When Rashad Vaughn announced Tuesday night that he'd chosen UNLV over Iowa State, Kentucky and North Carolina, the five-star guard's commitment probably inspired a mix of joy and anxiety for Rebels coach Dave Rice.
The good news is the addition of Vaughn gives UNLV a trio of recruits 32nd or higher in the Rivals class of 2014 rankings. The bad news is Rice will be under immense pressure to parlay that monster class into even greater success than he has enjoyed his first three seasons as head coach at his alma mater.
Rice's 67-27 record in his first three seasons at UNLV is actually a handful of games better than what his predecessor Lon Kruger achieved, but many Rebels fans aren't satisfied with what the team has accomplished. The four NCAA tournament bids Kruger tallied his last five seasons at UNLV and the high-profile recruits Rice has landed during his tenure have combined to elevate expectations for how good the Rebels should be.
Most of the criticism Rice has received stems from the idea that he's better at collecting talent than developing it.
UNLV failed to win either the Mountain West regular season title or tournament and got bounced in the first round of the NCAA tournament last season despite a roster loaded with stars. The Rebels boasted future No. 1 overall draft pick, Anthony Bennett, returning all-conference forward Mike Moser, former McDonald's All-American forward Khem Birch and a wealth of promising backcourt options.
The hope this season was that the departure of some of that ill-fitting talent would help the Rebels mesh better and achieve more with less, but that hasn't happened either. At 16-8 overall and 7-4 in a considerably weaker Mountain West, UNLV is likely to miss the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2009 barring a massive charge in late February and March.
Rice deserves some leeway because of his outstanding recruiting success, but next season is shaping up to be a "no excuses" type of year. With Vaughn, forward Dwayne Morgan and center Goodluck Okonoboh joining a roster that could also include seniors-to-be Birch, Roscoe Smith and Bryce Dejean-Jones, the Rebels should be loaded barring unexpected early departures.
Vaughn may be the most promising player on that potential roster.
An electric scorer with excellent size, length and athleticism for the shooting guard position, Vaughn is Rivals.com's No. 7 player in his class. He is capable of scoring at the rim or knocking down threes from well behind the arc, though his shot selection and efficiency remain works in progress.
UNLV landed Vaughn thanks to its edge in proximity and familiarity. Vaughn attends Findlay Prep in Nevada, enabling him to attend UNLV games on a regular basis. Furthermore, last spring Rice hired former Findlay Prep coach Todd Simon as an assistant coach, giving him another advantage in Vaughn's recruitment.
To understand how big a coup this was for UNLV, consider the reaction of the Iowa State assistant who recruited Vaughn the past three years.
So, yes, it could be worse for Rice. As much pressure as this recruiting class will put on his shoulders next season, better to land Vaughn than to swing and miss.
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