College Basketball Nation: UNLV Runnin' Rebels

3-point shot: Chris Walker's punishment

February, 7, 2014
Feb 7

Andy Katz discusses Vanderbilt persevering despite several setbacks, UNLV's hopes of making a run in the Mountain West, and the odd punishment for Florida's Chris Walker.

Afternoon Links: Above the law

December, 9, 2013

What we're reading amid what might be the first truly dead night of the season.

Until recently, the NCAA's general policy toward the coach/prospective recruit relationship was to shelter the player whenever possible. When landlines were the only way to get in touch, coaches had limits on how many times they could ring the house phone in a given month. When mobiles and text messages first arrived, the NCAA restricted that, too. It wasn't until the rise of social media, the ubiquity of smartphones and the spread of unlimited text-messaging plans obviated most (if not all) of the distinctions of modern communication that the NCAA membership finally stepped back and realized that restricting different modes of contact that all filter into one device was kind of pointless. Also: High school kids know how to screen calls and ignore texts. They're pretty good at those things.

Before the post-PC revolution did its work, though, the through line in the NCAA's rules was the idea that players and their families don't like to be bombarded. Sheer costs were easiest to point to -- remember how expensive long-distance calling used to be, and how when you were little you had to get off the phone with your grandpa because you were running up his phone bill? -- and easiest to quantify. But there was also the fuzzier notion that college prospects are still just high school kids and their families are trying to live a normal life. You shouldn't be able to call them 85 times a day. Let them breathe, you know?

But what if the recruiting contacts were letters? And what if the letters were actually welcome?

Stephen Zimmerman (Las Vegas/Bishop Gorman), the No. 7-ranked player in the Class of 2015, is a big-time target for a host of the nation's elite programs. Even with two years of high school left to finish, he's already a wisened veteran of the recruiting scene; players that talented hear it all. That is why UNLV's old-fashioned strategy to entice Zimmerman -- best described as "semi-jokingly flooding his family's mailbox with hundreds of recruiting mailers" -- might be the surprise recruiting win of the year.

The Dagger's Jeff Eisenberg has more:

Stephen's father opened the family's mailbox on Wednesday afternoon and discovered 96 envelopes stuffed inside, 86 of which were from UNLV. There were so many envelopes that he startled Stephen and Lori when some of them fell out of his hands as he walked into the house to show them.

"We heard a crash, we looked over and the letters were all over the kitchen floor," Lori said Thursday. "I was like, 'What the heck is that?' And he said, 'That's from UNLV.' We just started laughing."

This is not a completely original strategy; football coaches have used it to noted effect and Colorado coach Tad Boyle went to the well when he was recruiting guard Spencer Dinwiddie (successfully) in 2010. But it is a pretty great one. In a world drenched in disposable digital communication, taking it back to the good old analog days makes for a clever reversal. It's old-school. It might even be ironic!

UNLV didn't just throw a bunch of generic brochures in Zimmerman's inbox. All of the letters were different, Eisenberg reports: "Some contained handwritten letters from the UNLV coaches explaining how excited they were to recruit Stephen. Others included fliers and pamphlets highlighting UNLV's basketball facilities or their track record of producing NBA players. One even had a card for Stephen, who celebrated his birthday Monday."

Handled poorly, sending a recruit 86 letters would seem like a joke at best, or an insensitive bombardment at worst. Handled well, it proves both funny and flattering. The Zimmerman's certainly didn't seem to mind:

"I think the letters show some ingenuity," Lori said. "They know us pretty well, and I think they knew it was going to get a laugh at least. It also goes to show that he is a priority for them – either that or they have a really good mailing service."

Therein lies the essential difficulty of recruiting. How do you as a respected, accomplished, (probably) middle-aged college basketball coach express your undying love for a high school kid without seeming pushy, creepy or cold? How do you turn extreme gestures of interest into endearing moments of flattery? How do you win families over when every family is different? Or, as UNLV coach Dave Rice put it to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, it's a matter of finding "that perfect balance for each recruit so he knows what a priority he is without over-recruiting."

That's why I'm glad I don't persuade high school kids to make life-changing decisions for a living. But Rice and the Rebels seem to be on the right track.

Nonconference schedule analysis: MWC

September, 11, 2013
This week, is breaking down the nonconference schedules of each team in nine of the nation’s top leagues. Next up: the Mountain West.


Toughest: Colorado (Nov. 30)
Next toughest: Richmond (Nov. 27)
The rest: vs. Army (Nov. 8 in Lexington, Va.), vs. Citadel/WMI (Nov. 9 in Lexington, Va.), Jackson State (Nov. 14), Arkansas-Pine Bluff (Nov. 17), Colorado Christian (Nov. 20), South Dakota (Dec. 5), Western State (Dec. 9), UC Riverside (Dec. 14), at UC Davis (Dec. 21)

Toughness scale (1-10): 2 -- As in the Falcons get two points for playing Colorado and Richmond at home. Those are nice home games for Air Force. The rest of the slate is weak, but that's OK considering that coach Dave Pilipovich has a rebuilding team. So this schedule matches the current team.


Toughest: at Kentucky (Dec. 10)
Next toughest: Utah (Dec. 3), Saint Mary's (Dec. 14), Diamond Head Classic (Dec. 22-25 in Honolulu)
The rest: UT-Arlington (Nov. 8), Simpson (Nov. 15), Seattle (Nov. 19), at New Orleans (Nov. 23), Portland State (Nov. 29), Carroll (Dec. 5)

Toughness scale: 5 -- Boise State has a one-way ticket to Kentucky, and that's enough to warrant a decent grade. The Broncos, likely picked second in the MWC, needed to test themselves. The home games against Saint Mary's and Utah will certainly push them as well. Boise State is the potential favorite in Hawaii but will have to get past the hometown Warriors, which is no easy task. Iowa State is a possible finalist on the other side of the bracket. But this tourney could be Boise's breakout heading into the MWC, short of upsetting Kentucky at Rupp.


Toughest: at Gonzaga (Nov. 11)
Next toughest: at UTEP (Nov. 19), New Mexico State (Nov. 30), Colorado (Dec. 3)
The rest: UCCS (Nov. 8), Weber State (Nov. 16), Northern Colorado (Nov. 22), Prairie View A&M (Nov. 25), Bethune-Cookman (Nov. 27), Southwestern Oklahoma State (Dec. 7), Denver (Dec. 11), UIC (Dec. 23), Lamar (Dec. 28)

Toughness scale: 5 -- The Rams will have quite a chore winning at Gonzaga and UTEP. These are two quality games for Larry Eustachy. Getting New Mexico State and Colorado at home is a huge plus for a team rebuilding after an NCAA tournament run last March. The rest of the slate is fine, considering the inexperience at a number of key positions.


Toughest: vs. Florida (Dec. 21 in Sunrise, Fla.)
Next toughest: at Pittsburgh (Nov. 12), at Utah (Dec. 7), at Cal (Dec. 14)
The rest: at UC Irvine (Nov. 8), Cal State Northridge (Nov. 16), Cal Poly (Nov. 20), San Diego Christian (Nov. 25), Drake (Nov. 29), CSU Bakersfield (Nov. 30), Northern Arizona (Dec. 1), UC Merced (Dec. 28)

Toughness scale: 6 -- The Bulldogs are still in rebuilding mode, but Rodney Terry put together a rough schedule to get to MWC play. Florida is an elite team. Going on the road to Pitt, Utah and Cal would be tough for most clubs, regardless of what rebuilding stage they were in. The pressure will be on the Bulldogs to clean up the rest at home to ensure there is some momentum going into the conference.


