNLV Basketball, in recent memory, has been a mix of disappointment, unusual situations, early exits, and player transfers. Last year alone was highlighted by the departure of a head coach, the ultimate hire of another, that same recently hired coach leaving for another program, and then another coach coming in to officially head the team.
At the same time, Rebel players have come and gone from the program whether through dismissal, transfer, or successfully (and sometimes unsuccessfully) testing NBA waters.
In the meantime, attendance at the once thriving Thomas and Mack for UNLV basketball games has dwindled from year to year. And despite the illustrious non-conference schedule for this year’s Runnin’ Rebels which includes games against the likes of Kansas and Duke, the sparkle on the program’s veneer is dull.
Is there any consolation for devoted Rebel fans? There may be.
The former Dave Rice era at UNLV produced some of the most exciting talent that the program had seen in recent memory. The majority of the most talented student-athletes had a brief tenure before moving onto their ultimate goal: the Association.
In the past two decades, there were only a few former Rebels that UNLV fans could root for on their respective NBA teams. Yet, some of the most recent Rebels - including three from UNLV’s team just last season - now make up the new generation of former Runnin’ Reb pro-hoopers.
Not only is Jones a part of the Phoenix Suns as an undrafted free agent, but both Stephen Zimmerman (now of the Orlando Magic) and Patrick McCaw (Golden State Warriors) were both drafted in the 2016 NBA Draft a few months ago. Additionally, Christian Wood (formerly of the Philadelphia 76ers) is now with the Charlotte Hornets and guard Rashad Vaughn remains with the Milwaukee Bucks. And let’s not forget about Anthony Bennett the former #1 Draft pick who quickly became a journeyman in his NBA career (already going from the Cleveland Cavaliers, to the Minnesota Timberwolves, to the Toronto Raptors, and now the Brooklyn Nets).
As Bennett’s career has clearly proven, nothing is promised for any of these young Rebels once they reach the NBA. However, McCaw has received consistent praise both in summer league and pre-season. And perhaps we will see Derrick Jones, Jr. in this year’s Slam Dunk Competition? Rebel fans could only hope.
In fact, the prospect of being able to continue to cheer on their former Rebs may be the brightest spot for UNLV fans right now. Picked to finish last or near to it in the Mountain West Conference, not to mention a team not even considered to have post season chances, UNLV fans are skeptical (if not disillusioned) about the status of the Rebel program into the 2016-2017 season.
Of course, like any good fans, those who don the Hey Reb’ mustache remain resolute. Vegas is a proud city, which sometimes feels like a small town that celebrates its local heroes who make it to the NBA. Additionally, fans will always remain hopeful that the next season - or the next one - will return their Rebel team back to its glory days.
None of the recent Rebels who have joined the NBA might be able to hold a candle to the flash and legend of Grandmama, aka Larry Johnson, during their time in the Association, but to Vegas fans, these young Rebels are making their city proud.