Monday, April 12, 2021 | 2 a.m.
Kaluma, a 6-foot-8 scorer, and Gilbert, a 6-foot-1 point guard, originally committed under coach T.J. Otzelberger, who left UNLV for his “dream job” at Iowa State days after the conclusion of 2020-21 season. After a short search, UNLV named former assistant Kevin Kruger the new head coach.
Despite the coaching change, Kruger believes Kaluma and Gilbert will end up at UNLV.
“Nothing has changed, at least to me,” Kruger said. “They’re still absolutely going to be a part of this program and vision going forward. We talked and we’re excited and energized about them coming on board.”
Kaluma and Gilbert have signed letters of intent, but if they asked to be released due to the coaching change the UNLV administration would almost certainly honor that request.
Though he is confident both players will make it to campus, Kruger said he hasn’t directly broached the topic with the Kaluma and Gilbert.
“To be honest, I haven’t asked, ‘Hey, are you still coming?’” Kruger said. “But we talked, and we’re planning as if they are. We were part of the staff they committed to, so hopefully it doesn’t sway too far.”
When asked directly by the Sun, Gilbert did confirm he plans to play at UNLV.
“Yeah,” Gilbert said. “I think the new coaches are going to push me to get better, especially with all the new guys coming in.”
Gilbert initially committed to UNLV in September of 2019. A year later, the Las Vegas native transferred from Durango to a school in St. Louis for his senior season.
As the 2020-21 season unfolded, Gilbert and Otzelberger discussed the possibility that the coach could leave for Iowa State, but much like the UNLV fan base, Gilbert was in the dark when the actual decision was made.
“He told me there was a chance he was leaving,” Gilbert said. “But then when he left I saw it on the internet.”
Gilbert said Otzelberger called him shortly thereafter to let him know first-hand. It was a blow to Gilbert, who cites Otzelberger as the main reason he chose UNLV in the first place.
Kruger got in touch with Gilbert after being named head coach, and though Kruger wasn’t heavily involved in his recruitment, Gilbert categorized their relationship as being in a good place.
“[Kruger] called me every now and then,” Gilbert said, “but whenever I went up to UNLV he was real cool to me.”
Gilbert projects as a defensive-minded point guard, which could fit in nicely with Kruger’s vision; the new coach intends to emphasize defense more than Otzelberger, who recruited mostly with an eye on offensive skill.
Kaluma is a potential star who rates as the top incoming prospect in the Mountain West. He can score on the wing, shoot the 3 and take the ball to the basket. Keeping him committed has to be a top priority for Kruger.
Kaluma did not respond to a phone call from the Sun.
Though Gilbert was disappointed by Otzelberger’s move, he ultimately understood the motive behind it and isn’t letting it change his perception of the UNLV program.
“I wasn’t happy about it, but at the end of the day I know it’s a business and everybody is going to do what’s best for them,” Gilbert said. “I wasn’t really mad at him. He did something to better his life, so I got no hate toward him. I still love him. It was a shock . That was really it. It was a shock.”