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Wednesday, May 11, 2011 | 2:15 a.m.
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When Stacey Augmon left UNLV in 1991 to embark on what would be a 15-year NBA career, he never saw himself coming back to sit on the bench at the Thomas & Mack Center in a suit and tie.
When legendary coach Jerry Tarkanian was forced out not long after, and the program began a downward spiral it wouldn't emerge from for more than two decades, the chances grew even slimmer.
Whatever hatchet that may have existed has now been officially buried, as Augmon left a cherry post as an assistant coach with the NBA's Denver Nuggets to join the staff of former Rebels teammate Dave Rice.
"When I think about it, the people that were involved in that are not here," Augmon said from his new digs at the Mack on Tuesday. "It strained (the relationship with UNLV) some, but once a Rebel, always a Rebel."
Augmon accepted the job last Tuesday, and a week later was back on campus, getting settled in and meeting with his new group of pupils. He began to cozy into his new office, with photos from his glory days as a Rebel peppering the hallways just outside the door.
He said Rice originally contacted him about coming back to his alma mater after accepting the head coaching position last month. Though Augmon didn't decide until last week to put his NBA coaching career on hold, he said he had it in the back of his mind throughout the end of the Nuggets' season. That culminated two weeks ago with a five-game first round loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
"In the NBA, you move up quickly," Augmon said. "I was thinking I'd give myself three or four years and I'd be on the bench somewhere moving on to the next level and becoming a head coach. It's tough. I just feel something coming back here accepting the job. I don't know what it is. It's a good feeling, and this is a special place for me.
"I want to coach down here and see how it is at the college level, then evaluate from there, but I do want to be a head coach on one of those levels before it's all said and done."
Augmon, 42, joins Justin Hutson and Heath Schroyer as assistants on Rice's staff, and will be the only one on the bench without collegiate coaching experience.
Still, there appears to be little concern that the former All-American and third all-time leading scorer in UNLV history won't be a wild success in his new endeavor.
Augmon learned the art of player development from longtime UNLV assistant coach Tim Grgurich, who currently is working with the Dallas Mavericks, as both a player and peer. They also were together while in Denver and during Augmon's playing days in Portland. He maintained that Grgurich will be available to the UNLV program for wisdom as Rice gets underway as a head coach for the first time.
"I think the biggest challenge will be to get them to play the way (Rice) wants to," Augmon said of getting the current Rebels accustomed to playing a significantly more uptempo style of ball. "We can say we want to run, but it's not easy. It's not an easy task. Not everyone can play the running game. We'll have to see what we have with the talent here, but that's going to be the challenge for us."
Obviously, though, many on the outside — and within the program — see the hire as a potential slam dunk in terms of the boost it could give UNLV on the recruiting trail. That holds major weight considering the wealth of young talent available within the city limits in the 2012 class, in which the Rebels will have at least four open scholarships to fill.
It's a similar scenario to what Kansas had a few years back when head coach Bill Self brought former Jayhawk All-American and longtime NBA veteran Danny Manning onto his staff to not only coach big men, but also to help recruit top-shelf talent.
Augmon has never recruited a player before and knows he has plenty to brush up on before doing so, including familiarizing himself with how the NCAA rules have changed over the past two decades, but he'll take on the challenge with confidence.
"Everyone thinks their kids are going to the NBA," he said. "If you think about it, if you can go in and tell them I can get them to that next level or give them a chance to get to that next level, it could hold a lot of weight.
"I'm going to go personally on how I got there, because all odds were against me, also. From personally experience, getting them to come to UNLV, I'll know how to get you to the next level. That's going to be my sales pitch. I can work you out, I can show you what it takes, I can tell you which direction to go, because I've been through it."
Director of basketball operations hire coming soon
Expect news of a hire for the final post on Rice's staff — a director of basketball operations — either later this week or early next week.
The prime candidates with UNLV ties are former Rebel staffers Jay Spoonhour — currently the head coach at Moberly (Mo.) Community College — and Bill Wuczynski, who is now an assistant at TCU.