Two-day celebration to honor UNLV’s championship squad

Kruger embraces history, tradition of basketball program

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Sam Morris

UNLV basketball coach Lon Kruger greets basketball great Larry Johnson at the start of UNLV’s FirstLook scrimmage on Oct. 16.

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Former UNLV Runnin' Rebels coach Jerry Tarkanian takes in a boxing match at The Orleans on May 22.

Did 20 years really fly by that quickly? Jerry Tarkanian has been pondering that very question lately as this season marks the 20th since he directed UNLV to its greatest sporting achievement.

In 1990, the Rebels belted Duke, 103-73, for the national basketball championship. The margin is the widest in a college hoops title game.

That special UNLV team will be recognized today in the first of two days of celebrations.

There’s a gala dinner tonight at the Green Valley Ranch, a golf tournament Tuesday at DragonRidge Country Club and a halftime ceremony at Tuesday night’s exhibition game against Washburn at the Thomas & Mack Center.

“It’s amazing,” said Tarkanian, 79. “It sure went fast.”

How about the memories of that season?

“Yeah, sure,” he said. “Absolutely. I remember it a lot better than the next one. That was painful because that was our best team, the best one I’ve ever been around. That team dominated all year long and got beat. That’s something I didn’t expect.”

In 1990, UNLV capped a 35-5 season with that wipeout of Duke in the finale in Denver.

The Rebels were 34-0 the following season when they were upended by the Blue Devils, 79-77, in a national semifinal game in Indianapolis.

Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon, Greg Anthony, Anderson Hunt and most of the title-winning Rebels were on the squad that lost to Duke a year later.

Tarkanian frequently talks with and sees Johnson, who spoke to this season’s team before its FirstLook scrimmage at the Mack a few weeks ago.

“It was great to hear how much it meant to him,” said sixth-year UNLV coach Lon Kruger. “He follows (the players) and cheers for them and wants to see them do well. That ties you to the task a little. It opens your eyes. Wow, what we do affects a lot of people.

“I don’t think players always think about that a lot. And when they hear a coach, or a parent, talk day after day … sometimes when someone else says it, talking about representing one another and representing the program, it hits home or reinforces it a little.”

Johnson had been in New York on business, but he was scheduled to fly to Las Vegas on Sunday night to participate in all of the 20-year anniversary festivities.

Augmon, an assistant coach with the Denver Nuggets who will be in Chicago on Tuesday night, is about the only player from that golden era not expected to attend any of the celebrations.

Tarkanian is trying to get David Bulter and George Ackles back into UNLV to complete course requirements and earn their degrees.

Tarkanian and his wife, Lois, will attend a function at Tarkanian Middle School today and shoot a video for the Mountain West Conference, but they’ll be at the gala GVR dinner tonight.

It’s been a rough few months for the legendary Rebels boss, whose summertime spills resulted in several surgeries in La Jolla, Calif.

At lunch last week with his daughter, Pam, he compounded his rehabilitation challenges when a chair slipped underneath him at a restaurant and he banged his right side against the chair.

He broke two ribs on that side in a Jacuzzi fall this summer.

“A little setback,” Tarkanian said. “I fell out, but not very far and I wasn’t very high. It was really painful all week, but it’s better now.”

He has been grateful how Kruger has embraced him, that special UNLV team and all past Rebels. That hasn’t been the case with many coaches and administrative regimes that followed Tarkanian.

It’s second nature for Kruger, he said, to recognize the Rebels’ rich tradition.

“To create a climate in which they feel good about coming back is pretty easy to do,” Kruger said.

But it’s not easy. At first, Kruger said, he encountered some hesitation when reaching out to some of those players.

“They’re kind of, maybe, off-balanced about it, like ‘What’s going on? Do you want something?’ ” Kruger said. “Then they realize we really don’t, we just want them to feel a part of it and feel comfortable, feel welcomed.

“Of course, we benefit greatly. They come back and talk to our players. That helps a lot.”

