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Rebels basketball:

UNLV sophomore forward Okonoboh will transfer from the program

Okonoboh’s minutes kept going down for the Rebels, who have now had 11 players transfer out (and 12 transfer in) in Rice’s tenure

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L.E. Baskow

UNLV guard Jerome Seagears (2) and teammate forward/center Goodluck Okonoboh (11) smile and pose a bit from the bench late during their game at the Thomas & Mack Center on Friday, November 6, 2015. L.E. Baskow.

Updated Friday, Nov. 27, 2015 | 8:15 p.m.

Goodluck Okonoboh left the starting rotation and now he’s leaving the program.

The sophomore forward asked for and was granted his release from UNLV, it was announced today. The Sun broke the story.

“Goodluck has made a decision to leave the program and so we will grant him his release,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said after Friday’s practice. “We appreciate everything he’s done for our program and wish him all the best.”

Okonoboh started 29 of UNLV’s 33 games last season and entered the year as one of its key returners. In the second game this season he moved from a starter to coming off the bench — Rice said it was Okonoboh’s idea — and from there Okonoboh struggled to get in the rotation against Division I competition.

Rice said that on Sunday, Nov. 15, Okonoboh approached him about coming off the bench in the following day’s game against New Mexico Highlands, saying he thought it would be better for the team. Rice said he told Okonoboh to sleep on it, and when he felt the same the next day that’s the move they made.

“That is 100 percent accurate,” Rice said. “One thing I’ve never done is misled.”

There have been reports that Okonoboh attempted to buy a plane ticket out of Maui after the UCLA loss, and that he had to be talked into even dressing for the Chaminade and Indiana games. When asked if Okonoboh tried to fly back before the team, Rice replied in a text, "I am absolutely not aware of that."

Against UCLA and Indiana in the Maui Jim Maui Invitational, Okonoboh played a total of 19 minutes. Okonoboh started in place of freshman Stephen Zimmerman Jr. (illness) against Chaminade, but in four games against Division I teams this year his minutes dropped each game from 19 to eight.

Last season he averaged 26.7 minutes per game while leading the team with 2.9 blocks. His final UNLV numbers: 5.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.6 blocks in 24.8 minutes per game while shooting 50.3 percent on the floor and 34.1 percent at the free-throw line.

Zimmerman, junior Ben Carter and sophomore Dwayne Morgan all moved ahead in the rotation, and waiting in the wings is senior forward Chris Obekpa, a shot-blocking specialist like Okonoboh who’s redshirting this year after transferring in from St. John’s and has one year of eligibility remaining. Zimmerman and Carter have shown good all-around games, but in particular they give UNLV some inside scoring, while Morgan worked his way into minutes with defense and buying into his role.

Click to enlarge photo

UNLV forward Goodluck Okonoboh, left, blocks a shot by Kansas forward Cliff Alexander during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Lawrence, Kan., on Sunday, Jan. 4, 2015.

“We have Stephen and Ben Carter and Dwayne Morgan who are playing significant minutes for us, and now Derrick Jones Jr. and Tyrell Green will be in that big rotation,” Rice said.

Jones is averaging 18.2 minutes per game, while Green nearly redshirted and has played only two minutes all season. Green’s minutes will jump, Jones will spend more time in the front court than the perimeter, and that shift, Rice said, will mean more minutes on the outside for freshman guard Jalen Poyser, who has been averaging 7.5 minutes per game.

“We still have 10 available scholarship players,” Rice said. “Depth is still a strength of ours.”

Okonoboh, a Boston native who originally picked UNLV over Ohio State and Indiana, is the 11th transfer out of the program since Rice took over in 2011. Rice has also brought in 12 transfers, including five players on the current roster.

About 13-14 percent of college basketball players transfer each year, according to NCAA research. The so-called “transfer epidemic” of the last few years is mostly about the much higher number of players going from Division I to Division I than ever before, not really the overall number.

It was unclear where the departures would come from, but with four players signed in the 2016 class (and more possibly on the way) UNLV needed at least two open scholarships. Zimmerman is a potential one-and-done player and junior guard Daquan Cook is still suspended for at least the entire nonconference season following his DUI arrest.

One more maneuver would make the math work, but college basketball arithmetic is usually more complicated than that.

Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Taylor on Twitter at twitter.com/taylorbern.

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