Thursday, May 18, 2023 | 2 a.m.
If you were to stroll by the Mendenhall Center on UNLV’s campus this week, this is the one time of year when you might not hear a basketball bouncing.
With spring workouts concluded and the school semester finished, most UNLV players have dispersed back to their hometowns for some rest and relaxation. But while summer practice doesn’t begin until June, head coach Kevin Kruger said some players are already beginning to make their way back toward campus.
The reason? They can’t wait to get started on the 2023-24 season.
“The guys are home now,” Kruger said. “Most have gone to see their families. We have a handful of guys moving back incrementally as we speak, whether they’re flying back or getting an apartment set up for later. Everyone’s excited to get back and get to those June workouts. You can tell everyone is excited about this group.”
It’s understandable, as the past month has been an exciting time for the program. After landing a trio of talented transfers on April 20, Kruger completed a recruiting grand slam on Sunday when blue-chip Liberty point guard D.J. Thomas committed to UNLV. Thomas, a 4-star prospect in the Class of 2024, is expected to reclassify and join the Scarlet and Gray for the upcoming season.
Thomas averaged 22.8 points per game as a junior and led Liberty to the state championship game. Last year, the Patriots won the title.
With Thomas at the helm as the team’s point guard, Kruger will head into his third year with a well-rounded rotation that figures to contend for the Mountain West crown.
Because he has not yet signed a letter of intent, Kruger is not allowed to comment on Thomas. If he does join the team in 2023-24, that would leave UNLV with one open scholarship to fill. That’s about the last piece of business before the team can turn its full attention to next season.
Thomas’ commitment filled the team’s biggest need; now, Kruger is open to several different options for the final scholarship, including long-term projects and more polished pieces.
“We haven’t really ruled anything out,” Kruger said. “If we decide to go with another younger guy, he’s got to have a high level of energy. He’s got to love to compete, because he’s going to be joining a team with a lot of seniors who have a lot of experience under their belts.
“If we go older with a transfer,” he continued, “that person has got to be vocal. He’s got to jump in with two feet and embrace the team approach.”
With the way Kruger and his staff have recruited this offseason, the fan base surely has the utmost confidence in how they’ll fill out the last roster spot.
Kruger attributes a lot of that recruiting success to a very simple tenet: continuity.
Last offseason — Kruger’s first full offseason at the helm — all three of his assistant coaches left the program for other jobs. There have been no such defections this year, allowing UNLV to better foster and maintain recruiting relationships.
While it has already paid dividends on the recruiting trail, Kruger believes keeping the same staff for two full years will also benefit the team on the court.
“It’s huge,” Kruger said. “The continuity, more so than anything is the relationship with the guys. Last year it continued to change; now the guys returning have spent a year with the staff. That’s a year of experience and conversations and ups and downs that we’ve gone through. Everybody’s on the same page right now.”