Freshmen Ready To Make Early Impact For Lady Rebels|
Nov. 11, 2015
LAS VEGAS (UNLVRebels.com) -
By W.G. Ramirez
It's rare a freshman basketball player will be relied on for quality minutes, as she embarks on her college career.
UNLV coach Kathy Olivier will be turning to two, as the Lady Rebels open the 2015-16 campaign Saturday versus Southern Utah, at the Thomas and Mack Center at 3 p.m.
After she learned UNLV lost two players to injuries - one season-ending and one career-ending - Olivier knew immediately she'd need Paris Strawther and Jordyn Bell to become key components off the bench, to not only provide starters a bit of rest, but significant contribution on the stat sheet.
Strawther and Bell provided a glimpse of what Olivier can expect in Monday night's 84-75 scrimmage victory over Alaska Anchorage.
The two combined to play 26 minutes, score nine points, snatch three rebounds, dish two assists and most importantly, prove they do not play like freshmen.
“They came in and they were in the flow immediately," Olivier said. "They made things happen, they came in and did things right, they didn't come in with big eyes like a deer in headlights. They were smart and they played hard.
"I was overly pleased with Jordyn and with Paris."
Bell, a 6-foot-1 forward from Elk Grove, Calif., didn't score any points, but grabbed three rebounds in 16 minutes and blended well with a number of different rotations Olivier had on the floor.
"It was definitely an amazing experience, my first game, to get it over with," Bell said. "I definitely had some first-game jitters cause my shot wasn't falling. But it's okay cause we still have more games to come and it's only going to get better."
Strawther, meanwhile, got in just 10 minutes, but caught a hot streak in the first half and scored nine points while the Lady Rebels were building a 29-point halftime lead.
"I was definitely nervous, it being my first game; but getting on the floor and getting comfortable, I finally started hitting my shots," said Strawther, a local product from Liberty High School. "I know my position as a freshman, but obviously I want to get to a better position where I'm getting more minutes and my coaches are going to count on me more."
The Lady Rebels, who welcome back three starters from a year ago and were picked fifth in the preseason Mountain West poll, will undoubtedly be counting on both Bell and Strawther, not to mention a third freshman - Destiney Lee - who is waiting to be cleared medically.
"I think our whole team is ready to step up and do whatever needs to be done," Dylan Gonzalez said. "But the freshmen came in and they played with confidence and I'm really proud of them for that. They didn't even look like freshman out there."
That could be because the team has been enrolled since summer, and been inseparable ever since. Whether they're on campus, in the dorms, on the court, in the weight room, conditioning - wherever - the Lady Rebels have formed a special bond this year.
And that's made things much easier for the freshmen trio.
Normally at this time of the year, Strawther has taken on the responsibility of leading her team, in preparing for the season. So while it's taken some getting used to, in that she's been taking on the responsibility of earning playing time, she's thankful for her new teammates and the chemistry they've built.
For Lee, it's been a different story. The bonding has been great, but her injury has left her yearning just to get on the court and prove she can be a vital member of the squad.
"I think off the court, I've been able to build chemistry because of my personality and me vibin' with chill people," said Lee, a 6-2 forward from Sacramento. "But on the court it is very difficult because a lot of the time you're not involved, you're not part of the experience of just being tied together, just going to the next level together.
"And even though it is very hard, I'm pushing through it and hopefully by the end of this month I'll be able to experience that."
Bell said the injuries to sophomore forward Alyssa Anderson suffered (torn left ACL) and junior Diamond Major (concussions) were heartbreaking to everyone, but that she knows it's an opportunity to step up for the team.
"It gives me a greater opportunity of showing what I have, I just know I need to prove myself," Bell said. "I know I have to go out there and do something that's going to be beneficial to our team."
As if that's not pressure enough, trying to earn minutes vacated by Anderson and Major, the 6-2 Strawther said being a local all-state product is added weight on her shoulders, something she's willing to endure and looks forward to this season.
"I think about it probably more than anything else really, because I know there will be a lot of people that support me; but they have expectations for me as well," Strawther said. "And the expectations they put on me, I multiply that by 10 and I put more pressure on myself."
And as much as Olivier can appreciate the pressure all three of her freshmen feel, from so many different angles, she has one message for them:
"As freshmen on this basketball team, you better be ready to play. Our depth is a little questionable, so we have not treated them like freshmen at all. It's vital they know what's going on, it's vital they have some confidence from the get go, cause they're going to have to come in and play right away.
“And they've been great. We have freshmen who sit there and watch, they study, they're very focused, they learn from their teammates. We've been so, so lucky to have these people as freshmen."