When Dave Rice was installed as UNLV's newest head coach last spring, he spoke frequently about putting the running back in Runnin' Rebels.
In its glory days under Jerry Tarkanian, UNLV was a high-tempo, run-and-gun team. Former coach Lon Kruger was successful at the school, but (as his Kruger's wont) achieved as much by slowing the Rebels down, preferring to focus his team on grinding half-court defense. By contrast, Rice wanted to show fans, longtime supporters and the rest of the UNLV "family" that the glory days weren't the end of exciting UNLV hoops -- that the Rebels could not only still compete for national titles but could, in keeping with the Vegas ethos, look good doing so.
He's kept his word. But the most important part of installing high-powered, uptempo teams isn't the system itself. It's the recruiting. And in the 16 or so months since Rice took over, nowhere has he succeeded more than on the recruiting trail.
The latest point to this effect came this past weekend, when UNLV landed Savon Goodman, a small forward ranked No. 100 on ESPNU's list of the top 100 players in the class of 2012, and one of just two top-100 players (the other being guard Torian Graham) still uncommitted at such a late recruiting-calendar date. Goodman is unlikely to be an impact player right away -- just because he's top 100 doesn't mean he won't have a very steep learning curve, remember -- but his signing is the cherry atop a stacked 2012 recruiting class.
That class already includes Anthony Bennett, the top-ranked power forward in 2012, and Katin Reinhardt, the No. 8-ranked shooting guard. It also includes Khem Birch, the Pittsburgh transfer who entered the 2011 season as the nation's top incoming center, according to ESPN, who left the Panthers after a mere 10 games. The Rebels are also awaiting news on the transfer availability of Connecticut forward Roscoe Smith, whose ability to leave UConn during its postseason-free APR punishment remains in doubt. Even if Smith is forced to sit out a year at UNLV, the Rebels will have Birch, Bennett and potential breakout forward Mike Moser likely to play starting roles.
We know Moser will be good; we're still waiting to see exactly what Bennett and Birch will bring to the table in what is essentially both players' freshman season. The Rebels will be tough in 2012, and Rice's recruiting looks likely to ensure a sustained level of excellence in the years to come. Playing fast is one thing. Playing fast with NBA talent -- that's the old-school UNLV way, and Rice is well on his way to connecting the two.