Standing room only crowd turns out for Runnin’ Rebels practice

Fans were tailgating in the parking lot despite 100-degree temperatures. The stands were overflowing. There was a loud ovation when the team emerged.

If it’s August, we must be talking about the start of football, right?

Wrong. Amazingly, it was all for the beginning of practice for a summer exhibition basketball trip to Canada for Dave Rice’s Runnin’ Rebels that starts Aug. 16.

Yes, it’s fair to say Las Vegas has an epidemic of Runnin’ Rebel fever.

Over 400 people crammed into the Mendenhall Center on Saturday afternoon to catch their first glimpses of star recruits like Katin Reinhardt, Savon Goodman, Demetris Morant and Daquan Cook during a fast-paced two hour workout. They’ll have to wait for another day to see newcomers like Khem Birch, UConn transfer Roscoe Smith and former Findlay Prep star Anthony Bennett practice.

Bennett won’t join the Rebels until the start of the fall semester on Aug. 27 after the NCAA Clearinghouse didn’t officially clear him academically until it was too late for him to enroll into summer school. Birch and Smith both watched practice but were late scratches for participation while the school awaits clarification from the NCAA on their eligibility for the summer trip. That could come as soon as Monday.

Still, there were plenty of drills and dunking to keep everyone happy.

Some observations:

* Guard Bryce Dejean-Jones, a transfer from USC who sat out last season, looked in mid-season form, hitting jumpers, diving on the floor for loose balls and playing strong defense. I’m already looking forward to his matchups against San Diego State’s Jamaal Franklin. They should be wars.

* Somewhat overlooked in all excitement of the signings of players like McDonald’s All-American Bennett and Reinhardt, the Los Angeles Times Player of the Year, is the fact Demetris Morant of Bishop Gorman is one freakish athlete with tremendous upside. The athletic, long-armed 6-foot-9 Morant is an explosive leaper who should quickly become a fan favorite for his thunderous dunks and shot-blocking ability. He looks like he could be a real recruiting steal for Rice and company.

* The 6-foot-5 Reinhardt appeared to me to be a lot thicker than his listed 195-pounds. In fact, the smooth-shooting freshman from Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, Calif., looks like he could start at defensive end or outside linebacker for Bobby Hauck’s football squad.

* You realize how valuable the Mendenhall Center will be for UNLV not just for recruiting but also for practice purposes when the squad splits up by position and uses both courts. You also realize what a top notch coaching staff Rice has assembled when you watch assistants Justin Hutson, Stacey Augmon and Heath Schroyer put players through their drills on those courts.

* As several Rebel fans tweeted, as impressive as the UNLV talent looked today – and it looked pretty darn good – think about the fact that two McDonald’s All-Americans in Bennett and Birch along with Smith, a starter on an NCAA title team, didn’t even practice Saturday. Scary.

Check out the video above for comments from Rice and Anthony Marshall about today’s practice as well as some video of Goodman (0), Morant (24), Carlos Lopez (11) dunking during a drill.

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