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Bryce Hamilton still has room to improve following breakout season

Hamilton went on a tear in conference play, earning first team all-conference recognition. He has earned preseason all-conference recognition this year.

NCAA Basketball: UNLV at San Diego State Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Last year was the definition of a roller coaster ride for Bryce Hamilton. After averaging only 13 minutes a game as a freshman two seasons ago, his sophomore year could have had a wide variety of outcomes.

Halfway through the 2019-2020 season, it was unclear if Hamilton would even be apart of the program in the future after he was benched and saw a reduction of playing time, for a lack of effort and breaking of team rules.

But Hamilton’s season took a turn for the better, as he shined in conference play, averaging 20.9 points per game, and leading the Runnin’ Rebels into a tie for second place in the conference standings.

Now, with a roster that has eight new players in the program, including six freshmen, and that returns only three players who played meaningful minutes last year, Hamilton will be expected to take another step this season as a player and leader.

There are four things head coach T.J. Otzelberger said he and his staff are working with Hamilton on for this season, being a consistent defender, being an elite rebounder, shooting the three with consistency, and preparing for team’s game planning against Hamilton.

“For this year, teams are game planning for him,” Otzelberger said. “They are going to be packing the paint when he drives, they’re going to be sliding over trying to take charges. So, him being able to make the right kick to a shooter and make the right play is going to be important.”

Otzelberger said that Hamilton had been putting in the work to better his three-point shot, and not just being able to hit threes, but hit them with regularity and consistency to make him a legitimate threat from behind the arc. Adding a three-point shot will give Hamilton another weapon at his disposal that teams will have to guard against.

As we saw last year, defense was key for UNLV’s success on offense. Otzelberger said that Hamilton needs to be a consistent defender at the three-point line and now allowing guys to shot.

Another area that Hamilton can grow is as a rebounder, possessions are key for UNLV’s pace and getting a few extra possessions from rebounds are crucial. Hamilton averaged six rebounds per game last year and Otzelberger, who said, “I think he’s as good of a guard rebounder as I’ve been around or seen,” feels he can grab more rebounds over the course of the season.

With more attention comes a great responsibility. The young players will all be looking at Hamilton for guidance throughout the season. It will be important that Hamilton sets the standards for the new players of what is expected from them by playing hard and with effort, and being focused while on the floor.

“Now that I am an upperclassmen, I got to set an example for the other guys, that’s something that I have been working on,” Hamilton said.

Even though the roster is comprised of a lot of freshmen and players who do not have a lot of experience at the Division I level, Hamilton will not have to carry the load all by himself. Joining Hamilton in the backcourt this year is David Jenkins, the South Dakota transfer who had to sit out last year.

Jenkins followed Otzelberger to Las Vegas and is now eligible to play this year after being forced to sit last year due to transfer rules. In his last year at South Dakota State, Jenkins averaged 19.7 points per game and shot over 45 percent from three-point range.

There is a lot of anticipation and excitement surrounding the potential the duo can bring to UNLV this year. Both players shine on the offensive end, but they do it in different styles and it could give a lot of guards in the conference trouble.

“Me and David have had great chemistry since the summer when we started playing together,” Hamilton said. “I’m more of a driver and he’s a three-point shooter. It’s going to be hard for defenses to guard us…We look for each other a lot, we trust each other, and it’s been great.”

Jenkins sat last year and was able to workout and practice with the team even though he was not eligible to play. Otzelbeger believes that Jenkins can be as productive as he was at South Dakota State because he had his best performances against the better competition the Jack Rabbits faced. His style of play and scorer’s mentality will also translate well to the Mountain West.

“I think he’s a really tough cover at his size because he can get his shot up,” Otzelberger said on Jenkins’ game being able to translate to the step up in competition in the Mountain West. “He’s got great feet to get into his shooting motion. I think his work ethic, his competitiveness, his talent to score the ball well, are all things that are going to translate.”

With Coleman running the point and commanding the game for UNLV on both sides of the floor. The Runnin’ Rebels have an established trio of guards that will likely be on the floor as much as possible this year, and the success of this year will likely be dictated by how well these three play and how well they get everyone else on the team on the same page and able to produce.

UNLV opens its 2020-2021 season Wednesday, November 25 when they host Montana State at the Thomas and Mack Center at 6:30 p.m.