In two games against UNLV last season, guard Kevin Olekaibe lit up the Rebels for a total of 34 points, hit 8 of 12 from behind the arc and led Fresno State to a pair of upset wins.
The rising senior impressed the UNLV coaches so much that they jumped at the chance to snatch Olekaibe up when he decided to transfer, especially since it won't cost the Rebels a scholarship to do so.
Olekaibe revealed Monday evening that he will transfer to UNLV and join the team as a walk-on, a move necessitated by the fact Fresno State would not release him to speak to other Mountain West schools. Though Olekaibe could have transferred anywhere outside the league with no restrictions, the only way he could play for another Mountain West program was to pay his own way.
Why would Olekaibe pay his own way at UNLV rather than accepting a scholarship offer elsewhere? He told the Las Vegas Sun and Las Vegas Review-Journal that he is returning to his hometown to be closer to his father, who is paralyzed from the waist down and unable to speak as a result of two strokes.
Olekaibe will petition for a hardship waiver from the NCAA allowing him to play right away as a senior next season. It appears Olekaibe would have a strong case to win his petition, but the stakes are high since transfers within the Mountain West typically have to sit out two full seasons and that would mean his college basketball career would be over.
That UNLV was able to land a scorer of Olekaibe's caliber without burning its last available scholarship is a coup for the Rebels.
Olekaibe averaged 17.8 points per game as a volume-shooting sophomore, albeit in the WAC rather than the Mountain West. An elbow injury that kept him out of the gym much of the offseason contributed to Olekaibe's outside shot becoming more erratic last season, leading the 6-foot-2 guard to average a modest 8.1 points per game on just 34.7 percent shooting.
If Olekaibe can accept a complementary role off the bench at UNLV assuming he gets his waiver, his outside shooting prowess could help make up for the unexpected transfer of Katin Reinhardt to USC a couple weeks ago.
Junior college transfer DeVille Smith and returning standout Bryce Dejean-Jones are likely to start in the backcourt for UNLV, but Olekaibe, fellow transfer Jelan Kendrick and freshman combo guard Kendall Smith would likely all see playing time. Olekaibe gives coach Dave Rice enough backcourt depth to play a three-guard look at times.
Former UNLV coach Lon Kruger passed on Olekaibe out of high school even though the undersized shooting guard averaged a state-best 35.6 points per game during the 2009-10 at Cimarron High School and scored more than 40 points nine times.
Given a second chance at landing the hometown product – this time without even having to use a scholarship -- UNLV could not turn Olekaibe down again.
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