Orlin Wagner / Associated Press
Friday, April 14, 2023 | 2 a.m.
It’s been a slow offseason for UNLV basketball to this point, at least in the “incoming” column.
While four players have exited the program via the transfer portal, none have arrived. But that could change soon, as Kevin Kruger and his staff are set to host a trio of top transfer prospects on official visits this weekend.
One of the names should be quite familiar to local hoops fans — Oklahoma grad transfer Jalen Hill, a former Clark star who chose the Sooners over UNLV back when he initially committed out of high school in the Class of 2019.
Hill enjoyed four productive years at Oklahoma and would be a very good addition for a UNLV squad that needs to fortify its frontcourt. The 6-foot-7 forward started 67 games over the last two years, and as a senior in 2022-23 he averaged 9.7 points and 5.8 rebounds while making 49.8% of his shots from the field.
Hill is being pursued by some heavy hitters, with Miami and Kansas also reportedly in the mix. But UNLV may have a leg up due to Kruger’s prior relationship with him, which goes back to Hill’s days at Clark.
Kruger, an assistant at Oklahoma at the time, was the lead recruiter on Hill and played a big part in convincing him to leave Las Vegas and commit to the Sooners.
Though Kruger can’t comment on unsigned players, he acknowledged that relationships are vital when recruiting someone the second time around.
“It’s important, because you’ve got that baseline to work with,” Kruger said. “A lot of times with guys in the portal, they want to go somewhere where if a coach tells them something, they know that coach and his staff are going to work really hard to make it happen. A lot of times that’s when trust and that relationship factor kicks in.”
In addition to Hill, UNLV will also be hosting twin brothers Kalib and Keylan Boone on official visits. Like Hill, they are grad transfers who each have one year of eligibility remaining.
Kalib Boone is a 6-foot-9 forward who played all four years at Oklahoma State, while 6-foot-8 Keylan played three years at OSU before transferring to Pacific for the 2022-23 campaign.
Kalib started 30 of 36 games for the Cowboys last year and posted 10.6 points and 4.9 rebounds in 21.3 minutes. Keylan scored 13.9 points for Pacific while nailing 41.0% of his 3-point attempts.
Like with Hill, the UNLV staff has connections with the Boone brothers. Assistant coach John Cooper was an assistant at Oklahoma State when the Boones were recruited and coached them for two years before moving on to SMU.
With the losses of David Muoka and Victor Iwuakor to the transfer portal, UNLV has plenty of available minutes in the frontcourt, which should be appealing to Hill and the Boones.
UNLV’s success with Big 12 transfers should also be a plus, as Kruger has developed a good track record of identifying veterans who are poised to thrive in an expanded role. Most recently, Hill’s former teammate E.J. Harkless averaged 10.0 points as a senior at Oklahoma, then transferred to UNLV and put up 19.1 points per game last year.
College players with several years of experience tend to be savvier when it comes to choosing their next destination, according to Kruger.
“They’re a little different than high-school recruits because of experience,” Kruger said. “When high-schoolers come to visit, you want to show them everything. With transfers, there’s usually something they’re looking for that’s a little more specific.”
With three instant-impact players in town, UNLV’s offseason is heating up. And if Kruger can land Hill or the Boones — or, best-case scenario, all three — the program will be trending in a very positive direction.