The Rebels received good news on Thursday, as Class of 2014 center Goodluck Okonoboh committed to UNLV. The 6-foot-9 bruiser is an athletic shot blocker who should anchor the defense immediately upon his arrival, but his decision won’t just impact the Rebels on the court.
Let’s take a look at what Okonoboh’s commitment means for UNLV:
Center hole filled
Before the announcement, the Rebels were looking at a huge hole in the middle next season, as centers Carlos Lopez-Sosa (senior) and Khem Birch (possible early entry for NBA draft) could both be gone. But with Okonoboh coming to town, Dave Rice doesn’t have to worry so much about that anymore. Okonoboh’s skill set (strength, athleticism, shot blocking) should translate to the college level fairly smoothly, so it figures that he’ll be an immediate contributor in 2014. Look for Goodluck to anchor the Rebels’ defense as a freshman, lessening the loss of Birch and Lopez-Sosa.
Class of 2014 shaping up to be a monster
The Rebels now have two players committed from the Class of 2014, and both are blue-chip prospects. Okonoboh is ranked No. 32 in the nation, and small forward Dwayne Morgan is No. 15. UNLV is going to start shooting up the recruiting rankings, joining the traditional blue bloods, and the Rebels’ class isn’t even complete yet—Rice has said he expects to bring in three players in 2014. Adding another top prospect could vault them into the top five nationally. Which brings us to Rashad Vaughn…
Vaughn the next domino?
The Rebels plan to bring in another player in 2014, and Findlay Prep shooting guard Rashad Vaughn is the primary target right now. The Rebels have been working hard to make an impression since they jumped into his recruitment this summer, and Okonoboh’s commitment can’t hurt—Okonoboh is the type of player who will make the team better without taking shots away from a guy like Vaughn. So the pitch to Vaughn is that he can come in and be the primary scoring option on a contending team with multiple NBA-caliber prospects.
Will that be enough to sway Vaughn, the No. 7 player in the country? It very well could be—the Rebels have been building momentum with Vaughn for the past four months. He will reportedly be in Las Vegas for an official visit next month.
Staff is among best at recruiting
Whether or not the Rebels end up bringing in Vaughn, it’s time for Rice and his staff to start getting credit from the national media for what they’re doing on the recruiting trail. They landed Anthony Bennett, the reigning No. 1 pick in the NBA draft, and they’ve already got a pair of potential McDonald’s All-Americans in the fold for 2014 with Okonoboh and Morgan.
But it’s not just the caliber of the players that makes Rice’s run so impressive—it’s the reach. The Rebels staff went into Massachusetts and beat two Big Ten teams (Indiana and Ohio State) for Okonoboh, and they reached into the mid-Atlantic and beat out traditional DMV powers (Georgetown and Maryland) for Morgan.
The Rebels may be in a mid-major conference, and they may not have had tournament success yet under this regime, but Rice has established UNLV as a national recruiting power. That’s a huge accomplishment.
Effect on Zimmerman?
The Class of 2014 is breaking perfectly for UNLV so far, but the biggest fish remains in the Class of 2015, as the Rebels are still going hard after Bishop Gorman center Stephen Zimmerman. Will Okonoboh’s commitment affect Zimmerman’s decision? Zimmerman will no doubt want to go to a team where he can play right away as a freshman, so the presence of Okonoboh (a sophomore by then) could be used by other schools as a negative against UNLV.
Still, Rice has to have earned the complete trust of the fanbase by now when it comes to recruiting. I expect the staff will figure out a way to stay in the Zimmerman sweepstakes until the very end.
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