Blather about why I’m excited for the 2012 Runnin’ Rebels – Part Three

When I had a little time to myself, I decided to sit down and gush about something that’s been on my mind for a while and something I’d dedicated a lot of thought to. Needless to say, the Runnin’ Rebels of 2012-2013 will be a brand new, almost transcendent team, and expectations run high. My best guess of what all this means is…it’s just why my expectations are high. I hope you enjoy it. – A.K.

Not long after UNLV’s coaching search began, the race was narrowed down to two key candidates.

The favorite, and the personal pick of Jerry Tarkanian, was former Runnin’ Rebel Reggie Theus. Theus, who possessed the X-factors of NBA coaching experience and great charisma, was a member of the Runnin’ Rebels’ 1976 Final Four squad and remains widely renowned as one of the greatest Rebels of all time.

The underdog candidate was BYU assistant coach Dave Rice. Rice, a Rhodes Scholar candidate who was a bench player for the 1990 Rebels, was an assistant to Tarkanian and his successor, Tim Grgurich, at UNLV in the early ’90s. To most students at UNLV, and to many fans as well, Rice was a relative unknown. Some scoffed at the notion of hiring a coach from a conference rival such as BYU.

Ultimately, UNLV Athletic Director Jim Livengood decided on Rice, and was quickly panned by fans and the Las Vegas media for not choosing Theus, who many saw as the obvious choice.

With Tark in the front row, now-Head Coach Dave Rice gave a rousing press conference in which he guaranteed the team would return to its former success. Rice used a phrase many times during that presser that has become part of UNLV’s basketball lexicon–“Runnin’ Rebel Basketball.”

Rice’s vision was a return to the ways of the Tarkanian era, with fast-paced, up-and-down basketball focused on scoring early and getting the ball down the court quickly. Over the course of an hour-long press conference, Rice charmed the fans with his basketball philosophy, intelligent and focused demeanor, all topped off with a big hug from Tarkanian once the event concluded.

The same UNLV fans that were disappointed by the choice to pass on Theus were immediately sold on Rice, and the fan base was once again mobilized.

Rice then assembled a supergroup of coaches that all had close ties to the Mountain West Conference. He snagged Justin Hutson, the genius recruiter who had helped turn San Diego State into a nationally competitive force, and attracted former Green Valley High School standout Billy White to SDSU instead of UNLV.

He added Heath Schroyer, who had been fired as Wyoming’s head basketball coach three months prior, and Kreigh Warkentien, daughter of Mark Warkentien, to take her father’s former position of Director of Basketball Operations.

The hire with the highest profile was Stacey Augmon, a UNLV legend who was the starting power forward for the 1990 National Champions and Rice’s former teammate. This, more than anything that happened that offseason, was lauded as a sign that the Rebels were back.

Before the season even began, the fans were issued a guarantee that the Rebels were, in fact, back.

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