Introducing the new Runnin’ Rebels

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Josh Baker at the free throw line hitting free-throws at the the end of practice. Photo by Jordan Anders-McClain.

As the new college basketball season rolls around, a new coaching staff and a new Runnin’ Rebels squad hit the court at UNLV in hopes of being one of the 68 teams selected for the 2022 NCAA March Madness tournament.

Nine new faces joined the team at the end of last season, which included four Big 12 transfers, two JUCO (junior college) transfers and three other transfers. Not only were there new player additions, former Runnin’ Rebel student-athlete and Assistant Coach Kevin Kruger was appointed the new head coach in March.

With practically a brand new team, along with the new staff, team chemistry is one of the most important things the Runnin’ Rebels are focusing on heading into the 2021-22 season. What better way to build team chemistry than to get to know some of the new transfers? 

Josh “The Bake Show” Baker

Josh Baker, AKA “The Bake Show,” received his nickname from an old coach he played for when he was around 12 years old. His coach was a big Los Angeles Lakers fan and the Lakers are often referred to as “The Lake Show.” His coach one day started calling him “The Bake Show.” Baker said, “It kinda just stuck from there.”

Baker is one of two JUCO transfers to join the team this year, who enters with three years of eligibility at UNLV. 

Baker, in his year at Hutchinson Community College, was named the Jayhawk West Freshman of the Year after averaging 13.7 points per game, while shooting 51.3 percent from the field and 48.7 percent behind the arc.  

The 6-foot-4-inch guard from Arizona expressed his thoughts on the transition of moving from college in Kansas to Las Vegas. “It’s been crazy. It’s been nice though… A different journey, especially just being out here in the open. It’s been beautiful, a nice transition, and a lot of new things for me as far as being together a lot as a team and the coaching staff have helped a lot.” 

One concern going into a new season with a bunch of new faces was how the chemistry is going to work, but the team doesn’t seem too worried about it as they continue to bond on and off the court.

“It’s been good [building chemistry], it’s been kinda easy actually, we’ve gotten along really good off the court and on the court as well,” Baker said. “Just building that team chemistry, going to different places, like museums and stuff like that, it’s been fun.”

Fun facts about Baker 

His favorite current NBA player is Steph Curry.

He is a Phoenix Suns fan.

His favorite basketball memory was hitting a game-winner against Tempe High School, his rival school.

He started playing basketball at three years old.

His go-to song before a game is “Bring ‘em out” by NBA Youngboy.

He’s most excited to play New Mexico and San José State, as well as UCLA and Michigan.

Donovan “Stretch” Williams 

One of four transfers coming from the Big 12, and one of two coming from the University of Texas at Austin, is Donovan Williams, who enters this year at UNLV with three years of eligibility. 

As a freshman, Williams was named to the 2020 Academic All-Big 12 Men’s Basketball Rookie Team. Most recently, he was selected to the 2021 Academic All-Big 12 Second Team.

Unlike Baker, the transition for Williams moving from one city to another was difficult. He said, “Moving from my family, I don’t really know anybody out here and I get homesick a lot.”

Williams, however, did move to Las Vegas with a friend and teammate, Royce Hamm Jr. Both grew up together in Houston and played two years together at Texas before they both transferred to UNLV. 

“It’s like having someone almost that you’ve grown up with your whole life,” said Williams. “We didn’t just meet at Texas, we’ve been friends since high school and even before that. I know his family, he knows mine.” 

“I think that was one of the biggest factors of making this transition easier to come here and not know anybody. When we first got here we had each other to lean on, the chemistry is great between me and Royce on and off the court.”

Fun facts about Donovan

His little league football coach gave him his nickname “Stretch.”

His favorite current NBA players are Kevin Durant and Devin Booker.

He majors in sociology at UNLV.

He listens to NBA Youngboy, Gunna, and Lil Baby before games.

He likes the bright lights, the moment, playing in big games (upcoming notable big games: UCLA, Roman Main Event, Colorado St.)

Royce “Big Hamm” Hamm Jr.

Aside from the scorching Vegas heat in the summertime, Royce Hamm Jr. has grown to love his new home after living in Texas all his life. The 6-foot-9-inch forward grew up in Houston before moving to Austin for college. There, he played four years at Texas and graduated with a degree in sports management.

After living in Texas his whole life, Hamm wanted to get out of his comfort zone and found exactly that after moving to a completely different city. He didn’t do it alone, though, and went with teammate and friend Williams. “His dad was actually a ref at my games when I was growing up. I always used to see him around, and to be able to have each other’s backs on two collegiate teams together is amazing.”

A lot of people don’t know, but Hamm didn’t start playing basketball until he was in the eighth grade. He had been playing little league football before his best friend got him into playing basketball his last year of middle school, when Hamm went through a 5-inch growing spurt.  

For just starting to play at around 13 years old, Hamm, in just four years, racked up offers from Kansas State, Nebraska, Rice, Texas Tech, Vanderbilt and Virginia Tech. 

After eventually committing to Texas and playing there, Hamm described his experience coming to UNLV, “I’m loving UNLV, the coaches, my teammates, the guys, the comradery we built when we got here. The connection when I got here, it was all genuine, it was all real, it was all love. I think it helped the process of coming here to UNLV a lot easier.”

Fun facts about Royce

His favorite current NBA player is Kevin Durant.

His favorite player to watch right now is Julius Randle.

He believes the Bucks will repeat championships.

He played running back in little league football.

He listens to NBA Youngboy before games, adding, “I feel like he just has a song for every mood.”

He looks forward to playing Michigan and going home to Texas and playing SMU.

Runnin’ Rebels Q&A 

UNLV Scarlet & Gray Free Press: Who is the funniest on the team?

Josh Baker: Mike Nuga.

Donovan Williams: Me, Keshon (Gilbert), Mike.

Royce Hamm Jr: Keshon…Keshon is pretty funny.

SGFP: Most likely to goof-off in practice and make the team run?

JB: Donovan.

DW: Bryce (Hamiliton).

RHJ: Bryce.

SGFP: Most likely to break out in a song or dance?

JB: Mike [Nuga].

DW: Reece (Brown). Reece for sure.

RHJ: Reece, definitely, he dances a lot.

SGFP: Who has the best playlist on the team?

JB: Royce, he got some heat.”

DW: Ooh, me. My music taste has all the varieties. Everyone has hip-pop and rap. I have all the varieties.

RHJ: Me. Easy.

SGFP: Who is most likely to hit a game-winner?

JB: Bryce.

DW: Bryce.

RHJ: Bryce.

Make sure to check out the rest of the Runnin’ Rebels squad at their home opener on Wednesday, Nov. 10. The Rebels will kick off their season against Gardner-Webb University at 7 p.m. at the Thomas and Mack Center.

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