When UNLV won it all in 1989-90, Kruger was coaching his fourth and final season at Kansas State, his alma mater. The next season, which ended with the Rebels’ defeat to Duke, Kruger started coaching Florida.

Three years later, he guided the Gators to a Final Four.

Returning to that grand stage would mean plenty to UNLV, Rebels fans and Kruger and his wife, Barb.

“Our greatest joy would be watching everyone, players and fans, enjoy that,” Kruger said. “It would mean a lot. People enjoy seeing progress and good results, but the Final Four is so ridiculously hard to get to.

“There are so many outstanding teams that don’t get to a Final Four, let alone a Sweet 16 or Elite Eight.”

For perfect inspiration, the Rebels need only pay close attention to the small parade of former Rebels with which they will come in contact over the next two days.

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  1. Hey Rob, don't forget the Legends and Friends game follows the exhibition game. I haven't seen a roster, but that could include any player from the 1976 to 1992 Tark years, and a few before and afterward, and that could make for a very large parade.

    Freddie Banks, Danny Tarkanian, Robert Smith, Reggie Theus, Armon Gilliam, Mark Wade, Sidney Green, Anthony Jones, ... The list seems endless. Heck, throw in some friends too like Ed O'Bannon, ...

    As you noted, this is inspiration, this is what we expect out of UNLV BB.

  2. hell, an exhibition against a D-II school will draw more of a crowd than the real crowd (not announced) at the football game on saturday! go rebs!!

  3. Great we should all celebrate the cheating and lying, rule breaking era!

    Not that this is timed to "help" Tarks boy get name recognition in his political as(s)pirations? What with the crazy (god help us cheat) rosary bead betch playing like she has a brain.

    It's vegas baby.

    I suggest the MWC demand UNLV get out and bring in Boise State. Where will UNLV go, who cares.

  4. 2Zero: It's sad to see such an asinine remark show up here. It makes some of Sufferin' Robert's blogs look downright tame by comparison. At least beneath all of Succotash's bitterness lay pride and concern for UNLV. You'd rather post inflammatory, baseless rhetoric with absolutely "zero" credibility. I'll be there tomorrow night, as I was twenty years ago, paying tribute to a time, a team, and a coach who showed the rest of the country that Vegas was more than an assemblage of slot machines and buffet lines. We were a community that came together to watch and support one of the greatest college basketball programs of the modern era. Not politics, but pride in what we were accomplishing out here in this tiny oasis. As a native, an alumnus, and current resident, no amount of vitriol can take that away from me.

  5. Actually, this article is about events to take place today and tomorrow. It's kind of a big deal.

    On a related note, all the news networks are covering the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Must be a slow news day for them too.

  6. Yeah but that was 20 years ago too...

    By your own criterion that shouldn't matter either.

  7. bluv, Danny Tark hasn't played in that game recently, just fyi ... doubt he'll show. It would be awesome if Ed O'Bannon were to participate, but I think the playing days are over for the Henderson Int'l School's new coach! :-)
    slow news day? fbi, chill out. They're honoring the most accomplished team in the program's history. That's a BAD thing? wow

  8. If I remember correctly, it was the sheer bad-a**-ness of the greatest team to ever play the game of college hoops that was responsible for knocking that wall down.

    REBELS!!!!!! YEAH BABY!!!!!!

  9. Indeed, jeff ... those games should be required watching for this group, some of whom weren't even born ... aw, you know ... :-)

  10. Man, is today national negative jerk day or what. fbi and zero, go back to your shanties.

    I will be a proud man to watch the this team come back onto the floor in which they dominated all foes for so long. Thanks for coming back and supporting the Program guys.

  11. Tark cheated so much the NCAA paid him $1.8 million...yeah sounds like he cheated to me

  12. sincity, it was more like $2.5 million. Thanks for the gumball, eh? :-) fastcamron, you said it. bravo

  13. Goatmouth - Pretty please, with a cherry on top: STFU and GTFO.