Runnin’ Rebels resurrected
by Eric Prisbell, USA TODAY Sports
LAS VEGAS — When the music from Jaws grew deafening and the clapping reached a crescendo, Anthony Bennett, a prized 19-year-old freshman playing in his first college exhibition, looked around at the frenzied scene inside Thomas & Mack Center and thought everyone had gone mad.
Bennett had no idea to whom the pregame ritual paid homage . He had no sense of the significance of the shark motif or why its return spoke volumes about where UNLV is now and how it took 20 years to reconcile a complicated legacy.
One man who understood sat in a seat behind the basket, an 82-year-old Armenian in corduroys who is defined as much by duels with the NCAA as being the architect of some of the greatest teams ever assembled. Jerry Tarkanian still flashes that U-shaped smile when he relishes a moment like this one, which transports him back to all those game nights he gnawed on a towel opposite Gucci Row.
“Which one is (Bennett)?” says Tarkanian, who appears frail and doesn’t get around much, resting his gaze on the walker in front of him. “He is a hell of a player. These guys are going to be good. How far they will go? I don’t know, but they will be very good.”
This season’s Runnin’ Rebels, ranked No. 18 in the USA TODAY Sports Coaches Poll, are full of potential NBA talent and can dream of the Final Four again. And for the first time in two decades they are doing it by fully embracing the success of Tarkanian’s teams. With two former players — coach Dave Rice and assistant Stacey Augmon — on staff from the 1990 national title team and with a push to illuminate positive memories of those glory years, one of history’s most unique programs has finally rediscovered its roots.
“The most important thing,” says Greg Anthony, the point guard on UNLV’s Final Four teams of 1990 and ’91, “is you are starting to see the identification of all that was positive about what we were able to accomplish as a group. I am just … [For more on Runnin' Rebels resurrected, click here.]