Toughest: Las Vegas Invitational (Nov. 28-29)
Next toughest: at Cal (Dec. 10), Iona (Dec. 22)
The rest: Montana Tech (Nov. 4), Pacific (Nov. 8), at Cal Poly (Nov. 12), at San Francisco (Nov. 15), at CSU Bakersfield (Nov. 18), Chattanooga (Nov. 22), Morehead State (Nov. 24), at UC Davis (Dec. 7), Nebraska-Omaha (Dec. 14), Long Beach State (Dec. 28)

Toughness scale: 5 -- The Wolf Pack were stuck at the bottom of the MWC last season, so this is a critical year for David Carter. Nevada has three high-level games, all away from Reno, with two of them in Vegas against Missouri and UCLA. No one would expect the Pack to win any of them, but Carter will test his team with those three. There are plenty of other potential hiccups -- even at home with games like Pacific, Iona and Long Beach State.


Toughest: vs. Kansas (Dec. 14 in Kansas City), vs. Marquette (Dec. 21 in Las Vegas)
Next toughest: Cincinnati (Dec. 7), Charleston Classic (Nov. 21-24), at New Mexico State (Dec. 4), New Mexico State (Dec. 17)
The rest: Alabama A&M (Nov. 9), Charleston Southern (Nov. 17), San Diego (Nov. 30), Grand Canyon (Dec. 23)

Toughness scale: 9 -- The Lobos did an exceptional job of getting quality games away from home like Kansas, Marquette, Cincinnati and the rivalry home-and-home games with the Aggies. If the Mountain West favorites play up to expectations, the Lobos will be well-prepared for the MWC and for an NCAA tourney run. The Charleston Classic also offers a possible power-rating game with UMass in the semifinals, assuming they meet.


Toughest: Arizona (Nov. 14), at Kansas (Jan. 5)
Next toughest: Wooden Legacy (Nov. 28-Dec. 1 in Fullerton and Anaheim, Calif.), Washington (Dec. 8)
The rest: UC Riverside (Nov. 8), San Diego Christian (Nov. 20), Southern Utah (Dec. 18), McNeese State (Dec. 21), St. Katherine College (Dec. 27)

Toughness scale: 8 -- This is a quality schedule for Steve Fisher's club. Going to Kansas is as tough a game as any team can get on the schedule. Arizona has become a rivalry game for the Aztecs, and the Wildcats will be one of the best teams in the country. The Wooden Legacy provides elite competition, too, with either Creighton or Arizona State -- two high-level teams -- on the second day. Washington has upper-level Pac-12 talent as well.


Toughest: at Santa Clara (Nov. 12)
Next toughest: at Houston (Dec. 7)
The rest: Milwaukee (Nov. 15 in DeKalb, Ill.), at Northern Illinois (Nov. 16), James Madison (Nov. 17 in DeKalb, Ill.), at Pepperdine (Nov. 20), Cal State Fullerton (Nov. 23), at Portland (Nov. 27), at Weber State (Nov. 30), UC Davis (Dec. 18), Westminster (Dec. 21), Pacifica (Dec. 28)

Toughness scale: 2 -- Going to Santa Clara, an upstart in the WCC, and Houston out of the American will be tall tasks for the Spartans. The first-time MWC member clearly tried to tone down the slate a bit in advance of conference play. But the chances of San Jose State getting high-profile home games is highly unlikely.


Toughest: at Arizona (Dec. 7)
Next toughest: Arizona State (Nov. 19), Illinois (Nov. 26)
The rest: Portland State (Nov. 8), UC Santa Barbara (Nov. 12), Nebraska-Omaha (Nov. 15), Tennessee-Martin (Nov. 30), at Southern Utah (Dec. 14), Radford (Dec. 18), Sacred Heart (Dec. 20), vs. Santa Clara (Dec. 22 at Orleans Arena), vs. Mississippi State/South Florida (Dec. 23 at Orleans Arena)

Toughness scale: 5 -- The Runnin' Rebels probably made up this schedule before all of the attrition on the roster. Still, UNLV has a multitude of quality games, with only the Arizona game being away from home. If UNLV wants to make a run in the MWC, it needs to take care of business at home with a schedule that is overwhelmingly prejudiced toward the Thomas & Mack Center.


Toughest: BYU (Nov. 30 in Salt Lake City)
Next toughest: USC (Nov. 8), Mississippi State (Nov. 23)
The rest: Southern Utah (Nov. 12), at UC Santa Barbara (Nov. 16), at Weber State (Nov. 26), Pacific (Dec. 7), Utah Valley (Dec. 14), Western Illinois (Dec. 19), UC Santa Barbara (Dec. 20), Troy (Dec. 21), San Diego Christian (Dec. 28)

Toughness scale: 4 -- The Aggies get loads of credit for making more of an effort to upgrade the schedule in their first year in the league. Coach Stew Morrill is usually not willing to go places, but he does have the rivalry game against BYU as well as USC at home. Mississippi State is the return of a home-and-home series.


Toughest: at Colorado (Nov. 13), at Ohio State (Nov. 25)
Next toughest: at Denver (Dec. 15), SMU (Dec. 20)
The rest: Tennessee-Martin (Nov. 8), Western State (Nov. 10), Arkansas State (Nov. 16), Jackson State (Nov. 18), South Dakota (Nov. 22), Montana State (Nov. 30), Black Hills State (Dec. 2), Northern Colorado (Dec. 22)

Toughness scale: 4 -- The Cowboys are going on the road to Ohio State, something that is not the norm for Larry Shyatt, who has always worked the schedule to his advantage and not played a high number of upper-level games. The rivalry game with Colorado is always a difficult one. Going to Denver may be close, but the Pioneers have become one of the better squads out West. SMU returns on the back end of a home-and-home series, but this time the Mustangs are much more formidable.

Tark, Pitino pumped for HOF weekend

September, 6, 2013

UNCASVILLE, Conn. -- While Rick Pitino shows no signs of slowing down, former UNLV Rebels coach Jerry Tarkanian just hopes to "make a good showing" during this weekend's induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.

Tark is 83 and battling health problems. His speech is slow, deliberate and at times labored. But he was still able to muster a few words Friday after he arrived in New England with his family.

Tarkanian will enter the Hall on Sunday along with Louisville's Pitino and former Houston coach Guy V. Lewis, now 91.

Read the full story here.

UNLV not amused about billboard flub

September, 5, 2013

On Wednesday, the Nashville Predators sent an email to the team's prospective season-ticket holders. The content of the email, titled "Skate of the Union," was the usual boilerplate -- information for Predators fans about discounted parking, ticket pickups, contact information, that sort of stuff. And then came the signoff: "Go Perds!"

As "Parks and Recreation" has proved time and time again, "Perd" is an objectively funny word, and so the subtle typo quickly made its way to the Internet, and by Wednesday evening, the Predators' staff was sending apology emails packed with self-effacing intentional misspellings, laughing off the typo in impressive fashion.

