When you look at winning teams in any sport, there is one common component that UNLV has lacked in recent years: Role players. Players who fill in the cracks around the stars’ production. Players who understand what they’re good at (and what they’re not so good at). Players who are willing to sacrifice shots and minutes in order to support the greater good. Winning players.
From a coaching perspective, there may not be a more difficult task than convincing a young player to assume a lesser role. For the most part, every kid recruited to play at a Division I school like UNLV was a star in his former life, the leading scorer on his high school team and the No. 1 option for his AAU squad. They believe—they know—that they should be in the starting lineup and taking all the shots. And when you stack up a dozen players of that mindset on a single team, you see how it can be counterproductive to winning.
San Antonio Spurs coach Greg Popovich makes role players an integral part of his team-building approach. He targets selfless players who have “gotten over themselves” and are ready to play team basketball. That usually means waiting a few years into a player’s career until he sees the light and realizes it’s not all about him. Unfortunately for UNLV (and other college programs), they don’t really have the benefit of waiting for players to reach that level of maturity.
In that respect, Ben Coupet should be a breath of fresh air for the Rebels. The 6-foot-7 swingman from Chicago has already gotten over himself, partly due to his high school career arc—he entered Simeon as “the next Jabari Parker” and spent the next four years fighting an unwinnable battle against the hype—and it only takes a few minutes of watching film to recognize that Coupet accepts being a role player.
I watched four Simeon games from last year, and I only saw a handful of plays where Coupet looked to create offense for himself. Despite his senior status, Coupet was content to play terrific defense across multiple positions, rebound like a madman and scrap for loose balls. Teammates Zach Norvell (Gonzaga) and Evan Gilyard soaked up most of the shots (and stardom), but Coupet’s willingness to accept a lesser role was a key component in Simeon’s success.
Some aspects of Coupet’s game should translate nicely to the college level. His calling card is his defense—he has a long, 6-foot-7 frame, and he glides around the court effortlessly. At Simeon, he was dispatched to defend every position, literally, from point guards to centers. He moves his feet quickly and can cover a lot of ground laterally, and he has a good feel for when to help off his man to cut off penetration. Simeon coach Robert Smith constructed his defensive game plans around Coupet’s versatility:
In the first sequence from that video, Coupet switches five times within a man-to-man scheme, eventually challenging the shot, corralling the rebound and saving it inbounds to a teammate. Every Simeon game is filled with plays like that. In the state tournament semifinals, Simeon came out in a box-and-1, with Coupet playing as the “1” chasing the opponent’s top scorer around the perimeter. In another game from the same tournament, he played center when Simeon utilized a 2-3 zone. That versatility has to be attractive to UNLV coach Marvin Menzies.
Part of Coupet’s defensive prowess is his superior rebounding. He can play down low because he grabs every defensive rebound, despite some opponents having a height/weight advantage. Coupet’s form is great—whether he’s in man or zone, as soon as a shot goes up he seeks out the nearest opponent and boxes him out—and he aggressively goes after every rebound, even when the ball caroms out of his area. He also utilizes his length by high-pointing the ball and going after it with two hands:
Whatever position Coupet ends up playing at the college level, he’ll be a good rebounder. He can also be counted on to make hustle plays. Simeon didn’t run any plays for him on offense, so most of his buckets came on sheer effort. He chases offensive rebounds, picks the pocket of ball-handlers from behind and scrambles for loose balls:
Of course, there was a reason Simeon didn’t run offense through Coupet. Though he was hyped as a dynamic scorer early in his career, he simply doesn’t possess the skill set to be a top offensive weapon. He’s not an explosive, fast-twitch athlete, and his lack of leaping ability hinders him when he tries to finish in traffic. His lankiness works against him as a ball-handler, as he gets loose with his dribble and struggles to drive past opponents. He is a capable passer, but for the most part Simeon justifiably avoided putting the ball in his hands:
Coupet’s lack of elite athleticism makes him an inconsistent finisher. When given a clean path to the basket in transition he can gallop down the lane and dunk the ball, but if he’s slightly off-stride he has difficulty rising above the rim. And though he does a good job of spacing the floor and making himself available for fast-break passes, he has iffy hands and doesn’t always secure the ball before going up to finish:
Coupet’s shooting is another weakness. His 3-point jumper has a weird corkscrew motion, as he turns his body slightly to the side before releasing the ball with a follow-through that goes across his body. The positive, as covered at the top, is that Coupet has gotten over himself. He knows he’s not a shooter and doesn’t force 3-pointers. In four games, I only saw him attempt four 3-pointers, all of which were corner jumpers when he was left wide open:
If there’s one area where Coupet can improve defensively, it’s as a rim protector. He’s 6-foot-7 with limited leaping ability, so he’s not a natural shot blocker, but that’s okay, as he likely won’t be asked to play that role very often for the Rebels. But he also has a bad habit of committing a foul virtually every time he challenges a shot. Even when he has good position, he initiates too much body contact and draws a whistle:
Consider that flaw a minor concern, however, because in the grand scheme of things, Coupet should be a plus defensive player for UNLV. He can defend the perimeter with his length and lateral quickness, and he can play in the frontcourt as part of small-ball lineups because of his ability to secure defensive rebounds. He doesn’t block a lot of shots, but he’ll play good positional defense, attack loose balls and create his share of turnovers through sheer hustle.
His offensive game will limit him to being a situational player. Coupet can’t create off the dribble, and he doesn’t always finish with authority. But he’s smart enough to understand his limitations. He’s a low-usage player who doesn’t demand the ball. He’ll hit the offensive glass, score garbage baskets and shoot only when he’s wide open, and he won’t commit turnovers trying to do things he’s incapable of doing.
That’s not the profile of a superstar recruit, but Coupet and the Rebels seem fine with that. He’s not going to move the needle in the national recruiting rankings, and he may never start for UNLV. But he’s willing to do whatever the coaches ask, and if utilized properly, he can make a long-term contribution as a reliable role player for the Rebels.