Archive for February, 2015

wade and tarkanianBy W.G. Ramirez

This April will mark the 28th anniversary of my first published article after high school.

Less than a year after graduating from Clark High School, my exclusive interview with then-UNLV point guard Mark Wade was splashed across the front page of the Las Vegas Sentinel-Voice, the state’s only African-American newspaper.

That was 1987. Little did I know the next time we’d do another exclusive 1-on-1 interview, it would be under somber circumstances.

But sure enough, less than 30 seconds after texting my ol’ buddy Mark, he replied with one simple word: “Yes.”

The question: “Mark, you available for an interview about Tark?”

Mark Wade 2Just as he was UNLV’s loyal floor general who helped lead the Runnin’ Rebels into the 1987 Final Four, and was an extension of the coaching staff on the court, he was loyal to his former coach on Wednesday, roughly three hours after we were all saddened by the news that Jerry Tarkanian had joined his friend and former North Carolina coach Dean Smith in the afterlife.

Mark, understandably shaken, spoke about a number of things with me, talking about how much Tarkanian meant to not only him, but the program, university and city of Las Vegas. Much of what he said, I knew. The broad strokes, of course I knew. I’ve been here since 1972, and used to watch the Runnin’ Rebels play inside the Las Vegas Convention Center’s famed Rotunda, which resembled a spaceship.

From Sweet Lew Brown, Eddie Owens, Sudden Sam Smith, Robert Smith, Reggie Theus and that high-flying bunch from the 70s, to Wade’s crew that included Armen Gilliam, Freddie Banks, Eldridge Hudson and Gary Graham, I had seen them all. Yep, long before the 1990 National Championship – with Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon, Greg Anthony, Anderson Hunt and George Ackles – we were all bleeding Rebel Red.

Including Mark.

Which is why his phone began blowing up shortly after the 84-year-old legend died at Valley Hospital, just minutes from his home. So many people knew what Tarkanian meant to Mark, who might have been diminutive in size, but who had as big a heart as any other Runnin’ Rebel in the history of the program.

Which is why, to this day, he defends UNLV to the core.

“There was always this misperception that we were this undisciplined, crazy, helter-skelter uncontrollable basketball program,” Wade said. “But as chaotic as it looked, it was unbelievably disciplined basketball. To us, we had a plan and it was directed toward what we were supposed to do. Even on the championship team, they all had roles on the floor en route to winning the championship. Us, that 1987 Final Four team, we had a plan and we knew what we were doing and what we had to do to get as far as we did. We had a plan that was set forth in practice.”

And boy did the Runnin’ Rebels execute it.

They finished 37-2, averaged 92.5 points per game, allowed 75.5 points per contest and lost in the National Semifinal, 97-93, to eventual champion Indiana.

But it was the game before that, against Iowa in the West Regional Final that Mark wanted to talk about. It’s the one game he remembers absolutely everything about, and the one game he believes epitomized the life and soul of Tark the Shark.

“The eternal fight of telling one another we weren’t going to lose that game, that’s what I remember,” Wade said. “We were getting out butt whipped out there, I got my fourth foul and Gary (Graham) came in the game. And no matter how far down we got, we just always had the mentality it was us against the world and we were going to fight ’til the clock said zero.”

Just like Tarkanian. In real life.

“The Iowa game epitomized what Coach Tark was all about; it epitomized what college basketball was all about,” he said.

Wade_MarkWade remembers one intangible being the culprit allowing Iowa to open a 16-point halftime lead on the Runnin’ Rebels. That culprit, in a sense, was Tarkanian, who had Gilliam throwing the ball in each time Iowa scored.

“Our best finisher was taking the ball out of bounds, and that wasn’t working,” Wade said. “So at halftime, rather than him telling us what we were doing wrong, a couple players went to coach and we told him to switch Jarvis Basnight with Gilliam, putting the team’s best scorer into frontcourt, rather than the backcourt.

“And that is what essentially changed the flow of the game.”

UNLV outscored the Hawkeyes 42-23 in the second half and advanced to its second-ever Final Four.

“Coach and I never had any serious battles, what we had was a meeting of the minds on the basketball court,” Wade said. “We found a happy medium and that’s what made me enjoy being a point guard for that team.”

It was that kind of relationship that taught Wade to trust a coach, taught Tarkanian a lot more about the point guard on his team and displayed the type of coach who wasn’t afraid to learn from his players while teaching them how to win.

“He taught his players to fight through practice ’til they had nothing left, and in games, the model was to play ’til the game was over,” Wade said. “In life, his journey was the same as what we stood for on the basketball court. You fight until you have nothing left, to the very end.”

Faith3

John Molchon, Tyler Mahan and Austin Prather signed their letters of intent on National Signing Day. Molchon will play at Boise State, Mahan will be attending Colorado School of Mines and Prather will be playing Pomona College.

By W.G. Ramirez

Faith Lutheran senior John Molchon knew all along.

