How quickly this summer has become a nightmare for the suddenly reeling UNLV basketball program.
A Rebels team that appeared poised to contend for the Mountain West title and make a deep NCAA tournament run next season suddenly is in the throes of an offseason so disastrous that those goals may not be attainable anymore.
UNLV missed on coveted backcourt recruits Cory Joseph, Dwayne Polee Jr. and Johnathan Loyd. Sweet-shooting forward Matt Shaw was suspended for his senior year as a result of a failed drug test. And now the program's most indispensable player's future at the school is in serious doubt.
Guard Tre'Von Willis, the Mountain West's second-leading scorer last season, was arrested Tuesday on charges of felony domestic battery by strangulation, felony grand larceny and misdemeanor coercion. UNLV coach Lon Kruger told the Las Vegas Review-Journal he won't decide on Willis' status for next season until he's gathered all the facts, but unless the accusations turn out to be fabricated, it's hard to imagine the senior-to-be suiting up for the Rebels again.
The potential loss of Willis deprives UNLV of a player who averaged 17.2 points per game last season, earned first-team all-conference honors and was among the top defensive players in the Mountain West as well. Every significant rotation player from last season's 25-win team returns for UNLV, but none of the backup guards can replace Willis' production.
Maybe the most depressing part for the Rebels about Willis is that Kruger consistently praised the former Memphis transfer's maturity and leadership last season. A program that takes as many transfers as UNLV can be susceptible to off-the-court issues, but Kruger has a spotless reputation and very few of the transfers the Rebels have taken have been high-risk.
It's rare for a team to emerge from a buzzer-beating NCAA tournament defeat feeling good about itself, but UNLV carried that kind of momentum out of its first-round loss to Northern Iowa last March.
Only three months later, the program is reeling. Now it's up to the Rebels to show that they can recover.
- Lon Kruger