The point of that story about an NHL team's marketing department is that, well, mistakes happen. Maybe that can serve as some consolation to the folks at UNLV, which made its own advertising foul-up this week. As the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported Wednesday, Rebels athletics recently rolled out a new billboard on Interstate 215 informing UNLV fans that football and basketball tickets were now on sale, and that the coaches of both programs wanted them to "Come to our house!" Pretty standard, right? The only problem: The basketball coach pictured on the billboard wasn't third-year UNLV coach Dave Rice. It was his predecessor, Lon Kruger, who left the desert for Oklahoma in 2011.


Rice handled the matter about as well as humanly possible.

“I thought it was humorous,” he said. “It’s one of those things that happens. But I’m the last person who would take himself too seriously. Hey, if Coach Kruger can help us sell tickets, great.”

But UNLV's interim athletic director, Tina Kunzer-Murphy, was not pleased.

“To us, it’s not a laughing matter,” she said. “We think what happened was the billboard company was doing us a favor by posting the ad but our marketing people never saw it. But it’s being taken down and we hope to have a replacement with Dave and Bobby up.”

Awww, UNLV. It's OK. Granted, putting a coach who's no longer at your school on a forward-facing ad buy for your upcoming season tickets is not exactly the equivalent of a goofy typo. Clearly, someone needs to put photos of Kruger and Rice on his or her cubicle wall. A talking-to about diligence might be in order. But hey, it happens. Everyone makes mistakes. And look, we're writing about it! That counts for something, right?

In closing: Go Perds!

Jerry Tarkanian: His top 10 players

September, 3, 2013
Larry Johnson Ken Levine/Getty ImagesLarry Johnson rose from the juco ranks to carry UNLV to a national title.
Editor's Note: Three legendary college basketball coaches -- Jerry Tarkanian, Rick Pitino and Guy Lewis -- take center stage this weekend as the trio is inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. We'll be devoting a day to each as we examine what made them HOF-worthy.

As part of our Hall of Fame week celebrations, I'm ranking the 10 best players of Jerry Tarkanian's coaching career. (Check back during the week for other similar lists.) As you might expect, most of them played for Tark at UNLV. But one did not.

Oh, and in case you thought the process of ranking these players was painstaking, well, it was, sort of, but not nearly as much as it could have been, were it not for the help of the Las Vegas Review-Journal and, yes, Tarkanian himself. That's right: In 2010, the Review-Journal published the results of a 25-person panel charged with ranking the top 100 players in UNLV history. That was a handy reference, to say the absolute least. Even better? The newspaper also solicited the views of Tarkanian himself, who refused to mince words -- both positive and negative -- about his former players. My favorite: "Lewis Brown is [ranked] too high. He was a pain in the [bleep] in a lot of ways." My second favorite: "Jackie Robinson is too high. Jackie couldn't shoot. He could jump to the moon, but he couldn't shoot." Pretty great, right?

Anyway, with some thanks to the paper and the Shark himself, here's a quick rundown of the 10 best players of Tarkanian's tremendous coaching career.

1. Larry Johnson, UNLV: Sitting on the beach this weekend, before I had even opened my laptop to begin trying to pretend to think about this list, Larry Johnson was locked in at No. 1. You probably don't need me to run down Johnson's credentials, but before he went on to that good-but-disappointing pro career, he posted career averages of 21.6 points, 11.2 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.9 steals, 1.2 blocks per game, with 64.3/34.9/78.9 shooting percentages. He won the Wooden Award and a national title, and he was by far the best player on a team that packs this list. Point is, this was a done deal before my editor even assigned me this list. Too easy. As for Tark? "Larry stood out way above everyone," he told the Review-Journal three years ago. "I think he was the best by far." No argument here.

2. Stacey Augmon, UNLV: As good as Johnson was, UNLV was a force unseen in college basketball because he was surrounded by some rather insane supporting pieces — none more so than Augmon, whom Bill Walton famously dubbed "The Plastic Man." (Bill Walton has been at peak awesomeness levels for decades now, kids.) A four-year player who averaged 13.9 points, 6.9 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.9 steals in -- get this -- an average of 36.23 games per season, Augmon was the versatile star-level wing who gave UNLV's overwhelming athleticism both offensive versatility and defensive backbone. He won the NABC Defensive POY award three times. He was crazy-good in ways old box scores can only tease.

3. Armen Gilliam, UNLV: Armen Gilliam "was the second-best player I coached at UNLV," according to Tarkanian. I'm going to stick to my Augmon guns, but you can understand where the old ball coach is coming from. After all, the historic excellence of Tarkanian's early-'90s teams has long since overshadowed how good the Rebels were in the mid-1980s. But during Gilliam's tenure -- 1984 to 1987 -- the Rebels were 93-11 overall, usually ranked No. 1, and won 38 games in one season, still the most by any one team in a single season. Another single-season record -- 938 points, the most scored by any UNLV player -- belongs to Gilliam, who averaged 23.2 points on 15.3 field goals in 32.3 minutes per game in 1986-87. Also, his nickname was "The Hammer," one of the best hoops nicknames ever. (When it came to awesome nicknames, UNLV players had the market cornered.) Gilliam passed away during a pickup game in 2011 at age 47, but his basketball legacy, including that magical '87 Final Four run, lives on.

4. Sidney Green, UNLV: Tark on Green: "Sidney Green only had one great year for us. But his senior year was great. He's in the top 10 but not the top five." Is it cool to slightly disagree again? I hate to do it, but look: Yes, Green's senior year was capital-G Great (22.1 points, 11.9 rebounds, 1.4 blocks, 36.1 minutes per game), but it was hardly his only elite year — he averaged 10.7 boards per game for his career, and posted 15.6, 15.0 and 16.7 points per game in each of those three seasons in the early 80s. Coaches are always looking for more from their guys, and you can bet Tark knew what Green had to give even when Green didn't; that had to be massively frustrating. But if we're being fair, Sidney Green was really, really good.

5. Reggie Theus, UNLV: Theus' career stats -- 12.9 points, 4.4 assists and 4.3 rebounds per game in 91 career games (over three seasons) -- might not pop your eyeballs out of your head. But the teams he played for, most notably the 29-3 Final Four team from 1977, officially put Tarkanian's program on the map. Not only did those Runnin' Rebels teams introduce UNLV to the nation but they did so through a thrilling, up-tempo style -- matching burgeoning Las Vegas flash with genuine substance.

[+] EnlargeGreg Anthony
Richard Mackson/USA TODAY SportsGreg Anthony was a perfect fit at the point for Tarkanian's national championship team.
6. Ed Ratleff, Long Beach State: Tarkanian will always be remembered for his Vegas teams, but Tark gave his first preview of the power shift that was to come during his years at the Beach. Ratleff was by far his best player; he and his teammates went 75-12 in three seasons under Tarkanian, during which Ratleff averaged 21.4 points per game. In 1971, the 49ers led three-time defending champ UCLA by as many as 11 points before Ratleff was called for what he now politely deems a "strange" fifth foul. The 49ers eventually fell 57-55, and UCLA went on to win its fourth national title. Later, Ratleff would play on the 1972 Olympic team that refused its silver medal after a controversial gold-medal game loss to the USSR.

7. Greg Anthony, UNLV: This might be the craziest thing about those UNLV teams: Just about anywhere else in the country, Greg Anthony would have been the best player on his team for pretty much his entire career. In Vegas, he was the third wheel. But what a third wheel he was -- a smart, capable, push-the-pace point guard who made the Runnin' Rebels go.

