An upset of No. 1-ranked North Carolina. An impressive 16-2 run through a difficult nonconference schedule. A No. 12 national ranking. So just what else can Dave Rice accomplish in his first year as head coach at UNLV?
How about recruiting the school’s first McDonald’s All-American in over two decades?
Forward Khem Birch(6-foot-9, 220 pounds), who started six games as a true freshman at Pitt before deciding to transfer, signed a financial aid letter with the Runnin’ Rebels and is expected to enroll in classes today.
Birch, who averaged 4.4 points, 5.0 rebounds and 1.9 blocks in 10 games with the Panthers and had a double-double (15 points, 10 rebounds) in his first college start on Nov. 25 at Penn, must sit out two semesters per NCAA transfer rules but will become eligible midway through the 2012-13 season. He picked UNLV over Florida.
“We are excited to have Khem join our program,” Rice said. “He is a versatile forward who will be a terrific player in our up-tempo system. He is a dominant defender and a great teammate.”
Birch, a native of Montreal, helped leaded Notre Dame Prep in Fitchburg, Mass., to the title game of the National Prep Championships last spring. He led the West team in scoring (15 points), rebounds (10 including 9 offensive) and blocked shots (6) in the McDonald’s All-American game.
“He’s very good,” respected national talent scout Frank Burlison (Burlisononbasketball.com) of Laguna Niguel, Calif., said. “He’s got good skills. He probably should be a power forward. He’s way higher ranked than Mike Moser or Chace Stanback were coming out of high school.”
Asked how he would compare to former Runnin’ Rebel star Dalron Johnson, a two-time all-Mountain West pick with a similar build, Burlison replied, “He’s waaaay better than Dalron Johnson.”
Birch, the first McDonald’s All-American since Elmore Spencer (1990) to sign with the Rebels — he and Larry Johnsonwere both on the 1987 team — visited UNLV last weekend after also taking recruiting trips to Florida and New Mexico State.
“I really like UNLV,” Birch told Therecruitscoop.com. “It was a very tough decision but UNLV is a good fit for me because of the coaches, players and facilities. I will be able to train during my time off. Also, I can develop under a great, young coach in Dave Rice. He and the entire staff made me feel very comfortable in Las Vegas.”