November 20, 2023 

UNLV’s Desi-Rae Young carrying big expectations into senior season

UNLV center blazing through November schedule

There are a lot of expectations for UNLV to equal the success of last campaign’s 31-3 crusade. At the center of those expectations is 6’1 senior Desi-Rae Young.

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You can wager your money on a lot of things in Las Vegas. These days, one of the surest bets is that Young will achieve a double-double.

Young notched one in more than half of the Lady Rebels’ games last year, picking up 18 double-doubles while averaging 17.9 points and 10.1 rebounds per game. UNLV broke into the national rankings for the first time since 1994 and won 22 consecutive games, the last of which saw Young overpower Wyoming in the Mountain West Conference Tournament championship game with 28 points and 17 rebounds. She collected the tournament MVP award, but UNLV suffered a second-straight first round exit in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, this time to Michigan.

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So, what is in store for the encore?

“You don’t fix what’s not broken,” Young said, reiterating the words of her coach Lindy La Rocque. “I kind of translate that into my game and our culture as a team. It (last season) was truly exciting, and it shows how much UNLV women’s basketball has come in the past three years.”

The Lady Rebels won their first five games of this new season, all by double digits. Young opened with 24 points and 13 rebounds and wrapped up the MWC’s initial Player of the Week award. While UNLV obliterated New Hampshire 93-30 on Saturday, Young was limited to 25 minutes and had an “off night” of 17 points and eight rebounds.

“We are out there having fun and trying to figure out where pieces go and team chemistry,” Young said. “But at the end of the day, I think we are a very great and talented team.”

Desi-Rae Young drives the baseline in an exhibition game with Cal State Los Angeles on November 1. Photo by Lucas Peltier | UNLV Athletics.

Staying in her hometown

It’s hard to believe now that Young only received two scholarship offers from her time at Desert Oasis High School in Las Vegas, eventually choosing the hometown school in UNLV over Pepperdine from the West Coast Conference. While former coach Kathy Olivier recruited Young, UNLV hired La Rocque in March 2020 at merely 30 years old, allowing the coach and player to bond quickly.

“I was truly grateful for it, and I was really happy to stay home,” Young said. “We were both new, so we were truly excited to see what UNLV was made out of, and we had a fantastic year that year, as well.”

Young would go on to be named Mountain West Freshman of the Year, scoring a team-high 12.7 points per game. She topped that award with Player of the Year honors as a sophomore, averaging 15.2 points and 8.5 rebounds. She was a All-Mountain West player again as a junior, her third time receiving the honor, finishing with that nightly average of a double-double.

“I felt like I was kind of the underdog and I showed that I am one of the women’s college basketball players,” Young said. “I feel like I have something to prove in everything I do. I feel like I have a good touch around the rim, and I bring a lot of energy to my teammates, whether that is scoring or getting the ball and playing great defense. Also, communication is huge when it comes to being on and off the court.”

Desi-Rae Young at the free throw line in UNLV’s 100-67 win over Utah Tech on November 14. Photo by Lucas Peltier/ UNLV Athletics.

Power conference teams ahead

UNLV will have tough tests on three Saturdays in a row next month, beginning with Arizona on Dec. 2 at home. The team then travels to Oklahoma on Dec. 9 and Seton Hall on Dec. 16.

“These are great games that will prepare us for conference play,” Young said. “And hopefully, we’ll make it back to the NCAA Tournament again.”

While UNLV misses all-conference guard Essence Booker and her 13 points per game from 2022-23, there are plenty of other weapons on the roster.

Junior guard Alyssa Durazo-Frescas is scoring 14.3 points per game in the young season, double what she produced last year. In addition, Kiara Jackson, last season’s MWC Sixth Player of the Year, is scoring more than 11 points per contest and led the team with 18 points in the UNH win. Nneka Obiazor and Ashley Scoggin are adding nine each, as well. UNLV also boasts Amarachi Kimpson — the MWC Preseason Co-Freshman of the Year.

“I feel great playing by her,” Young said of Kimpson. “I think she has a lot to learn, but she is taking it one day at a time and really buying into what the coaching staff is saying- even to what I am saying. I think she is a really great point guard, and she will be a great leader down the road.”

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Regardless if Young is drafted into the WNBA, she is eager to capitalize on the psychology degree she will complete this spring.

“I really want to get out into the community,” Young said. “These classes are preparing me for different people’s behaviors. I have a lot of things dealing with my family, as well. I do want to make it to the WNBA and play overseas, those are huge goals of mine.”

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Written by Scott Mammoser

Scott Mammoser has covered major international events for FIBA, World Athletics and the International Skating Union. He has been to six Olympics and traveled to more than 90 countries.

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