Faith Lutheran coach Vernon Fox knew as well.

There was no question about where the 6-foot-6, 275-pound lineman was going.

The only team that was skeptical, call it worried, about his commitment, was Boise State.

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Faith Lutheran’s John Molchon signed his letter of intent on Feb. 4. He will play football for Boise State.

That early morning fax Wednesday morning killed all concerns, as Molchon inked his name to a letter-of-intent to play football for the Broncos.

“He took a trip there mid-season and made a decision and never changed his mind,” Fox said. “He cancelled all other visits and never ever entertained one other opportunity. I told them they had nothing to worry about and yet they still called all the time and visited like every other week during his basketball season.”

The yearn to have Molchon battling in the trenches on Boise State’s blue turf further cemented what he already knew: Boise State was the perfect spot for him.

“I just loved the way they kept the pressure on me, it was a positive pressure, it was something where it was inviting,” Molchon said, Wednesday morning at a staged press conference for he and two other teammates who also signed their letters of intent. “It was a family like environment, and I just loved it and I embraced it and that’s really why I didn’t think of another school besides Boise State.”

Also signing were offensive lineman Austin Prather, who will play for Pomona-Pitzer (Calif.), and defensive back Tyler Mahan, who will play at the Colorado School of Mines.

Molchon, who said he was recruited by most of the Mountain West Conference schools, and Utah and Cal out of the Pac 12, is a two-time Division I-A all-Nevada selection. He was named the D-IA Lineman of the Year in 2013, when the Crusaders won their first-ever state title. This past year, he was name Lineman of the Year in the Sunset Region.

After spending time as a tight end and defensive end, Fox and assistant coach Nate Knight suggested he move to offensive tackle and how he could help out on the line.

“We felt his greatest potential for success – for himself and for our program – would be as an offensive lineman,” Fox said. “We made the change and talked to him and he embraced.

“He had schools from all over coming into see him, bringing a new level of attention and exposure here to Faith. He had over 10 offers. Many of those being at the Division I level. When he made his decision, he never turned back.”

And it’s that type of character it appears the Broncos and Boise State coach Bryan Harsin have inherited from Fox and Faith Lutheran.

“We identified him early,” Harsin said. “I was watching his film way back, and we really liked him. Coach (Andy) Avalos went out and saw him in spring. We got him up for camp, we liked him at camp and offered him. He came on his official visit and committed after that. He truly went through the whole process.

“We wanted to get bigger, in length, on the offensive line, and that’s exactly what we did. If you look at these guys when they come in here…(guys like) John Molchon, they look the part. These guys are going to get bigger, they all can bend and they all can run.”

Molchon said he’s not only excited about furthering his football career with the Broncos and in the Mountain West Conference, but also excelling at the academic level, something he credits his parents with, as they’ve instilled a certain level of priority and set the standard for him when it comes to his academic achievement.

“I learned about academics through sports,” Molchon said. “My parents set that in me, from the first time I was here in 6th grade, all the way up to senior year. That’s been the biggest thing for me, and sports have just enhanced the importance of academics.”

On the field, Molchon said he’s become a student of the game in the two years since Fox has taken over, mainly because of the position change, saying both Knight and Fox taught him how to understand the game better, giving him a sense of comfort on the field.

“My senior year allowed me to hone in on my craft,” he said. “I (don’t have to) worry about what I was supposed to do on the line, and was able to just dominate and just do my job.”

And though he couldn’t close out his senior year with a second-straight state title, he’s couldn’t be any happier with how his career ended, thanks to close bonds and a scholarship to Boise State.

“We grew as a team, it was a team effort and I will know these guys forever,” Molchon said. “I feel like that’s the biggest thing I can take from it. My experiences with the team and how guys got us here is amazing and that’s what strengthened us.

“And now, this Boise State experience and being a part of the team officially, it really makes me want to have the desire to continue with success.”

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Also signing from Faith Lutheran

AUSTIN PRATHER, who chose Pomona because of its excellent medical program and because he felt at home after visiting the campus.

Said Coach Fox: One of those kids who is a stand-up young man. Excellent character, and more importantly, one of the hardest workers you would meet – he’s an outstanding student. From day one that’s kind of been the thing, his ability to get it done in the classroom translates to him being able to get it done on the field. He has a relentless attitude, that never give up attitude.

TYLER MAHAN, who chose Colorado School of Mines because he meshed well with the players when he visited the campus and felt it was best suited for his academic needs at the college level.

Said Coach Fox: Tyler is a two-time all-state defensive back who is a hard-hitting kid. Not real big, but just the heart of a lion. From the day I got here, I didn’t know much about him because he doesn’t talk much, doesn’t open up his mouth, but his play does all the talking for us. He’s been a great leader for us. A quiet guy who leads by example. He’s been productive two years in a row, and will definitely be a big loss for us, but a kid we’re definitely happy about his abilities. A smart kid, too. He wants to be an engineer and that lent precedence to his decision as well.