While much of the recruiting focus has been on the Class of 2013 lately, the Class of 2014 may turn out to be even more important for UNLV. The Rebels are in on a number of elite prospects for ’14, and their top target appears to be swingman Malik Pope of Laguna Creek (Calif.).
Pope, a junior, is already 6-foot-8, but he’s got the skill set of a guard. He’s currently averaging 18.2 points and 5.9 rebounds per game for Laguna Creek, and he’s shooting better than 50 percent from 3-point range. Pope’s highlight reel also shows off his vast athleticism.
He’s rated No. 9 in the Rivals Class of 2014 rankings, and the Rebels are positioned well with the talented wing. UNLV offered him before the summer, and his stock has only risen since then. Pope recently talked to RunRebs about his game, his unofficial visit to UNLV, and his timetable for making a decision.
Recruit Q&A with Malik Pope
RunRebs: When did you realize you wanted to get serious about basketball?
Malik Pope: I’d say after ninth grade. That’s when I started to get my first looks. I got my first look from Pepperdine, and that’s when I started thinking I can probably go somewhere with basketball, so I had to start working at it.
RunRebs: How would you describe yourself as a player?
Malik Pope: I think I’m most effective on the wing. My strength would probably be shooting the ball, or penetrating either for a jump shot or to finish at the rim. I’d call myself a team player, but for my high school team I’m trying to be a better leader. We’re not an elite program like Sheldon or a Mater Dei, so I look at like I have to be a scorer and also get my teammates involved.
RunRebs: What are you working to improve?
Malik Pope: I’m working mainly on consistency. I’d also say rebounding and defense, and playing with energy more consistently.
RunRebs: How far along in the recruiting process are you?
Malik Pope: Right now it’s very early. I was thinking about taking some visits this summer, and I’m going to start making a list this summer so I can really focus on it. I have a lot of other personal stuff going on during school, which is why I’m waiting. I’m at a new school this year and I’m still adjusting, so I have to focus on that more than recruiting. If I had to do both, it would be difficult.
RunRebs: Do you have a timetable for making a decision?
Malik Pope: It might be during my senior season, but I’m not sure.
RunRebs: Have you taken any unofficial visits?
Malik Pope: I’ve taken an unofficial visit to UNLV. When I was out there this past summer I just took a tour around the gym and the weight room and the facilities. It was nice, everything seemed very new.
RunRebs: What’s your opinion of the UNLV program?
Malik Pope: I’ve watched them play twice, and I think their style of play very exciting. It fits me for sure. They like to get going, and that’s how I like to play.
RunRebs: How do you see your skills translating to the college level?
Malik Pope: I think I see myself as a small forward, because of my weight. Like Kevin Durant when he went to college. He wasn’t too heavy, and he was able to play outside as a small forward. I think I’m best on the perimeter, so small forward would probably be the best fit.
RunRebs: What are you looking for in a college program?
Malik Pope: When I watch teams play, I want to see the wings have the ball and see them factoring into the game. I want them to have a big role. I’m looking at that, and I’m looking at the team, just to see if everyone’s playing together and playing for one team.
RunRebs: Besides UNLV, what other schools have offered you?
Malik Pope: Gonzaga, Washington, Texas, Colorado, Cal, UCLA, Kansas. And from what I’m hearing from their coaches, Louisville is going to offer.
RunRebs: What’s your relationship with the UNLV coaching staff?
Malik Pope: Coach (Justin) Hutson and I, we’re pretty tight. He texts me a lot, calls me whenever we can. He’s showing a lot of interest.
RunRebs: What are your goals for this season?
Malik Pope: I think I need to work on being a leader. I think this is another step to prepare me for college, and being a leader will help me get ready. I think it’s about being more vocal, and being a leader at practice, setting an example in practice and in games, and off the court.
Follow Mike Grimala (@MikeGrimala) on Twitter for 24/7 Rebels updates.
Follow Mike Grimala via RSS.