UNLV point guard Kevin Kruger looks to his father Lon Kruger as Oregon takes a free throw in the first half of their NCAA Sweet 16 game at the Edwards Jones Dome in St. Louis Friday, March 23, 2007. (K.M.Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)UNLV Rebels guard Amauri Hardy (3) brings the ball up court against San Diego State Aztecs guard Jeremy Hemsley (42) during the first half of a quarterfinal game in the Mountain West men‘s basketball tournament at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas on Thursday, March 14, 2019. (Chase Stevens/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
New UNLV coach T.J. Otzelberger’s staff and roster are beginning to take shape.
Former Rebels point guard Kevin Kruger is returning to the program as an assistant coach, and guards Amauri Hardy and Bryce Hamilton and forward Nick Blair are taking their names out of the NCAA transfer portal and will remain with the team.
Also, Utah assistant DeMarlo Slocum, an Eldorado High School graduate and former coach of the Las Vegas Prospects AAU team, is expected to join the staff, according to a person with knowledge of the search.
Kruger spent the past three seasons as an assistant coach at Oklahoma under his dad, Lon. He also played for Lon Kruger at UNLV as a graduate transfer in 2007, leading the Rebels to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.
“This has always been home,” Kevin Kruger said Tuesday. “When people ask, ‘Where are you from?’ I’ve always said Vegas. It’s a great feeling to be able to come back home.”
Kruger, 35, is expected to join Slocum and Tim Buckley on the staff. No assistant has been formally hired, so Otzelberger can’t comment on any of the three.
When Otzelberger March 28, he said Lon Kruger has been influential in his career. Otzelberger also has known Kevin Kruger for many years.
“We stayed in touch watching his teams play,” Kevin Kruger said. “When I was working at (Northern Arizona from 2014 to 2016), we would text back and forth. There are a lot of paths that crossed.”
Though this isn’t the first time Kruger will work on a staff that doesn’t include his dad, he said that wasn’t “the driving reason” for returning to UNLV. He acknowledged some separation was good because he wanted “to be successful without a built-in comma.”
Lon Kruger said this was a great opportunity for his son.
“He’s excited about it, and we’re excited for him,” said Lon Kruger, who went 161-71 from 2004 to 2011 at UNLV, making the NCAA Tournament four times.
Kevin Kruger is familiar with UNLV, even if he played just one season after transferring from Arizona State.
“The advantage is going to come when talking with people,” he said. “Hopefully, they can feel it and hear it when we talk about the program and the city being here and having that time here, but also the years after. I’ve always been a bigger fan of my dad’s teams than anywhere, and so that love for UNLV basketball wasn’t really just my one year. It was those seven years that he was here.”
Six players remain in the transfer portal — Louis Bangai, Cheickna Dembele, Mbacke Diong, Shakur Juiston, Joel Ntambwe and Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua.
Hardy, a 6-foot-2-inch sophomore, made 34.1 percent of his 3-point shots this season, averaging 13.1 points and 3.5 assists while playing both guard positions.
Hamilton, a 6-4 freshman, signed with the Rebels as a four-star recruit. He played in all 31 games, averaging 4.3 points and 13 minutes.
Blair, a 6-5 junior walk-on transfer from Idaho who also played at Bishop Gorman, played in 19 games and started two. He averaged 6.3 points and 5.3 rebounds.
Slocum, 41, was the state Gatorade Player of the Year in 1996 at Eldorado. He founded the Prospects in 2003, and they became one of the top AAU teams in the West in the five years he coached them. He has been at Utah since 2011.
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Current projected roster
Jonah Antonio, 6-5, Jr.
Tervell Beck, 6-7, Jr.
Nick Blair, 6-5, Sr.
Marvin Coleman, 6-2, So.
Ben Coupet Jr., 6-7, Jr.
Jay Green, 6-5, Jr.
Bryce Hamilton, 6-4, So.
Amauri Hardy, 6-2, Jr.
Djordjije Sljivancanin, 6-10, Jr.
Trey Woodbury, 6-4, So.
In the NCAA transfer portal
Louis Bangai, 6-10, Fr.
Cheickna Dembele, 6-11, Sr.
Mbacke Diong, 6-11, Jr.
Shakur Juiston, 6-7, Sr.
Joel Ntambwe, 6-9, So.
Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua, 6-8, So.
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