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But the man they call Shoes and the Rebels cashed their “6 9” ticket at the Thomas Mack Center Wednesday afternoon after Kaspars Kambala informed them he would be joining Lamar Odom at UNLV.

Earlier in the day, the 6 foot 9 Odom penned a national letter of intent, making official what he had announced Sunday, that he had chosen UNLV over Kentucky and Connecticut.

For the 6 9 Kambala, UNLV prevailed over Cincinnati, which pushed real hard for his services at the end, and UCLA, one of the schools the Homestead High School (Mequon, Wis.) product initially visited. Kambala also considered Florida, Florida State and Vanderbilt.

“I really like the people at UNLV,” Kambala said. “The coaches. The players. And the chance to play in a great program.

“I figured that Lamar and Greedy (Daniels) are coming here, it has to be a good place. Plus, Keon (Clark) is coming back and I wanted a chance to play with him before he goes to the NBA.”

Odom, who was named to USA Today’s All American first team Wednesday after earning similar honors from Parade Magazine and McDonald’s, said the chance to play with Clark also excites him, as does UNLV’s outlook for next year. The Rebels are coming off a successful 22 10 season and went to the NIT quarterfinals.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun playing with Keon, Tyrone (Nesby), Kevin (Simmons), Greedy and the rest of the guys,” Odom said in between classes Wednesday at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in New Britain, Conn. “It’s a great situation for me. I’ll have a chance to develop my entire game and I don’t have the pressure of having to be the one doing all the scoring. We’ve got plenty of guys who can score.

“Plus, playing every day with the guys we have will make me a better player. I know I’ll fit in with everyone. That won’t be a problem. I love to win and I’ll do whatever it takes to win.”

For both players, Wednesday’s official decision puts months of pressure behind them, especially in Odom’s case. Odom was constantly in the headlines after transferring schools twice the past nine months and was rumored to be bypassing college for the NBA.

“It feels like a thousand pounds was lifted off of me,” Odom said.

“I knew I wasn’t ready (for the NBA). When I’m ready, I’ll know, whether it’s a year from now, two years, three years, whenever. But I think I need a couple of years of college.

“Now that I’ve made my decision, I’m just focusing on finishing up school, making sure I graduate and then getting out to Vegas this summer and start working out with the guys.”

Odom needs to pass an English class to obtain his core curriculum to be eligible and earn his diploma. He already has taken and passed the ACT.

Kambala also has a satisfactory test score and is on schedule to graduate.

With the addition of the two 6 9 players, head coach Bill Bayno’s rotation has grown to a solid 10. He’ll have a potential starting lineup of Clark, Nesby and Simmons along the front line, Odom and Daniels in the backcourt, Mark Dickel, Brian Keefe and Donovan Stewart backing them up and Kambala and Issiah Epps getting quality time up front.

It’s likely that 6 10 Javares Anderson from Gulf Coast JC in Florida will redshirt next season and keep his remaining two years of eligibility intact.

Kambala said working against the likes of Clark, Epps and Simmons every day in practice can only make him better.

“I’m not afraid of hard work,” said the Riga, Latvia native. “I’m a great fighter. I never give up. Whatever it takes to help the team win, I’ll do.”

Kambala, who averaged 21 points and 12 rebounds at Homestead this season, was a second team all Wisconsin selection. His work on the boards will take some of the pressure off Clark, who led UNLV with a 10 rebound average this season.

UNLV needs a workhorse to replace Warren Rosegreen, whose blue collar ethic endeared him to Rebels fans, along with his 8.1 rebound average. Kambala may be the answer.

Bayno has been out of town all week and will not comment about the newcomers until UNLV has finished recruiting. He will hold a news conference sometime in the next two weeks to discuss what is probably the top recruiting class in the nation.

“It’s gonna be awesome,” Odom said. “I can’t wait to get out there.”Calendar 16 Sat17 Sun18 Mon19 Tue20 Wed Mariah Carey The Colosseum
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