By W.G. Ramirez
The UNLV Lady Rebels have shown over the first few weeks of the season just how special this year’s team is, with fresh new faces, some veteran holdovers from last season and a pair of upperclassmen who lead the team in their own right.
But at the end of the bench, during every game, wearing warm-ups are two players who won’t be eligible until next season, including Jazmin O’Bannon, who returns to Las Vegas, where she attended high school, joining her former Liberty High teammate and #teamperFIcT athlete Paris Strawther.
O’Bannon, along with Katie Powell, is sitting out a year due to NCAA transfer rules. O’Bannon came to UNLV from Utah Valley, while Powell transferred in from Arkansas. Some have joked that even though we’ll have to wait to see her suit up ’til 2016, it’s nice to finally have an O’Bannon in a UNLV uniform.
That’s because her father, Ed, was a highly sought-after recruit that considered playing for former UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian until the Rebels were placed on probation. He wisely took his talents to UCLA, where he led the Bruins to the National Championship in 1995.
Now, it’s his daughter and this new look Lady Rebels roster that is hoping to resurrect the women’s program at UNLV. And though she’s wearing sweats during games, she hasn’t minded waiting, knowing everything she’s learning during the process is going to help her come next season.
“The position I’m in now, it’s much easier to be positive and cheer for my teammates because I know I’m not going to play,” Jaz O’Bannon said. “It’s not really personal that I’m not (playing), it’s just the situation I’m in; plus it gives me a chance to really work on my game.”
According to UNLV coach Kathy Olivier, O’Bannon is working on much more than her game. She’s learning key positions, and how to fit in at every role for the Lady Rebels. She’s also learning how to play so many schemes, since she’s having to fill in at times, on the “scout team,” which is the makeshift squad the UNLV starters practice against, when preparing for a specific opponent.
“She has such a good spirit to her, and she always does what the team needs,” Olivier said. “When you’re a redshirt, it’s not about you – it’s about the team. So for her in practice, she’ll go with the scout team, she’ll go as a perimeter player, she just pretty much does whatever we ask her to do.
“And she has to be in good shape to do that. And also mentally focused to do that, ’cause now you don’t just learn one position, she has to learn the 2, 3, 4 and 5. And she’s been great for us.”
Staying in shape physically has become a priority for O’Bannon, who has slowly taken it upon herself to follow a strict regimen when it comes to her nutrition and her workouts away from the team.
“Right now I’m starting to get into much healthier eating because I realize it’s really affecting how I play, and could affect how much time I get in practice and how long I can actually go,” said O’Bannon, who played in all 31 games as a senior at Liberty, and finished third on the team with 7.6 points per game and second with 6.5 rebounds per contest. “I concentrate on eating healthier and I realize what foods give me more energy and what foods don’t give me energy. I don’t follow a specific meal plan, but I definitely would consider working with something like (perFIcT lifestyle CEO) Jordin (Ramirez) prescribes, ’cause I know it could only benefit me going into next season.”
On her off days, O’Bannon said she tries to go to the gym on her own and run at least one mile uphill, she loves doing arms and legs and generally shapes her workout regimen around what the team is doing, to cover all aspects of her training.
“Besides practice, it’s probably my No. 1 thing I’m strict about,” she said. “It’s very crucial: what you eat, how you work out, what you eat before and after you train. It all makes a difference.”
Ed O’Bannon said he couldn’t be any more proud of how his daughter has transitioned since graduating high school, and loves how she’s evolving into her own character, rather than assuming the role of “Ed O’Bannon’s daughter.”
He’s never coached her and never put any pressure on her, either. He’s says the most important thing he’s tried to keep a priority is his father-daughter relationship, while alleviating any distractions that might infiltrate on that.
“Jazmin is very comfortable in her skin, she plays because she loves the game,” said O’Bannon, who spent two seasons in the NBA, and another seven overseas. “She’s comfortable enough in looking in the mirror and saying ‘I’m good; and if you don’t like it, that’s your problem.’ Her definition of her own success is because it comes from within. And for that, I’m proud.
“The biggest thing for her and any and all my kids, what I try and instill is be very appreciative and love the journey. To me the journey builds character and success. It helps you look failure dead in the eye and not succumb to it. One thing I’ve learned in my life, everyone has different ideas what success is. To me it’s that there is a journey. Being able to get knocked down and get back up and learn from that. The end result will take care of itself.”
Both O’Bannons admitted there have always been high expectations of the younger one, as so many believe she should dominate, or play like her father. Jaz O’Bannon said now that she is wearing Runnin’ Rebel scarlet and gray, she’ll get UNLV fans or boosters who tell her it’s nice to have her on the team, that she looks like her father, or will ask her if she plays like him.
“People always expect me to play like him,” Jaz O’Bannon said. “But he’s always been the one who has taken the weight off my shoulders about how I play and told me he’ll always love me no matter what.”
Said Ed O’Bannon: “I’ve stayed away from her athletic life and been there as a Dad and that is what our relationship is. We have a mutual love for each other. I’m not trying to be her coach, her trainer or her agent. She wants to be my daughter, and I want to be her father.
“Her mom and I never put a basketball in her hand. The first time she put it in her hands, she went for it. I just wanted her to be happy. If she never plays again, I will be equally as happy.”
But she will, come next year along with Powell, who she’s bonded with nicely as the two patiently wait their turn for next season. Until then, you can find them both cheering their team on, at the end of the bench every game.
“Katie and Jaz are both the redshirts … and they provide good energy on the bench,” Olivier said. “I think our team right now is truly about the team. It’s not about an individual, there’s no pity parties. Both girls are making us better and that’s good for this basketball team.”