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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.”

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2014 adidas Nations

Bishop Gorman’s Chase Jeter Chase Jeter poses for a photo during adidas Nations at Next Level Sports Complex. The 7-footer announced he will play at Duke in college.
Photo courtesy adidas.

W.G. Ramirez

Bishop Gorman’s senior-to-be Chase Jeter announced Monday night he’s headed across the country to play for one of UNLV’s most hated rivals.

After posting a double-double (14 points and 16 rebounds) and being named Most Valuable Player in the adidas Nations third place game on ESPNU, the 7-footer told a nationwide audience he was becoming a Duke Blue Devil.

The Runnin’ Rebels defeated Duke 103-73 to win the National Championship, and the Blue Devils returned the favor one year later in the Final Four, 79-77, derailing UNLV’s undefeated run and quest for back-to-back titles. Jeter’s father, Chris, played for the Rebels during the championship season.

“I took a lot of time to evaluate my decision and I took visits to all the schools on my list, and I felt I was really comfortable with my decision,” Jeter said during the televised announcement. “I just love the feel of the environment, Cameron Indoor is a great place, a great basketball environment and I just felt like it was a great place for me.”

Jeter visited Durham earlier this year, in March, during one of Duke’s annual ACC meetings with rival-North Carolina, which is reportedly listed high on Jeter’s high-school teammate Stephen Zimmerman’s list.

Jeter, an all-state selection last year, averaged more than 14 points and 10 rebounds as a junior for the Gaels playing alongside Zimmerman, also considered one of the nation’s top recruits in next year’s class.

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Chase Jeter averaged more than 14 points and 10 rebounds as a junior for Gorman last season. Photo: W.G. Ramirez

Jeter chose the Blue Devils over UNLV, UCLA and Arizona.

As one of the most sought after recruits in class of 2015, Jeter is ranked among the top 15 in different polls, including No. 8 by Rivals, No. 9 by Scout, No. 10 by 247Sports and No. 13 by ESPN.

Of Duke, Jeter told cbssports.com college basketball writer Jeff Borzello: “I have a great relationship with all the coaches. Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski). Coach (Jeff) Capel. They have great guys, great history. Overall, just a great program.”

Krzyzewski was on hand last weekend to see Jeter compete in the adidas Super 64 event at Cashman Center, and attended the championship game, where Jeter’s Dream Vision lost to Indiana Elite.

imageBy Jesse Granger

One of the bright spots of the Runnin’ Rebels disappointing 2013-14 season was an energetic transfer from the University of Connecticut.

Roscoe Smith brought intensity and heart every night he took to the floor, and breathed energy into a team that suffered through a season full of missed expectations. Smith’s theatrics and leadership made him a fan favorite, particularly screaming in opponents’ faces as he jumped up and down while guarding the inbound pass.

What better place for UNLV’s theatrical leader to continue his basketball career than Hollywood, California – with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Smith made his professional debut last Friday in the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas in front of a sold out crowd.

“I played in front of a lot of UNLV fans, and to represent the UNLV program, it was definitely very interesting,” Smith said. “I was very anxious, but I slowed down and let the game come to me.”

He started the game on the bench, but checked in at the 4:36 mark of the first quarter. He was held scoreless in the first half, missing both of his shots, and looked uncomfortable on the floor.

“The biggest difference is the talent level,” he said. “There are a lot of great guys out here that can play basketball. Some guys are more physical than others, some are quicker than others and some jump higher than others.”

His scoring drought ended in the third quarter when he slammed home a two-handed dunk, and his game opened up from there.

“After I got that dunk everything just started feeling like it was back to normal,” Smith said. “Once you get that first bucket you’re like ok, it’s just basketball. I’ve been doing this my whole life.”

He ended the game with 8 points on 3-of-5 shooting, and added 2 rebounds and a block in 14 minutes of playing time. A solid outing for his first game in the NBA, especially after the criticism he received when choosing to forgo his senior season at UNLV to enter the NBA draft.

“I feel good about (the decision),” said Smith, who is averaging 4.0 points in 11.3 minutes per game after the first three games of the Summer League. “I think I had an impressive year at UNLV. Coach Rice and all of the other UNLV staff members definitely had a lot of confidence in me. They definitely helped me improve, not just as a basketball player but as a person. Today for the first time as a professional athlete I think I did pretty well. I don’t have any complaints at all.”

Making his debut in Las Vegas could have put added pressure on Smith, but he felt it only helped him.

“Coming to Las Vegas, I feel like this is still my first family, so they just support me. I’m not trying to impress anyone. I’m just trying to improve as a player every day.”

His trip back home even allowed Smith to catch up with some old teammates.

“I saw a few guys from the team that came and supported me.” Smith said. “I talked to a few guys yesterday. I’m going to watch Kevin Olekaibe and cheer for him. I’m his biggest fan, and I wish him the biggest luck right now.”

Similarly to Smith, teammate Khem Birch also chose to leave school early and went undrafted. The two remain close, and are trying to help each other as they make the next step in their careers.

“I actually talked to Khem all of last night. I experienced it first, so I’m going to give him a pep talk about it and what to do. Just be aggressive all day and everything will work out.”

By W.G. Ramirez

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Photo courtesy: Daniel Ward/AWard Foto

Prior to Monday night’s opening round game in the Mountain West Conference Championships, UNLV women’s basketball coach Kathy Olivier leaned down and told senior guard Mia Bell, “I remember when you were a senior in high school, you were sitting right there.”