8. Eddie Owens, UNLV: If Theus was the most notable player from the 1977 team that put the Rebels on the map, Owens was the linchpin. A member of Tarkanian's first recruiting class, Owens departed Des Moines for Vegas in 1973 back when UNLV was mostly unheard of, basketball-wise. By the end of his four years, Tarkanian was off and running.

9. J.R. Rider, UNLV: Easily one of the most talented players in Tarkanian's tenure, Rider's career peaked just after Tark's tenure and was known as much for its downs (particularly later, during his NBA days) as its ups. Still, Rider did post 29.1 points and 8.9 rebounds per game in the 1992-93 season, while shooting 51.5 percent from the field, 40.1 percent from 3 and 82.6 percent from the free throw line, which is so crazy good it almost doesn't matter that it came one year after Tarkanian was forced to resign.

10. Freddie Banks, UNLV: From Tark, on the Review-Journal's list, which ranked Banks No. 8: "I love Freddie Banks. He was a clutch shooter. God, he hit big shots for us. His ranking is about right." You said it, coach.

Honorable mention, just because: Anderson Hunt, UNLV: I would tend to lean toward the guy who hit the game-winning shot against Arizona in the 1989 Sweet 16, which might be the most memorable single shot in Tarkanian's entire career. Plus, Hunt could really play, despite being overlooked in favor of the Johnson/Augmon/Anthony glory days trifecta. So, honorable mention. Exactly what it says it is, actually.

Jerry Tarkanian: His coaching tree

September, 3, 2013
Editor's Note: Three legendary college basketball coaches -- Jerry Tarkanian, Rick Pitino and Guy Lewis -- take center stage this weekend as the trio is inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. We'll be devoting a day to each as we examine what made them HOF-worthy.

Jerry Tarkanian’s coaching tenure was filled with both bliss and controversy. But the drama doesn’t outweigh the facts about his decorated coaching career, including a prestigious reign at UNLV. He led the Runnin’ Rebels to four Final Fours and the 1990 national title. He also took three different schools to the NCAA tournament.

For all of that success, however, Tarkanian doesn’t boast the same coaching tree that some of his Hall of Fame peers produced.

Here is the best of Tarkanian’s coaching tree:

[+] EnlargeDave Rice
Bob Stanton/USA TODAY SportsDave Rice played for Jerry Tarkanian, coached under him and now is the head man at UNLV.
Dave Rice: The current leader of UNLV’s program played for Tarkanian and coached under him, too. Rice was a member of UNLV’s 1990 national championship squad. He also played on the UNLV squad that nearly repeated a year later. Once Rice's career ended, Tark convinced him to join his staff as a graduate assistant for the 1991-92 season. It was the legendary coach’s final year on the sideline. Rice also recorded another 10-year stint as an assistant at UNLV (1994-2004) before he ultimately returned as head coach in 2011. He has taken his alma mater to consecutive NCAA tournaments, and he has recruited blue chip prospects such as No. 1 NBA draft pick Anthony Bennett. But his third season might be more challenging than his first two. Bennett, veteran Mike Moser (transferred to Oregon) and Savon Goodman (suspended for the season) will be unavailable. A pair of top-100 recruits (Christian Wood and Kendall Smith) should help, though.

Reggie Theus: He was an All-American for Tarkanian’s UNLV squads in the 1970s prior to a productive NBA career that included two NBA All-Star Game appearances and more than 19,000 points. Theus turned New Mexico State into a player in the WAC after he accepted the school’s head coaching gig in 2005. In his first season, the Aggies won 16 games, a 10-win improvement over the previous year. After leading NMSU to the NCAA tourney in Year 2, he became the head coach of the Sacramento Kings but was eventually fired in 2009. After that run, Theus bounced around the league as an assistant and even led the Los Angeles Defenders NBDL squad for a year. But he’ll be back in the collegiate ranks this year as the new head coach for Cal State Northridge.

Tim Grgurich: Many know Grgurich as a longtime assistant for various NBA teams (Dallas, Milwaukee, Phoenix, Portland, Seattle). But he was crucial in UNLV’s run to the national title in 1990. For more than a decade, Grgurich helped mold former Runnin’ Rebels as an assistant under Tarkanian. Stacey Augmon, Larry Johnson, Greg Anthony and other former standouts were tutored by Grgurich, who was the head coach at Pitt prior to joining Tarkanian’s staff. With UNLV, Tarkanian implemented the same “amoeba” defense Grgurich utilized at Pitt.

John Welch: He played one season under Tarkanian at UNLV and eventually joined his staff at both UNLV and Fresno State. He was Tarkanian’s graduate assistant, and he was also an assistant for seven seasons during his stint with the Bulldogs. That stretch included two NCAA tournament appearances and six consecutive 20-win seasons. He moved on to the NBA and became an assistant with the Memphis Grizzlies and the Denver Nuggets. He was a key a member of George Karl’s staff for nearly a decade. This summer, Welch joined Jason Kidd’s staff with the Brooklyn Nets.

Jerry Tarkanian: His defining moments

September, 3, 2013
Editor's Note: Three legendary college basketball coaches -- Jerry Tarkanian, Rick Pitino and Guy Lewis -- take center stage this weekend as the trio is inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. We'll be devoting a day to each as we examine what made them HOF-worthy.

The good, the bad, the ugly ... here's a look at 10 defining moments in the career of Jerry Tarkanian:

1. Beyond the moments and the championships, beyond even the NCAA fight, one thing will stand alone as synonymous with Jerry Tarkanian -- the towel. He started chomping on one during his high school coaching days in Fresno, Calif., and, ever superstitious, never stopped throughout his coaching career. When UNLV commissioned a statue of the legendary coach in May, the artist posed Tarkanian on a chair, in his shirtsleeves and the ever-present towel near his mouth.

[+] EnlargeJerry Tarkanian
AP Photo/Ed ReinkeJerry Tarkanian began chewing a towel as a high school coach and it eventually became synonymous with the coach.
2. Tarkanian’s signature moment came in 1990, when UNLV won the national championship. Tark had assembled an embarrassment of talent -- Stacey Augmon, Larry Johnson, Anderson Hunt, Greg Anthony -- and the result was hardly surprising: a flat-out demolishing of Duke, 103-73. It remains the only time a team topped the century mark in a title game and the most lopsided championship margin. Brash and full of swagger, the Runnin’ Rebels were not exactly popular champions with the NCAA home offices. During the course of that championship season, the NCAA visited campus 11 times, and 10 players were suspended at different times.

3. Oddly, it is the team that didn’t win the national championship that many consider one of the best of all time. In 1991 UNLV ran its record to 34-0, barely challenged in the process, winning by an average 27.3 points per game. The Runnin’ Rebels seemed destined not only to repeat as champions but also to become the first team since Indiana to go undefeated. And then came the rematch against Duke in the national semifinals, a game that was completely unlike the title matchup in 1990. Older and tougher, the Blue Devils went toe-to-toe with UNLV and when Anderson Hunt’s 22-footer misfired at the buzzer, Duke avenged the loss and ended the Rebels’ run.

4. Before Tarkanian arrived in Las Vegas in 1973, people derogatorily referred to the school as Tumbleweed Tech. A university in the middle of Vegas? Why bother? In Tarkanian’s first season, UNLV was 20-6, and by the time he left, the school was so popular with movie stars it had its own Gucci Row, featuring such 1970s luminaries as Suzanne Somers, Don Rickles and even Frank Sinatra.

