GMG - Las Vegas Weekly

November 7, 2013

Las Vegas Weekly

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A&E | SPORTS > DIFFERENCE MAKER? Kevin Olekaibe scored 17 points in UNLV's preseason win over Adams State Tuesday night. MARQUEE MATCHUPS Five games that might determine how far the Rebels can run VS. ILLINOIS (November 26) Four of the top five scorers from last season's 23-13 Illini squad are gone, but coach John Groce brings in a recruiting class that includes two top-100 guards. For UNLV, it's a winnable game against a Big Ten team early in the season. AT ARIZONA (December 7) Leaving Tucson with a victory over the AP's preseason No. 6 team would come close to beating then-No. 1 North Carolina in 2011. Win or lose, it's a chance to see how UNLV stacks up to a squad many have pegged for the Final Four. CLEARING THE NEXT HURDLE Transfer guard Olekaibe stands ready to step up as UNLV opens its season BY TAYLOR BERN AT BOISE STATE (February 22) The Broncos surprised a lot of folks with their 21-11 record last season, but they won't sneak up on anyone this time. The two teams play here earlier in the month, but there's less to be learned from beating a good team at home. Far more rare is the big road victory. VS. SAN DIEGO STATE (March 5) It's tough to tell now whether the Aztecs will be a little down or in the mix again this year. We do know the two fanbases don't like one another, making the environment a particularly fun one. The games usually match the anticipation, with three of the past four decided by two points apiece. –Taylor Bern PHOTO BY SAM MORRIS season, Olekaibe averaged 17 points per game. Those were When Kevin Olekaibe was in sixth grade, he was cut a couple of bright spots in a season marred by injuries and from the basketball team at J. Harold Brinley Middle the mental distraction of being away from his family while School in Las Vegas. At the encouragement of his art his father's health deteriorated. teacher, who had taken over as the basketball coach, he Benson Olekaibe, who's originally from Nigeria, suftried again the next year, and by then was probably the best fered a stroke in 2008 and then another in 2009. Living player in his grade. After tryouts, Olekaibe showed up to in hospice care, Benson got worse over the past year. He's school early and looked for his name on the list with that now mostly paralyzed and can't communicate. year's roster. It was nowhere to be found. The family, including many of Kevin Olekaibe's six sibIt turned out the school's janitor had erased Olekaibe's lings and his mother Esther, spend a lot of time at Benson's name to prank his young friend. Olekaibe made that team, bedside. That's where Esther was when she saw his first, and last Monday he learned he had offithe news about her son's eligibility on TV. cially joined another. "(It's great) to put a smile on their face; just After months of speculation, the NCAA UNLV VS. to get their mind off my father," Kevin Olekaibe approved Olekaibe's hardship waiver, all but PORTLAND said. clearing the way for the senior to play immediSTATE Last season, Olekaibe averaged a career-low ately for UNLV after transferring from Fresno November 8, 7:30 p.m., $158.3 points per game, but as a sophomore he put State. The Rebels are waiting on approval from $90. Thomas up a team-leading 17.8. With a clearer mind, the Mountain West Conference to grant relief & Mack Center, Olekaibe sounds confident he can get back to from its penalties for transferring in conference. 739-3267. that level if that's what the Rebels ask him to do. If the conference supports the NCAA's deci"People may have forgotten that old KO," he said, sion prior to Friday's season opener against "but I've improved since then." visiting Portland State, Olekaibe should begin giving the As national writers and even former Rebel Jimmy Rebels much-needed help in the backcourt after Bryce Kimmel put on a full-court press to make sure the NCAA Dejean-Jones, arguably their best player, injured his hammade the right decision, Olekaibe went about his day. The string last week. communication major was asked to speak at a teachers' Olekaibe went from Brinley to Cimarron-Memorial workday about the inspiration he drew from his instrucHigh, where he averaged more than 35 points as a senior. tors in the Clark County School District. Olekaibe found His father's poor health brought Olekaibe back to Las himself telling a gym full of middle school teachers about Vegas, where he has walked on and isn't on scholarship. the janitor's prank. Hours later he was officially a Rebel. In two Fresno State victories against the Rebels last AT NEW MEXICO (January 15) Steve Alford is gone, but the Lobos aren't expected to drop off much from last season, returning every major piece from that team, including defending conference Player of the Year Kendall Williams. If New Mexico plays like it did last season, when it squeaked out a slew of close wins, the Rebels should have a chance. 46 LASVEGASWEEKLY.COM NOVEMBER 7–13, 2013 46_Sports_20131107.indd 46 11/6/13 4:17 PM

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