Marvin Menzies is two years into the rebuild of UNLV. He took over a program lacking players and turned in a first season lacking wins.
But that 11-win campaign turned into 20 wins this past season and the outline of UNLV’s future is coming into focus.
“I like the progress,” Menzies said towards the end of the regular season. “It’s never enough and it never happens fast enough. But to do it right it takes time. You have to put the building blocks in position so that once you are successful, it has substance.”
In year one, Menzies wasn’t securing building blocks, he was looking for sandbags to weather the storm. He found some useful pieces like Jovan Mooring, Kris Clyburn and Chieckna Dembele. But It wasn’t until the 2017 recruiting class that Menzies’ real construction started. Brandon McCoy and Shakur Juiston headlined the class, but those two were short term answers. The real meat of the 2017 class is what Menzies is banking on turning into a stable program.
Amauri Hardy, Tervell Beck and Mbacke Diong all provided sparks of potential for the future. Hardy could be the primary playmaker on a team that challenges for the Mountain West title. Beck showed off an offensive arsenal that made him the Rebels most efficient player last season. Diong’s defensive energy snuck him onto the floor over McCoy in critical possessions. All three have a chance to be special for UNLV and do it for more than one season.
But despite some short-term answers and the forming of a core, UNLV still struggled to just eighth place in the Mountain West last season.
“They just need experience,” Menzies said after UNLV was knocked out of the Mountain West tournament. “They need to have failures before they have success. It’s a part of any business, any corporation, any sport. Failures are a part of growing and growth. So having gone through this as many years as I have now, I’m really proud of the guys, really proud of them.”
If failure is a must for every successful story, some of Menzies’ Mountain West peers have skipped steps.
Nevada won nine games before Eric Musselman took over. Three years later they have two NCAA Tournament appearances, the most recent led to the Sweet 16.
Paul Weir took New Mexico from a similar roster situation as UNLV had with Menzies’ first season and turned in a third-place finish in the Mountain West this year. UNLV has not finished higher than eighth under Menzies.
The question for Menzies over the next few seasons will be if the core he built is good enough to win in the Mountain West.
Hardy, Beck and Diong will be joined by two four-star guard in the 2018 class in Bryce Hamilton and Trey Woodbury. Those five are the group that UNLV will be relying on.
Come 2020-21, they will have played together for two seasons and should be able to challenge for the conference title. But that is a long time away in college basketball, where coaches have less and less time to make their mark on a program.
While those five make up the core, it doesn’t mean UNLV’s top player must come from that group. The Rebels are heavily recruiting 2019 5-star Christian Brown, a player that could step in and be the best player.
That may be Menzies’ best strategy. As he builds his core for the future, adding temporary stars can make the leap each season more attainable.
That is essentially what Brandon McCoy did this past season. The five-star big man made a one year stop in Las Vegas where he helped create expectations for a program that won 11 games the season before. McCoy’s Rebels may have disappointed in 2017-18, but he helped accelerate the rebuild of UNLV.
The core Menzies has secured may not be good enough to send UNLV to the NCAA Tournament, the put UNLV a piece away from making serious noise in the Mountain West.