5. “The NCAA is so mad at Kentucky it will probably slap another two years probation on Cleveland State.’’ Tarkanian uttered the famous quip after Kentucky and coach Eddie Sutton found themselves in the NCAA crosshairs. But the line has stood the test of time, emblematic of not only Tark’s battles with the organization but also of the long-held belief that the NCAA practices selective enforcement.

6. Long before UNLV, Tarkanian was anti-establishment. He cut his coaching teeth at Riverside City College, long before adding junior college players to four-year rosters was an acceptable practice. Wildly successful, he parlayed that into a job at Long Beach State. When he led the 49ers to the 1970 NCAA tournament, he bragged that his roster was made up almost entirely of junior college transfers, immediately labeling him a renegade.

7. The nadir for Tarkanian came with a single picture, a photograph that changed his career arc long before smartphones with built-in cameras got everyone in their crosshairs. On May 26, 1991, the Las Vegas Review-Journal published a picture of three UNLV players in a hot tub with Richard "Richie the Fixer" Perry. It was Tarkanian’s undoing at the Las Vegas school, the proof that his team was operating outside the boundaries of an amateur program. Two weeks later, Tarkanian was forced to announce that 1991-92 would be his final season.

8. Vindication came for Tarkanian in 1998, when the NCAA elected to settle a lawsuit with the coach and his wife, awarding Tarkanian $2.5 million. In the suit, Tarkanian claimed the organization intentionally tried to derail his career, and rather than go to trial, the NCAA settled. Tarkanian’s reputation still carries the stigma -- a big part of why it took so long for his Hall induction -- which he acknowledged at the time of the settlement, saying, “They can never come close to paying me for the hurt they caused.’’

9. Forced out by UNLV amid the NCAA scandal (and after a very brief stint with the San Antonio Spurs), Tarkanian resurfaced at his alma mater, Fresno State, in 1995. He led the Bulldogs to two NCAA tournaments, but trouble seemed to follow him. Three players were charged with NCAA infractions, and the school was subject to a federal point-shaving investigation. In 2002, he retired from the school and the game.

10. At the 2013 Final Four in Atlanta, the Naismith Hall of Fame made an announcement many believed was long overdue, naming Tarkanian to its next class. The controversy that surrounded his entire career no doubt delayed his induction, but there is little arguing his impact. Credited with helping to introduce the fast break and the "amoeba" defense, and with opening up a world for junior college transfers, Tarkanian amassed a staggering 784-202 record in his 31 years as a head coach.

3-point shot: UNLV takes another hit

August, 28, 2013
1. UNLV coach Dave Rice didn't hesitate to suspend sophomore Savon Goodman from the team for this season. But he hasn't given up on him. Rice had no choice but to boot Goodman after it was reported in Las Vegas that a warrant had been issued for his arrest on felony charges dealing with burglary and grand larceny. There was also a gross misdemeanor charge of conspiracy based on a burglary attempt on May 18. These are grounds for expulsion from the school and dismissal from the program. But Rice isn't going there yet. "I have confidence that Savon can overcome this adversity," Rice said Tuesday. "We will encourage him through the process." Rice said Goodman would have competed for the starting power forward position. Losing a player of his talent and experience "always hurts," Rice said. All true. But it will be interesting to see how Rice handles Goodman going forward. There is a legal process first, and then UNLV, not just Rice, has to determine if the program/university wants someone who has been charged with such crimes on campus. The Runnin' Rebels lost Anthony Bennett to the draft and Mike Moser to Oregon. Guard Kaitin Reinhardt transferred to USC. Goodman is the latest hit. The offseason couldn't have gone worse for UNLV. Khem Birch and newcomer Christian Wood will be counted on heavily inside now, with the roster thinning. New Mexico is the class of the MWC. Boise State is next, with San Diego State probably following the Broncos. UNLV can't be considered in the top three anymore after the attrition to hit the program this summer.

2. BYU and UMass are two teams that have a legitimate shot to surge toward the top of their respective conferences this season. So why not play each other? The WCC-A-10 matchup announced Tuesday for Dec. 7 in Springfield (neutral court but not site for UMass) could be one of those games that gets discussed in March. Gonzaga is the favorite in the WCC. VCU and then either La Salle or Saint Louis in the A-10. But no one should sleep on either BYU or UMass. "Both teams know this is good for their resume," said UMass coach Derek Kellogg, whose Minutemen likely will return the game Dec. 23, 2014, in Utah. "We're trying to schedule as tough an RPI games as we can for our fan base." UMass, which has a top-tier point guard in Chaz Williams, has another March-like game when it plays host to LSU on Nov. 12 for the tip-off Marathon. BYU, meanwhile, has a meaty schedule with plenty of power-rating games: at Stanford (Nov. 11), Iowa State in Provo (Nov. 20), a potential CBE final game against Wichita State in Kansas City on Nov. 26 (assuming both get past first-round games in Texas and DePaul, respectively), the rivalry game against Utah in Salt Lake (Dec. 14) and at Oregon (Dec. 21). "Our schedule goes from West to Midwest to East Coast early, so we will see what we've got," said BYU coach Dave Rose. Rose said the big three for this season's team: Tyler Haws, Kyle Collinsworth (home from a Mormon mission in Russia) and Matt Carlino all have excelled this summer. "I need them all to be good," said Rose.

3. The Big East confirmed that its conference schedule will be released next week. The old Big East was always one of the last conferences to release its schedule because of so may pro arenas in the conference. That hasn't changed with Providence, St. John's, Seton Hall, Marquette, DePaul, Villanova and Georgetown all dealing with other tenants. The three new schools -- Butler, Creighton and Xavier -- have the most control over dates in their arenas. The conference is hoping to build rivalries and will protect one rivalry for the final weekend of the regular season. But the conference wouldn't say which one until the schedule is finalized. The teams haven't been notified yet of which rivalry was protected for the final weekend of the regular season.
1. New Butler coach Brandon Miller couldn't have had the summer lay out better for him with the decision by assistants Michael Lewis and Terry Johnson to stay on the Bulldogs staff. It's unclear if either had a shot to go with former coach Brad Stevens to the Boston Celtics, but the point is moot now. A much bigger coup is that the team's scheduled trip to Australia is still on for August. Miller didn't know the Butler players -- he came back to the school in April after spending a year at Illinois as a special assistant and the year before that doing pharmaceutical sales. The trip gives him 10 practices and four games Down Under. "I couldn't ask for a better time to be here,'' Miller said during our ESPNU college basketball podcast Tuesday. "We've got our Hinkle campaign (to update the famed arena), the Big East, and the new locker room, scoreboard and chair-back seating. The Australia trip is a huge advantage. It gives us a chance to bond."

2. The 2013-14 season will be crucial for the Atlantic 10's efforts to continue the momentum it built last season with La Salle's run to the NCAA tournament's Sweet 16 from the First Four. The top three teams return in Virginia Commonwealth, Saint Louis and La Salle, though the league loses Xavier and Butler. The A-10 will need that top three to stay on top, with a deeper second tier in Richmond, Saint Joseph's and Massachusetts. George Mason is the wild card in its first year in the league (Davidson joins in 2014-15). Dayton, Rhode Island, St. Bonaventure are all more than capable of cracking the aforementioned crew. The A-10 gets overshadowed by the Big East and might at times by the American. That's why this is an important year for the A-10 to re-establish its foothold in the East.

