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Deep, balanced and free of the off-the-court distractions of the past, these unrebellious Rebels are up and running again
Posted: Wednesday November 18, 1998 02:22 PM
Soon after Latvia native Kaspars Kambala arrived in Las Vegas in August 1997, he took in all his surroundingsthe vast desert, the neon skyline, the UNLV front line depleted by suspensions. He then narrowed his gaze to a shiny object in his dorm room, the 1996-97 WAC Pacific Division Freshman of the Year plaque owned by his roommate, sophomore guard Mark Dickel. Says Kambala, "I decided my name would look good on one of those."
Indeed it doesthough with a slightly different inscription. After shifting to the Mountain Division before last season, the Runnin' Rebels struggled through a year marked by three suspensions, 12 starting lineups and, remarkably enough, a WAC tournament championship and their first bid to the NCAA tournament since 1991. Through it all, the 6'9", 250-pound Kambala was a rock. With now departed Keon Clark and then junior Kevin Simmons serving suspensions for accepting a trip to Orlando from an agent, Kambala had eight double doubles in his first 11 games, including a 19-point, 10-rebound performance while matched against Kansas All-America Raef LaFrentz. "All that playing time was unexpected, but I sure liked it," says Kambala, who averaged 11.6 points and 7.4 rebounds for the season, numbers that earned him his very own WAC Mountain Division Freshman of the Year plaque.
When it comes to throwing weight around on UNLV's front line, Kambala will get hefty help from Simmons and 6'7" newcomer Shawn Marion (13.1 rebounds per game at Vincennes University in Indiana). The backcourt of Dickel and Brian Keefe (41.7% from three-point range) is solid too. "We may not be great at any one position,'' says Bayno. "But I think we're very good at all of them."
Bayno is further encouraged by the absence of off-the-court distractions. "Until midway through last year, we weren't a team, just a collection of guys. But this is a team, the best group I've had here in terms of talent, attitude and chemistry."
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