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T.J. Otzelberger, UNLV men’s basketball coach, listens to a question during a news conference at the Thomas & Mack Center Thursday, March 28, 2019.

For UNLV, the months following the conclusion of the 2018-19 season were about everything other than basketball. Now that the coaching search and re-recruiting process and transfer decisions are in the rearview mirror, the Rebels can focus on the game again.

As you’d expect, the team was raring to get back on the court when summer workouts began two weeks ago, and head coach T.J. Otzelberger said enthusiasm is running high for both the players and coaching staff.

“It’s great to be back on the court,” Otzelberger said. “As a coach, I live for teaching the game. I love being out with the guys. It’s my sanctuary. In terms of our players, they’ve had tremendous energy and a willingness to learn and adapt. They’ve been very coachable and very receptive to what we’ve given them. Overall there’s still a lot of work to do, but I’ve been impressed with their effort.”

The Rebels are still playing with a limited roster while they await the arrival of grad transfers Elijah Mitrou-Long and Vitaliy Shibel, who are finishing up classes at Texas and Arizona State, respectively.

In the meantime, Otzelberger has focused on individual skill development. He singled out junior center Mbacke Diong and senior center Cheickna Dembele for their work ethic and leadership throughout the early stages of the offseason.

“At this point, we haven’t had enough guys to go 5-on-5,” he said. “I think more than anything, we’ve learned that it’s a group that wants to continue to get better. They have really embraced player development. We’ve got some front-line guys with Mbacke and Cheickna, and those guys have been tremendous workers, just protecting the paint and running the floor. That’s been a positive for us.”

When the coaches have been able to dig into the X’s and O’s, Otzelberger said they’ve mostly worked on teaching the basic concepts of his offensive and defensive systems. They’ve kept it simple: On offense it’s about being in the right place at the right time, and on defense it’s about stopping the most basic action in any team’s playbook.

“It’s been more general concepts we’re implementing, terminology and getting our communication on the same page,” he said. “We’ve tried to implement some spacing techniques offensively, and guarding the pick-and-roll defensively. The guys want to do the right thing. They want to listen and learn.”

The NCAA allows teams an eight-week window for summer workouts, during which coaches are allowed to instruct players on the floor for four hours per week. The Rebels have six more weeks remaining.

More than on-court performance, Otzelberger said his goal for summer workouts is to have his players buying in and feeling like a team.

“In terms of what can we be at the end of the summer, I want to build team chemistry and camaraderie,” he said. “There’s no better way to bond than getting better and developing your game. We’ve seen a lot of growth.”

Mike Grimala can be reached at 702-948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Mike on Twitter at

Article written by #LasVegasSun