Sudden recruiting surge could propel UNLV back to relevance next season

UNLV coach Marvin Menzies has pulled off a series of recruiting coups this week. (AP)

If Marvin Menzies fulfills his goal of reinvigorating the UNLV basketball program, he might remember this week as the start of that transformation.

The Rebels have reeled in three prominent recruits that could form the foundation for the program’s turnaround.

It started with a surprising commitment from five-star center Brandon McCoy, who chose UNLV over Oregon, Michigan State, Arizona and San Diego State on Tuesday night. McCoy, a 6-foot-11 McDonald’s All-American, is a skilled low-post scorer, shot blocker and rebounder who should emerge as a frontcourt centerpiece for the Rebels from day one.

The jolt of energy from the McCoy commitment helped UNLV land two more players on Wednesday who also figure to make an immediate impact.

Shakur Juiston, a 6-foot-7 power forward, emerged as one of the nation’s top junior college prospects by leading Hutchinson Community College (Kansas) to a national championship while averaging 17.3 points and 12.1 rebounds per game. He chose UNLV despite heavy interest from Iowa State and a long list of other Division I suitors.

Amauri Hardy, a three-star point guard from Michigan, also committed to UNLV on Wednesday, picking the Rebels over Arkansas, Georgia Tech and Seton Hall. The former Oklahoma State commit reopened his recruitment earlier this spring when Brad Underwood left for Illinois.

That trio of incoming players gives UNLV hope of vaulting back into contention in the Mountain West next season after last year’s miserable campaign. Menzies inherited a roster decimated by defections and finished 11-21 in his debut season despite doing a respectable job of scrambling for talent late last spring.

Optimism was scarce after Jalen Poyser, Troy Baxter and Zion Morgan — three of UNLV’s most talented players — all transferred this spring, but this week’s recruiting haul changes all that. Suddenly there’s a sense that UNLV has momentum again, that the Rebels could be relevant in the Mountain West and nationally sooner rather than later.

The key was landing McCoy, who was thought to be an Oregon lean the past few months.

UNLV managed to riggle its way into contention because of its staff’s strong relationship with McCoy’s guardian Shaun Manning. Menzies’ history of developing big men at New Mexico State didn’t hurt, nor did the fact that the Rebels previously signed one of McCoy’s close friends and former AAU teammates, junior college transfer Anthony Smith, earlier this year.

Add McCoy, Juiston and Hardy to next year’s UNLV roster, and suddenly the Rebels look a whole lot more formidable.

Milwaukee transfer Jordan Johnson is an experienced point guard who averaged 12.5 points and 8.1 assists as a junior with the Panthers. Shooting guard Jovan Mooring was the Rebels’ leading scorer and top outside shooter last year. Forward Dwayne Morgan should also be an asset after having his season cut short due to injury last year.

With New Mexico rebuilding after a coaching change and San Diego State also enduring a coaching transition, it wasn’t clear if anyone could pose a serious threat to reigning Mountain West champion Nevada next season.

The way UNLV revamped its roster this week, the Rebels now have a shot.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!