3. USC made it official with the transfer of UNLV's Katin Reinhardt. As with Darion Clark, transferring from Charlotte, Reinhardt will have to sit out next season. The Trojans, meanwhile, are trying to get Maryland transfer Pe'Shon Howard eligible immediately. Don't be surprised to see this kind of roster-building under Andy Enfield. He'll have to balance transfers, those who can play immediately and players he can stash for a year in his effort to create balanced classes. Oregon has made this an art in the Pac-12. Arizona State has gotten into the mix in attempting to climb up faster. Enfield is well-versed in compiling a roster in a variety of ways. To ensure USC is a viable player over the next two seasons, the Trojans will have to take some gambles.
Coaches of Mountain West Conference schools have a recruiting tool that isn’t very common at other programs from non-BCS leagues.

NBA tradition.

UNLV’s Dave Rice can sell prospects on the possibility of becoming the next Larry Johnson or Shawn Marion. New Mexico’s Craig Neal and Fresno State’s Rodney Terry can brag about the accomplishments of first-round draft picks Danny Granger and Paul George.

Nevada has three players (Luke Babbitt, Ramon Sessions and JaVale McGee) in the NBA and Jason Smith has given folks a reason to hope at Colorado State.

Here’s a look at the 10 MWC products who have enjoyed the most successful pro careers since 1989, the year the NBA draft was whittled down to two rounds.

[Editor's note: The Mountain West didn't begin play until 1999-2000, but we are counting any draftee who has played at a current MWC school since 1989. The departed schools aren't totally forgotten, though. Any player who participated in Mountain West league play is eligible for this list, regardless of whether their alma mater has since departed the conference.]

1. Larry Johnson, UNLV -- The No. 1 pick in the 1991 draft had a solid pro career, but back problems kept Johnson from becoming the perennial All-Star as so many expected after he led UNLV to the 1990 NCAA title and 1991 Final Four. Johnson averaged 16.2 points and 7.5 rebounds in 10 NBA seasons. He was named Rookie of the Year in 1992, when he averaged 19.2 points and a career-high 11 rebounds. Johnson retired in 2001.

[+] EnlargeShawn Marion
Todd Warshaw/Getty ImagesShawn Marion only played one season at UNLV when the team was still a part of the WAC.
2. Shawn Marion, UNLV -- As a member of the Dallas Mavericks, Marion is still going strong after being drafted ninth overall by Phoenix in 1999. Marion -- who played just one season at UNLV -- has averaged 16.2 points and 9.1 rebounds over 13 NBA seasons. The four-time All-Star earned third-team All-NBA honors in 2005 and 2006. In 2011 he was the starting small forward for a Mavericks squad that won the NBA title.

3. Danny Granger, New Mexico -- A small forward, Granger was named the NBA’s Most Improved Player after averaging 25.8 points for Indiana in 2008-09. He averaged 21.2 points over the next three seasons before knee problems limited him to five games in 2012-13. The No. 17 pick in the 2005 draft is averaging 18.1 points in seven NBA seasons. Granger was a two-time All-MWC selection at New Mexico.

4. J.R. Rider, UNLV -- His on-court success was often overshadowed by legal problems, but still, Rider’s NBA career certainly had its share of bright moments. He averaged 16.7 points in nine NBA seasons, including 19 or more points four times. He made the All-Rookie team in 1994 and posted a career-best scoring average of 20.4 points the following season. He was waived in November 2001 after playing 10 games for Denver.

5. Paul George, Fresno State -- The 6-foot-8 small forward just completed his breakout season, averaging 17.4 points and 7.6 rebounds for the Indiana Pacers in his third year as a pro. Even more impressive is that George averaged 19 points in the playoffs to lead his team within one game of the NBA Finals. No one will be surprised if the third-team All-NBA selection is an All-Star for years to come.

6. Andrew Bogut, Utah -- Bogut became the first Australian-born player to be selected No. 1 overall when Milwaukee made him the first pick in the 2005 draft. The 7-foot center now plays for Golden State. Bogut has averaged a double-double in three of his seven NBA seasons and is averaging 12.2 points and 9.2 rebounds for his career. He also swats an average of 1.7 shots. He was third-team All-NBA in 2010.

7. Rafer Alston, Fresno State -- A second-round draft pick in 1999, Alston struggled in his first four NBA seasons before finding his groove with the Miami Heat in 2003-04. He averaged 10.2 points and 4.5 assists that season and would average 30-plus minutes a game for the next five years. His best season came in 2003-04, when he averaged 14.2 points and 6.4 assists for Toronto. Alston played his final NBA game in 2010.

8. Kenny Thomas, New Mexico -- A first-round pick in 1999, Thomas averaged 9.3 points and 6.9 rebounds in 11 NBA seasons. He scored 14.1 points per game for Houston in 2001-02 and posted a career-high 10.1 rebounds in 2003-04 while playing for Philadelphia. That season he was one of 11 NBA players to average a double-double. Thomas played his last game in 2010.

9. Stacey Augmon, UNLV -- “Plastic Man” enjoyed a long NBA career after leading UNLV to the NCAA title. He played in 1,001 games in 15 NBA seasons but averaged only eight points. Augmon averaged five points or fewer in his final 10 seasons, but his defensive prowess kept him on NBA rosters. Augmon was a three-time winner of the NABC’s National Defensive Player of the Year award at UNLV.

10. Greg Anthony, UNLV -- The point guard for UNLV’s 1990 championship squad was an NBA journeyman who played for five teams in 11 professional seasons. An average outside shooter but an excellent assists man and defender, Anthony averaged four assists and 1.2 steals over the course of his career. His best season came in 1995-96, when he averaged 14 points and 6.9 assists for Vancouver.

Five more notables (names in alphabetical order):

Keon Clark, UNLV
Luc Longley, New Mexico
JaVale McGee, Nevada
Theo Ratliff, Wyoming
Ramon Sessions, Nevada

Too soon to tell: These guys haven’t been in the league long enough to make the top 10, but might get there soon enough (names in alphabetical order).

Jimmer Fredette, BYU
Kawhi Leonard, San Diego State
Greg Smith, Fresno State

Path to the Draft: No. 13 UNLV

June, 10, 2013
In the weeks leading up to the June 27 NBA draft, we’ll be taking a look at the 20 schools that have produced the best pros in the modern draft era (since 1989, when the draft went from seven to two rounds). Click here to read Eamonn Brennan’s explanation of the series, which will be featured in the Nation blog each morning as we count down the programs from 20 to 1.

Top Five NBA Draftees Since 1989

  1. Larry Johnson (1991)
  2. Shawn Marion (1999)
  3. J.R. Rider (1993)
  4. Stacey Augmon (1991)
  5. Greg Anthony (1991)
Sixth man: Keon Clark

The rest: Joel Anthony, Louis Amundson, Marcus Banks, Tyrone Nesby, Evric Gray, Kebu Stewart, Dexter Boney, Elmore Spencer, George Ackles

Why they're ranked where they are: When we first conceived of this list, UNLV was one team I expected to be in the top 10, if almost by default. The 1991 team produced three good pros, the best of which was Larry Johnson, whom I remember from his "Grandmama" apex. Shawn Marion, meanwhile, keeps extending an already-excellent NBA career. Without truly digging in, or considering other schools, I had the Runnin' Rebels in around No. 10 on this ledger. If not higher.

After digging, No. 13 feels right.

