Thomas & Mack, Part II

The funny thing is that I never cared about an arena. I was happy at Riverside City College when we played inside Riverside Poly High’s gym. I was happy with that.

I’m not into how nice a facility is to play in. I’d rather have good players than a nice gym.

I loved the Convention Center. It was a great atmosphere. The crowd was right on top of you. Incredible. I never dreamed to get huge crowds like we did into a big arena like the Thomas & Mack.

I thought it would be half full. I was a little concerned. But Wildcat Morris, Wayne Pearson, Sig Rogich and the rest of them, they wanted a big one and they got it.

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I went along with it, but I was not into it very much.

They moved into a nice, new arena in Fresno, but I liked Selland Arena more than the new one. I don’t know. Selland felt like home to me.

I remember when we had a chance to get the rodeo, the National Finals Rodeo, at the Thomas & Mack. Irwin Molasky and Brad Rothermel said we’d have a chance to get this show.

They said it would mean cutting into your practice and playing time. You’d have to play on the road for two or three weeks. I didn’t care. I told them to go right ahead. Didn’t bother me at all.

I got a kick out of Bill Bayno, who used to complain about how he never got practice time in the Thomas & Mack. I didn’t even care about that. I never cared if we practiced in there.

I preferred the campus gym, because it had more buckets. I never cared where we practiced, played or how nice it was. I wanted six buckets and I wanted regulation lanes so we could practice hard.

But the longer we played in the Thomas & Mack, the more I grew to love it.

And that rodeo has been great. I went a couple times. I’ve seen those bulls. It’s amazing how they can stay on those.

My last game in the Mack, against Utah State on March 3, 1992, it really hit me as I walked out that tunnel and looked up. I couldn’t believe the crowd.

Lynn Archibald, who was coaching at Arizona State at the time, was there with all his family. Lynn was with me at Long Beach State and came with me to Las Vegas. We were very, very close.

I looked at him and I choked up, tears came to my eyes. So many people made the trip just for that game. It really got to me. My brother, Myron, was here with his family.

We won, 65-53. It didn’t affect me during or after the game. But before it, walking down that tunnel, I started thinking that this is the last time I’ll ever be doing that.

When I took over at Fresno State, we were in the Western Athletic Conference and that’s the league UNLV joined in 1996. Wouldn’t you know it, we had to play at UNLV that season.

I never intended on doing that. It was a strange feeling to sit on the other side of the bench. The crowd was so great. They must have given me a standing ovation for 10 minutes.

Vegas fans have always been great to me, and I always appreciated that.

It was a strange feeling, but I had my friends Freddie Glusman and Mike Toney sitting behind my bench. That’s loyalty. You can print that. I want them to know how much I appreciate them.

Warren Rosegreen had played for my son, George, when he was coaching at Chaffey College in Southern California. Warren wanted to play for me at Fresno, but I already had a guy his size.

UNLV took him and he thoroughly dominated that game. He was the hero. He’s always great to me when I see him.

After that game, George said to me, “I told you dad, you should have taken him.”

But we had so many great wins in that building when I was at UNLV. We beat Temple when they were No. 1 in the country. My center wasn’t a good leaper, and they had the best shot blocker in the country.

My center hit a turn-around jump shot – he couldn’t jump three inches off the ground! – and their guy didn’t try to block it. The ball went in at the buzzer.

John Chaney, Temple’s coach, is a good friend. As soon as that game was over, he was all over his center.

We beat Louisville when they were really good. We beat them bad, real bad. We beat Memphis when they were a top-three team.

It was very nice that they named the court after me, with my signature and that shark fin and all. I give a lot of credit for that to Lon Kruger and Mike Hamrick, the athletic director.

They and several Board of Regents pushed that real hard. It is quite a legacy.

Next time, I’ll tell you about Glen Gondrezick, Reggie Theus, what I think would have happened if I had taken that Philadelphia 76ers job and how hard we practiced.

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