Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Saturday, June 22, 2013 | 2 a.m.
About 13 months ago, Anthony Bennett’s commitment to UNLV turned the hype machine into overdrive in Las Vegas. Ticket sales spiked. Expectations soared. But fervor soon gave way to second-guessing after the season got under way, and eventually, everyone went home with another Round of 64 defeat.
Now, Bennett is days away from becoming a multimillionaire and UNLV's other four opening-game starters from last season have either graduated or transferred. Logic would suggest that lofty expectations should take a backseat to the work UNLV coach Dave Rice and six newcomers have in front of them.
Yet, one of those incoming players doesn’t see it that way.
“We’re trying to win a national championship,” junior transfer Jelan Kendrick said. “Anything less than that is unacceptable.”
Over two games this week at the Desert Reign ProCity League at Sawyer Middle School, Kendrick has averaged 35.5 points per game. In one group interview after his first game Tuesday, Kendrick averaged 2.7 “national championship” mentions per minute. That’s an impressive number for a guy who’s played in a total of 18 Division I games, none of them yet at UNLV.
Kendrick, a 6-foot-7 guard, is well traveled and admittedly excited, maybe overly so, about getting on the court for the Rebels. The McDonald’s All-American originally committed to Memphis in 2010 and played in one exhibition game before getting kicked off the team and transferring to the other Rebels at Ole Miss. After sitting out one season, he played 18 games in 2011-12, even starting two, before abruptly leaving the arena prior to the start of a home game against Alabama.
He didn’t return to Ole Miss, leading Kendrick to Indian Hills Community College in Ottumwa, Iowa. Before playing there, he started looking for a new Division I destination and committed to UNLV while visiting in October. The lights, he said, pulled him in like a mosquito.
At Indian Hills he averaged 12.1 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game while playing on the perimeter. At UNLV, he will be in the mix at point guard and wing, but as hype man, he stands alone.
“We’re going to put buckets up and make it look good,” Kendrick said. “This is a showman’s town. Las Vegas is a place where everyone wants to see a show, and that’s what we’re bringing back.”
The good news is the players are confident. Yet, no one’s going to submit any preseason top 25 lists that include UNLV, which could probably benefit from some anonymity as its returners and newcomers work on their chemistry in the shadows of league favorites New Mexico and Boise State. Also good for the Rebels is that while fans are likely to pose questions about Kendrick’s path to UNLV, his teammates don’t seem to care.
“Everyone’s got a past,” sophomore Savon Goodman said. “We’re interested in our future.”
Junior Roscoe Smith, who played with Kendrick this offseason on a Team USA U23 team, echoed that sentiment. Players care far more about someone being a good teammate who helps the team win than the decisions that led them away from previous destinations.
With Kendrick handling the prediction duties, other newcomers are free to focus on smaller details like simply getting on the court. Freshman Kendall Smith, who’s expected to play in the Desert Reign games as early as next week, will battle with Kendrick and others for playing time at point guard.
“We’ve got (Kendrick) already here and another one coming,” said Kendall Smith, referring to junior point guard DeVille Smith. “I’m just ready to compete and do whatever it takes.”
Even though he has yet to play a minute for UNLV, Kendrick is already talking about representing the brand and claiming its fans as the best in the country. It’s for those fans, he said, that the Rebels must buy in immediately and become a team. And those guys like Mike Moser and Katin Reinhardt, very much part of last year’s hype machine, who did what Kendrick has done before and transferred?
“They’re just going to have to watch us celebrate,” he said.