Category: Sports

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.

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

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.

The Runnin’ Rebels were all but dynastic for three decades. UNLV’s 1976 Final Four team, nicknamed the “Hardway Eight” because of their eight-man roster, averaged roughly 120 points per game, before the college game implemented a three-point line.

The Rebels tacked on another Final Four appearance in 1986 in advance of their historic run to the NCAA Championship in 1990. The dominant, fast-paced teams of that era prided themselves on high-scoring affairs.

In the 1990 championship game, UNLV beat Duke by 30 points. The next year, in 1991, the Rebels were undefeated until a Final Four loss to Duke.

Despite being the most successful and beloved sports team in the history of Las Vegas (a town renowned for its failures in professional and minor-league sports), by the year 2000 the memories of UNLV’s monumental rise to the top were merely misty watercolors.

After being slammed with huge NCAA sanctions prior to the 1992 season, as well as the loss of beloved head coach Jerry Tarkanian, the Rebels entered a twelve-year period of, put simply, mediocrity. They appeared in the NCAA Tournament multiple times, but to very little avail.

The modern Runnin’ Rebel fan has only tasted the team’s former success once, when Lon Kruger (now the head coach at Oklahoma) led the Rebels to the Sweet 16 in 2007 and a second-round loss to the Kansas Jayhawks in 2008.

Kruger, who seemed to have completely turned around the UNLV program, took his current job with the Sooners after the 2010-2011 season, which ended with UNLV being routed by Illinois in the first round of March Madness. Kruger’s multi-million dollar contract was announced on April 1, 2011. Most fans thought, falsely, that the announcement was a mean joke put on by the UNLV athletic department.

It wasn’t. Rebel fans fell to a new emotional low, feeling that the team would never be able to replicate the success of the Kruger era.

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

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.

When hometown superstar and #1 ranked high school recruit Shabazz Muhammad announced that the University of Nevada – Las Vegas was officially no longer on his list of potential schools, the reaction from Runnin’ Rebel fans was, to say the least, surprising.

Any other mid-major fan base would probably have deflated after finding out their school missed out on the country’s best high school basketball player. Five years ago, if you asked the average UNLV fan walking down Las Vegas Boulevard what they thought of the Rebels whiffing on a high-profile, hometown standout, they wouldn’t bother to feign surprise.

When Muhammad, who recently completed his time at Las Vegas’s Bishop Gorman High School, limited his choices to Kentucky and UCLA, the vibe from UNLV fans was far from one of shock. Hell, they didn’t even act disappointed. They looked to the horizon and said, “better luck next time.”

That better luck came about three weeks later when another hometown hoops star named Anthony Bennett announced his commitment to play for the Runnin’ Rebels. Bennett, who attends the local Findlay College Preparatory Academy, was the best remaining recruit at the time.

This time, UNLV fans were animated. Bennett gave the city the jolt that they hoped to get from Muhammad. Now, you can’t talk to any Runnin’ Rebel fan without them assuring you the team will be ranked in the pre-season top 10.

The local sports media exploded with excitement. Students on UNLV’s campus began buzzing about the new member of the team, and those who were there for the magical runs made by the Rebels in the eighties and nineties began to reminisce about their team’s former glory, and how it might be restored.