In less than a day's time, the program that best boosted its chances for next season this spring was ... UNLV?
How about that for a plot twist in the midst of college hoops' decisive April recruiting period?
If you go to UNLV's official basketball website, a page touting an unexpectedly strong six-man recruiting class is the first thing you see. Things are suddenly fruitful in the desert. A late-period coup of signings amounts to the best batch of recruiting news for this program in a very long time. And it's led by the surprise commitment of a potential one-and-done five-star prospect who could become the best player in the Mountain West next season.
"When we were processing how to navigate the late signing period, we had to address several issues," UNLV coach Marvin Menzies said. "Some of those things were balancing the classes, filling specific needs within the roster, the APR components and laying a solid foundation for immediate improvement as well as long-term success."
Menzies, going into his second year at UNLV, just signed six players who could take Vegas from the Mountain West's basement (11-21, 4-14 conference) to the top of its standings. The big fish: Brandon McCoy. Don't know the name? You will by November. McCoy ranks as the 13th-best prospect in the class of 2017. That's higher than some incoming freshmen you might know: Kentucky-bound P.J. Washington, Quade Green and Nick Richards, Duke-bound Gary Trent Jr., Kansas-bound Billy Preston and Oklahoma-bound Trae Young.
McCoy could be a program-changer for UNLV and made his vow known on Twitter on Tuesday night.
It's not only about the players the Runnin' Rebels landed, but the schools losing out to UNLV.
McCoy is a 6-foot-11 power forward/center out of Cathedral Catholic HS in San Diego. UNLV beat San Diego State, Arizona, Oregon and Michigan State for one of its most important recruiting gets in a decade. He averaged 29 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks last season on his way to becoming a McDonald's All-American.
And he's only the start.
"Being able to bring in a McDonald's All-American and the top-ranked junior college prospect is a testament to the power of the UNLV brand," Menzies said.
Where UNLV stands as a national "brand" has been debatable for about 20 years, but perhaps Menzies has tapped into something. The aforementiond JUCO prospect is Shakur Juiston, the reigning JUCO Player of the Year who played at one of the best junior colleges in the country, Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College. UNLV beat out transfer-minded and proven Iowa State for Juiston, who amounts to a four-star recruit. He averaged 17 points and 12 rebounds last season and is Hutchinson's all-time rebounding leader. He also won the MVP honor in the junior college national tournament.
UNLV has also added lefty four-star point guard Amauri Hardy, who -- like all the others -- has signed a letter of intent. Hardy picked UNLV over Oklahoma State, opting to de-commit from OSU after Brad Underwood took the Illinois job. Juiston and Hardy committed Wednesday, less than 24 hours after McCoy's decision possibly sparked them to do the same.
These are significant additions, as UNLV has a bulky seven-man recruiting class that ranks 12th in the country. Menzies did not anticipate this. He he now has 14 players on scholarship, but is allowed only 13, so he will have to reckon with who loses one.
No team in America has made bigger upgrades from a lower position than Vegas. The Runnin' Rebels won't be a top-25 team in preseason polls, but it's not ridiculous to suggest they could round into that form come league play.
This week's three additions join previous four-star commitment Chiekh Mbacke Diong (6-11 power forward from Senegal) to firm up a terrific class. UNLV also has JUCO small forward Anthony Smith and wing Tervell Beck in its haul for next season. Jay Green, an Australian who played at a Hillcrest Prep in Arizona (back in January) was the first of the seven to commit.
For UNLV to land so many late-period signings after an 11-win season is astounding. Menzies made big strides in his long tenure at New Mexico State, but nobody was expecting this much headway so soon with the Rebels. And it's not a total rebuild, because UNLV also has last season's leading scorer Jovan Mooring, Dwayne Morgan (season cut short because of injury) and Milwaukee transfer Jordan Johnson on the roster.
I don't believe college basketball is better "when UNLV is good," or anything like that. The program had an awesome five-year run almost 30 years ago, and that's a part of the sport's story. But in more years than not, considering its location, UNLV has been an underachieving program void of big names and NCAA Tournament success. No program will make a bigger offseason jump than UNLV. The last time this happened was the late 1980s, and guys named Augmon, Johnson, Anthony and Hunt were involved.