Pointing to the front row in the stands at the Thomas and Mack Center, the Durango High School graduate knew it was one place she didn’t want to return for the quarterfinals.

One win, that’s all Bell wanted Monday night; the chance to keep playing.

On the brink of the Lady Rebels defeating San Jose State, 78-75, to complete the largest comeback of the season – a 13-point deficit – there might not have been a bigger play in the game than Bell’s key steal in the paint with 18.9 seconds left in the contest.

“When you look up at the scoreboard and you need one stop, I think you kind of feel it,” Bell said after the win. “You kind of feel the urgency of the entire play. I definitely felt that. It was like ‘we get this stop, we can live to fight another day.’ If we don’t get this stop, we go home heartbroken. I didn’t want to feel that feeling. I felt that before. Didn’t want to feel it again.”

Bell knows heartbreak, on many levels.

Three days into her freshman year at Durango, Bell’s mother, Yvette, died of complications from a stroke.

“I think about it all the time,” Bell said, during a private interview Monday night. “I wear the No. 30 for my mom. It’s a constant reminder she’s here.”

That didn’t stop her from playing basketball and starring for the Trailblazers. In 2009, she scored the second-most points (52) in NIAA history against Clark. Her senior year she was named Gatorade Nevada Player of the Year after averaging 26.8 points, 6.0 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game.

AWF_9251

Photo Courtesy: Daniel Ward/AWard Foto

She arrived at UNLV, and ended up starting 17 games as a freshman, and finished fifth on the team in scoring with 6.3 points per game, and things looked promising for the up-and-coming star.

Then she endured the first of two right knee surgeries, one prior to her sophomore year, to repair meniscus, the second a microfracture procedure that resulted in her missing last season, when she received a medical redshirt.

Overcoming her latest hurdle, Bell returned to average 11.8 points and a team-leading 3.8 assists for the Lady Rebels this past season.

“She’s very, very focused,” Olivier said. “She has an extremely high basketball IQ. She’s been a leader since her freshman year.”

Bell said this season has meant more to her than any other, especially down the stretch when victories have been hard to come by. Perhaps it’s because the team has rallied together, rather than fallen apart.

“What’s different about this team is we all just fight,” Bell said. “We might not have the best players, but we all trust each other. We’re doing it for each other, no one is out there doing it for themselves. We all love playing with each other.”

There’s no telling the potential Bell might have had if she didn’t incur those surgeries, as the WNBA might have been in her future. The subject didn’t come up, and she may have designs on dribbling that way once her career ends as a Lady Rebel. Fact is, she has the moves and the handles to dribble in any direction she chooses. According to Olivier, she also has the determination.

“She has done so much for us, in so many ways and people have no idea,” Olivier said. “She wanted to make a difference, whether it was in the community or at UNLV. She’s the first one who commits to community service, she’s the first one who wants to work camps. Those are all things that engage in the public. And when we do different things involving team bonding, Mia Bell is always stepping up, showing the way. That’s kind of what she’s done her whole time here, for five years.”

Sort of like with 18.9 seconds left in an opening round game and the season on the line. And the last thing Bell wants is to be sitting in the stands watching, rather than being involved.

The Lady Rebels have another chance to move on Tuesday night at 6 p.m., when they’ll face Fresno State, a team that has given UNLV all it could handle in two meetings this season. Win or lose, Bell will undoubtedly have one thing on her mind when she hits the floor for potentially the last time as a Lady Rebel – her mother Yvette.

“These are moments we talked about sharing together,” she said. “For me now, I know she’s still here watching me, so I’m doing it to make her proud knowing she’s smiling down on me.”

I’ll get to my free winner out of the Big East Tournament momentarily, as I take a look at South Florida (pk) against Seton Hall, at Manhattan, N.Y. in Madison Square Garden.

Saturday – a 600* winner on Boise State against San Diego State.

Sunday – a 300* winner on Ohio State against Illinois.

Monday – a 300* winner on Florida International against Western Kentucky.

Ready for Winning Day #4 in a Row?

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Alright, let’s talk about this complimentary winner in Big East play…

We have a 12 and 13 seed getting things going at the mecca tonight, as Seton Hall and South Florida lock horns in tonight’s Big East conference tournament at Madison Square Garden. And something tells me No. 13 South Florida will be moving on after this one.

And no, it has nothing to do with the new uniforms Under Armour laid on the Bulls in time for the tournament. The “retro chic” look that is supposed to imply a “South Beach environment” isn’t going to help them play any better than they already are. That being said, and even though they are pretty tight uniforms, what we’re talking about here is a Bulls team that catches Seton Hall in a vulnerable state and only needs to win the game given the pick’em line.

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2* SOUTH FLORIDA

Based on scale of 1* to 5* 

OTHER NOTABLE FREE PICKS:

2* PRINCETON (-6) at Pennsylvania – Classic Ivy rivalry, and make note the Tigers have won 7 of last 8 meetings. The road team has covered 8 of the last 10 meetings.

3* LIU BROOKLYN (-4) vs. Mount Saint Mary’s – These two split the regular-season series, with the home team getting it done each time. Though St. Mary’s has won nine straight coming in, I like Brooklyn’s experience as the two-time defending champs.

4* WYOMING (-3) vs. Unr – Wyoming is cheap lay here – no pun intended given this game is in Las Vegas – but the Pokes (oops, did it again!) are better suited for the opening-round win tonight. Wyoming won both meetings this season, winning by 11 in Reno and 20 in Laramie. Covering 3 should not be an issue.