[+] EnlargeLarry Johnson
Ken Levine/Getty ImagesLarry Johnson was the biggest name from the early-'90s UNLV teams.
Johnson was the marquee player on the legendary early-'90s Rebels teams, which not only won the 1990 national title and went 27-0 in the 1991 regular season, but produced one of the greatest college posters of all time. After being drafted No. 1 overall by the Charlotte Hornets in 1991, to absolutely no one's surprise, he played immediately at an All-Star level.

At the time, some said Johnson would have been drafted in the first round had he declared for the draft after two otherworldly junior college seasons at Odessa College. That might be a bit of a stretch, but in any case everyone expected Johnson to dominate when he got to the NBA, and he didn't disappoint. As a rookie, Johnson averaged 19.2 points and 11.0 rebounds per game. In his second season, he led the league in minutes (40.5) and averaged 22.1 points and 10.5 rebounds. He was an All-Star that year (1993) and again in 1995 and, alongside Muggsy Bogues and Alonzo Mourning, made the Charlotte Hornets and their strange green and purple uniforms -- not to mention "Grandmama" -- a mainstay of my fellow millenials' basketball childhoods.

Given all this, it would be a stretch to try to call Johnson's career a disappointment, but it's also fair to say he might have left something on the table. Injuries pockmarked his prime years, particularly in 1993-94, when a back injury forced Johnson to play a less overpowering, more well-rounded brand of basketball. (According to Basketball-Reference's Win Shares metric, Johnson's best season actually came as a rookie. I'm not sure what this means, if anything, but it is interesting.) When tension between Mourning and Johnson led to both players being traded in the summer of 1995, Johnson was shipped to the Knicks in exchange for Anthony Mason and Brad Lohaus. Though he played a key role in the Knicks' Eastern Conference title run in 1999, he never reached his Charlotte heights again. In 2001, at the age of 31, Johnson retired. He played only nine years in the NBA.

What of Johnson's old 1991 Rebels teammates, Stacey Augmon and Greg Anthony? Augmon (whom Bill Walton unfortunately dubbed the descendant of Magic Johnson, Bill Russell and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) likewise played his only noteworthy years early in his career, during his first five years for the later-Dominique Wilkins-era Atlanta Hawks. Augmon averaged 13.7 points per game in those seasons, but was never a double-digit scorer from there on out. Anthony fashioned an OK career as a defensive specialist and a backup/spot guard (he averaged 20.9 minutes per game during his career). His best season (14.0 points, 11.3 field goal attempts, 30.4 minutes, etc.) came as the featured guard on the abysmal inaugural edition of the expansion Vancouver Grizzlies.

Marion, meanwhile, is now 34, but is still putting productive seasons on the board. Marion's best years -- when he earned the moniker "The Matrix," one of the least likely nicknames in NBA history -- came during the glory days of the Seven Seconds or Less era Phoenix Suns. That was when Steve Nash and Mike D'Antoni's up-tempo system revolutionized the league. Rangy, fast and high-flying, Marion was the perfect small forward for D'Antoni's system.

When Phoenix general manager Steve Kerr traded Marion to Miami for a washed-up Shaquille O'Neal, it was the Suns' death knell. It also eventually landed Marion on a rebuilding Toronto team, where he could have spent the rest of his days in the basketball wilderness. Instead, Marion made his way to the Dallas Mavericks in time to play an ensemble role on the team that won the 2011 NBA title. In 2012-13, Marion averaged 12.1 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.1 steals. He's still plugging.

J.R. Rider averaged 29.1 points per season as a senior at UNLV and he was just as thrilling in his first moments in the league. In 1994, Rider won the 1994 NBA Slam Dunk Contest with the "East Bay Funk Dunk." Rider was a good but never great pro from 1993-94 through 1999. But he was out of the league two years later, at the age of 30. He was dogged by off-court issues (including several arrests) throughout his career and in subsequent years. In 2009 he attempted a somewhat sad, if archetypal minor league comeback, and in 2012 announced he was planning to release a documentary about his life in the hopes of helping other young kids avoid a similar fate.

Are you sensing the common undercurrent here? Relative to how we remember them -- Rider from the dunk contest, Johnson as Grandmama, Augmon as Plastic Man, and so on -- most of the best post-1989 UNLV products' careers have been at least slightly disappointing. Or short-lived. Sometimes both.

When you factor that in alongside the rest of the list, No. 13 feels appropriate, doesn't it?

Why they could be ranked higher: While our memories of Johnson, Augmon, Anthony and Rider have probably improved, relative to their performance, you could just as easily argue that Marion has been drastically underrated from Day 1. Phoenix's trade for O'Neal was an intentional (and misguided) effort to make the Suns more conventional (slower, bigger, etc.). Instead it revealed just how effective and important Marion was running the floor alongside Nash. Marion has never been a gifted scorer, but his athleticism made up for that in the early years, and his craftiness does now. Despite occasional rumblings that he wasn't the best teammate, Marion has been a huge asset on every team that has employed him. You simply don't find athletic 3s who can rebound and guard the same variety of players as Marion very often. When you do, you should appreciate them. Maybe Marion is still underrated -- and if he is, doesn't that boost UNLV's overall score?

Plus, let's not totally overlook Keon Clark, a solid if forgettable pro, and Joel Anthony, who went undrafted but turned himself into an invaluable defender and rebounder on Miami's 2012 NBA title team (before the Heat went small in 2013, which sent Anthony to the bench, and you know the rest).

Louis Amundson isn't terrible. That's probably all we need to say about Louis Amundson.

Why they could be ranked lower: We don't spend a ton of time dwelling on the lesser lights of any team's list, but it certainly doesn't hurt a team's rankings to have a deep collection of tenured, productive veterans. UNLV does not have that. As I wrote above, outside of Johnson and Marion, the best Rebels were either disappointing or merely mediocre (or both). Further down the list, even if you set aside Clark, Anthony and Amundson -- which is generous in the first place -- resides a big whole bag of bad. I'm all about Marion, and I love me some Grandmama, but how good is the overall list here, really?

What’s ahead? After legendary coach (and frequent, brazen NCAA target) Jerry Tarkanian was forced out by university president Robert Maxson in 1992, UNLV went dormant for more than a decade. Even when Lon Kruger resurrected the program in the mid-aughts, he did it with the kind of unassuming, defense-first players who fit his system. It had hardly the kind of elite future pros Tarkanian so successfully courted. Only since former Tarkanian player Dave Rice took over in the spring of 2011 have the Rebels looked to run once more. As such, Rice has recruited well, and this summer uber-talented freshman Anthony Bennett is likely to be a top-five pick. (Chad Ford's latest mock draft Insider has Bennett going fourth to the Charlotte Bobcats.) Center Khem Birch could be a lottery pick next summer or beyond. After Katin Reinhardt's transfer to USC, that's about it as obvious potential pro prospects go. But keep an eye on incoming freshman Christian Wood, a great shooter with a lanky 6-foot-10 frame who might have hybrid-obsessed NBA scouts drooling, even if he still has much to add to his game. Insider

Final thoughts: I was six in 1991, and 10 in 1995. My memories of Grandmama and the Charlotte Hornets were always going to be inflated. Which is not to say Johnson wasn't good. Of course he was. There is no getting around how dominant he could be when healthy.

