Posts Tagged ‘Runnin’ Rebels’

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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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.”

Just because the Associated Press dumped the UNLV from 18th to No. 24 in this week’s Top 25 poll doesn’t mean anyone should be giving up on the Runnin’ Rebels. I’ve seen them play three of their first four games, and I can tell you this much, the ‘fever’ in “Runnin’ Rebel Fever” is certainly back in the Thomas and Mack Center.

It doesn’t appear the oddsmakers are giving up on the Rebels either, as they’ve opened up 15-point favorites tonight against UC Irvine. It’s the fourth time in five games they’ve been installed as double-digit favorites this season.

It’s been awhile, but once coach Dave Rice arrived last year the hope was he would bring back that lovin’ feelin’ from the Jerry Tarkanian-era he played in, and resurrect a program that once lit up the city brighter than the neon up and down Las Vegas Boulevard.

Mission accomplished, as the Rebels earned an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament. And though they were shown the door in the first round after losing by four to Colorado, word spread quickly and everyone was put on notice.

UNLV was back. It is back.

This year, with one of the most talented freshmen – Anthony Bennett – joining the roster and junior All-America candidate Mike Moser returning, the Rebels were ranked No. 18 in the Associated Press’ preseason Top 25, the first time they were in the preseason Top 25 since they were No. 22 to begin the 1992-93 season.

I’m not sure if it’s ironic, or coincidence, the star of that team two decades ago resurfaced at the Thomas and Mack Center this past weekend for the Global Sports Classic, but it’s no surprise that everyone is coming out of the woodwork to catch a glimpse of the 2012-13 version of Runnin’ Rebel Fever.

Just talking with Isaiah “J.R.” Rider was a delight, as I personally hadn’t seen him since he was drafted 5th overall in the 1st round by the Minnesota Timberwolves. But in catching up with Rider, seeing Tarkanian at home games and watching the excitement up and down Gucci Row – the T&M’s courtside seating – it’s crystal clear how much Las Vegas is excited about Runnin’ Rebel Fever.

Heck, forget about the loss to Oregon in the semifinals of the Classic, the most disappointing thing I’ve seen thus far was the bleak turnout for the consolation game the following night against Iowa State.

Are you kidding me Las Vegas? Are you that shallow?

You want a winner? You got one, believe me. The Rebels were never going undefeated, so let’s erase those thoughts. But they are going to be exciting to watch.

They’re averaging 82.5 points per game, which ranks 19th nationally, and they’re 3-1 (2-2 ATS) with a win over a Big 12 foe. Tonight they host UC Irvine and Saturday Hawai’i is in town before the Rebels hit the road for a couple of games in the Northwest, as they’ll visit Portland, and then Berkeley to take on Cal.

The home game you may want to be in attendance for – if you’re a local reading this blog – is on Dec. 19, when Northern Iowa comes to town for a rematch from March 18, 2010, in the Big Dance. Ali Farokhmanesh’s 3-pointer with 4.9 left snapped Northern Iowa’s tournament drought and ended the Rebels’ hopes of making a run deep into the tournament.

I personally thought the oddsmakers might have been a bit overzealous with the Rebels in their season-opener, against Northern Arizona, but laying -27 was nothing for Rice’s troops, who trounced the Lumberjacks by 38 points. The followed that with a 19-point win over Jacksonville State, and just missed covering -20.5 points. After almost one week off, UNLV laid -12 to an underrated Oregon team that outplayed and out hustled the Rebels for much of the game to score the upset win, 83-79. In the consolation against Iowa State, the Rebels pulled away late and covered the -9 points with an 82-70 victory.

I’m not so sure on the big number tonight, as the Rebels come off a tiring weekend with bigger-named opponents, and might be a little less inspired for the Anteaters. Then again, you just never know.

Due to their uptempo game, and the plethora of scorers they have, you can expect the Rebels to lay near-double digits during non-conference play.

Due to their uptempo game, and the plethora of scorers they have, Runnin’ Rebel Fever is back in the Thomas and Mack.