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April 18, 2014

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Ray Brewer: From the Pressbox

ray brewer:

Let’s keep our expectations realistic for the UNLV basketball team

Many of us have drawn a 17 in blackjack with the dealer showing a face card. Sucks, right?

That’s how players on the UNLV basketball team should feel heading into this season. Facing unrealistic expectations of a deep NCAA Tournament run, they could face a no-win situation even if they play their best.

The Rebels open Monday by hosting Northern Arizona in a season some misguided diehards feel could be the return to the glory years of the late 1980s and early '90s. You get the sense that anything less than a trip to the Sweet 16 or beyond would signal failure.

There is nothing wrong with expectations, but let’s keep them attainable — especially for a program that staggered down the stretch last year, struggles in road games and hasn’t won a tournament game in five years.

There is no disputing the logic: No. 18 UNLV is ranked in the preseason for the first time since 1992, the year after the school’s third Final Four appearance in five seasons, and has a roster highlighted by two possible first-round NBA draft picks: Anthony Bennett and Mike Moser.

But no matter how many All-Americans second-year coach Dave Rice puts on the floor, or how many national media outlets hype the Rebels as a potential Final Four participant, the glory years will never return. Not this year. Not next year. Never.

That time of national prominence started to fade when coach Jerry Tarkanian stepped down in 1992. It came to a screeching halt during the down period that followed Tarkanian’s departure, when UNLV reached the tournament just once from 1991 to 2007 and quickly regressed from a national power to a team annually on the NCAA Tournament bubble.

Those glory-years aspirations mostly are from optimistic fans in their mid-30s trying to relive past successes and the awesomeness of their childhood (I should know. I was an eighth-grader during the 1990 title season and went to every home game. It was one of the greatest times of my life).

Plus, how many times have folks argued the glory years are returning? Remember in 1998, when UNLV made its miraculous run through the league tournament to earn its first trip to the NCAAs since the 1991 Final Four?

Or in 2007, when Lon Kruger coached UNLV to the Sweet 16? And of course last year, when Rice — part of those Final Four teams — took over the program and promised to run the ball like those legendary teams of the early 1990s?

Those moments confirmed Rebel fans are passionate, that their program is the only sports franchise that matters in town, and that several — including myself — are quick to set lofty -- likely unreachable -- goals for this unproven team.

Give us Las Vegans a little hope and we start making plans for a championship parade.

That’s especially true among those of us who were kids during the glory years, and it’s not fair. We’ll never recapture that same feeling of exhilaration we did as kids, no matter how hard we press this new generation of UNLV players.

There is nothing wrong with being optimistic, and all signs point to Rice building a program that returns to significant prominence, especially when looking at the caliber of players he is recruiting. First, they need to win an NCAA Tournament game. Make that two or three — in multiple seasons.

Then, we can talk about calling it new era of glory years. Until then, we should keep the expectations to a realistic level.

Ray Brewer can be reached at 990-2662 or [email protected]. Follow Ray on Twitter at twitter.com/raybrewer21.

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  1. The article would have been more impressive had it come before the exhibition game. Now anyone that saw or heard about the game should know this.

  2. Despite being one of the harsher critics of our team, I still hold high expectations every year. The last thing I want to hear is that we will "never" return to the glory years. I would like someone else to cover the Rebels. We should have high expectations EVERY YEAR. Anything less than a deep tourney run IS A FAILURE. That's what big time programs do....

  3. Just because the team has a lot of potential doesn't mean the coach knows how to use it. On the brighter side, season ticket sales were a record high for the last 20 yrs.

  4. "the glory years will never return. Not this year. Not next year. Never."

    Not one shred of analysis, not one acknowledgement of what the NCAA did to the UNLV program in its pursuit of Coach Tarkanian, and what the program has since had to do to recover. Nothing, in fact, except one 30-something writer wasting an opportunity just to proclaim to everyone that all UNLV fans should just let it go.

    Okay, Mr. Brewer, please, how about offering up one piece of objective analysis as to why your excercise in journalistic schadenfreude is to be given any value?

  5. "Never." That is a fairly definite word.

    I was born and raised here and remember my dad taking me to a game at the Rotunda. I was going to UNLV when they won the championship. Even in the glory days they didn't make it to the Final Four everytime. Plus glory days is something more properly assigned in retrospect.

    I think these will be glory days. It has taken a long time but it really seems that we are back to having a perennial contender team. A team that can recruit top prospects, a team that is respected.

    Brewer, like a lot of people lacks perspective and focuses only on the championship team.