But the overall story of Johnson's career isn't one of undeniable dominance -- it's one of obvious brilliance at least partially derailed by circumstance. (Nobody tell 10-year-old Eamonn's best friend Jason. Jason owned a Hornets Starter jacket. He'd be crushed.) To an even greater extent, Plastic Man and Anthony never really reached the potential they seemed to have when they ran roughshod over college basketball for two straight seasons. At this point, Rider is a classic mid-'90s NBA cautionary tale. Only Marion, born of a different era in UNLV basketball, has been an above-average NBA player for more than a few years. Marion has been that for 14 seasons, to be precise.

I don't know about you, but when I hear "UNLV" and "pro products" in the same formation, my brain instinctually calls up that classic early-'90s All-Americans poster. It remembers Johnson in the glory days, Augmon back when people thought he was the next Magic Johnson, Rider from the dunk contest. UNLV's draft history since 1989 -- while still very good, and worthy of its spot in the top 15 -- was never going to be so simple.
On Sunday, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that rising UNLV sophomore Katin Reinhardt would leave the Rebels in favor of a transfer, possibly to play for USC.

[+] EnlargeKatin Reinhardt
Troy Babbitt/USA TODAY SportsKatin Reinhardt surely isn't leaving UNLV because of a lack of playing time last season.
This decision drew an immediate wave of criticism. It didn't help that Reinhardt recorded and published a funny, shirtless, chipmunk-voice-altered video refuting transfer rumors just two months ago. Nor did it help that the video was just the latest denial Reinhardt had made, both publicly and privately; coach Dave Rice told the (Las Vegas) Review-Journal that every time a rumor surfaced during the season, "[Reinhardt] always told me he planned to stay at UNLV." The Dagger's Jeff Eisenberg rightly wrote it was "remarkable" Reinhardt decided to jet, "considering the freedom he received as a freshman." CBS analyst Doug Gottlieb wrote Tuesday that Reinhardt "played too much too soon, and a year off will be good for his game and likely his soul." By Monday, there was already a backlash to the backlash.

Few transfer decisions in recent seasons seem to have spurned a more incredulous response. And why not? After all, Reinhardt, a freshman on a talented UNLV team, played 72.7 percent of his team's available minutes, shot 185 3s and attempted more field goals than any Rebel not named Anthony Bennett, who will be an NBA lottery pick this summer. Considering Reinhardt was given the green light despite not being a particularly efficient offensive player -- he finished with a 98.8 offensive rating, and shot 36.7 percent from 2 and 35.1 percent from 3 -- it's hard to understand why a player with that kind of leeway would want to sit out a season just to play somewhere else.

Actually, the reason wasn't all that mysterious. As Andy noted this morning, Rice told the Review-Journal Reinhardt's transfer was due to his dissatisfaction with his role, namely his belief that he should play point guard as a collegian to better enhance his future NBA draft profile:
“Katin told me why he was leaving. He said that he feels his best opportunity to play in the NBA is to play more minutes at the point guard position,” Rice said. “Katin would have had an opportunity to compete for minutes at the point, but I’ve never guaranteed anyone that they will start or play a certain number of minutes."

Forget the decision itself. Lots of players transfer for lots of different reasons. It happens. Oh well. What's truly worth a skeptical glance here is not that Reinhardt decided to leave, but why. For one thing, were Reinhardt capable of playing point guard, he probably could have done so for UNLV; the Rebels' 20.3 percent turnover rate was the highest in the Mountain West, and UNLV's major offensive flaw all season. Were Reinhardt capable of handling the point guard load, Rice surely would have been incentivized to allow him to do just that. But he turned the ball over on 19.2 percent of his own possessions. He wasn't a point guard last season. It just wasn't how he was built. Can he get there? Maybe. But that maybe is an awfully big leap of faith when the skin in the game is a year spent idle on the bench.

Even more questionable than all of that, though, is the entire notion of trying to position oneself for the NBA draft this early in college. CBS' Gary Parrish is dead on here:
Now I suppose it's fair for Reinhardt to assume his best shot at making the NBA is to play point guard considering he does, at 6-foot-5, have great size for that position. But you want to know the best way to make the NBA? Be awesome. Which is why I'll never understand why prospects don't just focus on being an awesome college basketball player and letting the NBA stuff come as it comes.

Exactly. How many times in the past have we seen prospects try to change themselves to better fit what the NBA wants, only for it to not work out? Tennessee's Jarnell Stokes tried to impress scouts by stepping away from the rim last season; he and the Vols were ineffective until he agreed to ditch that notion and start bullying people on the block again. Ohio State forward Jared Sullinger cited as among his reasons for staying two summers ago his desire to prove to the NBA that he could be a legitimate face-up power forward. He slimmed down in the offseason only to return to his dominant low-post role -- and gain much of his bruising weight back -- when it was clear that's what the Buckeyes needed most. In the end, Sullinger's position didn't have much to do with draft stock at all; the one-time top-five pick fell out of the lottery because teams were worried about potential injury issues. Stokes, meanwhile, is still in Knoxville.

There are times when this works out -- Stephen Curry deliberately played point guard at Davidson in 2008-09 to prove to NBA teams he could handle and pass as well as score -- but those examples seem fewer and much farther between. (That's literally the only one I could think of off the top of my head, and that was almost five years ago.)

It's not that players who do this are dumb, or misguided, or necessarily being conned by opposing coaches or people close to them into believing they're something they're not. It's that being loved by the NBA draft and actually playing in the NBA are two completely distinct things. You don't need to be drafted to get in the league. You don't need to fit some preconceived notion of what a point guard or shooting guard should be. But in the draft, the focus on these minute differences, combined with an inherent fear of "tweeners," give young players the impression that getting drafted or improving one's stock or impressing scouts requires them to fit such notions -- that they must twist their games into a pretzel to get NBA scouts to bite. If your lifelong dream was at stake, you'd do the same thing.

The league is smarter and more analytically driven, and cares less for traditional eye-test positionality, than ever before. Point guard, shooting guard, combo guard, power forward, stretch forward ... who cares? What is Curry? Russell Westbrook? Derrick Rose? The best two players in the NBA (LeBron James and Kevin Durant) don't even really have positions; James' team, the Miami Heat, doesn't play anything remotely resembling a center, even when facing the frontcourt of Roy Hibbert and David West.

Can you make shots? Can you get to the rim? Can you guard? Can you handle and pass? These are the questions that matter. At the end of the day, no matter what you are, if you're good enough to play in the NBA, someone will find a place for you.

It doesn't have to be complicated. It's actually pretty simple. Being good at what you do is always what matters most. The rest will come.

Hopefully, wherever Reinhardt ends up, that maxim proves as true for him as it does for most.
1. UNLV lost another player over the weekend. The latest to depart is Katin Reinhardt, who apparently had issues with the way he was being used by coach Dave Rice and wants to play the point more than shooting guard, Rice told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Reinhardt will have to see if Andy Enfield plays him at the point if ends up at USC, as the Review-Journal reported is a likely destination. Reinhardt shouldn't play immediately (I feel like I have to say that now with everyone getting waivers) and can use the redshirt year to become a point if that's his chosen position. The Runnin' Rebels already lost Anthony Bennett to the NBA draft after one season, and then Mike Moser graduated and transferred to Oregon to play immediately. (UNLV was also set to lose seniors Justin Hawkins and Anthony Marshall.) The Rebels will be scrapping with San Diego State to catch New Mexico and maybe Boise State in the Mountain West. But Rice shouldn't be worried. He needs players who want to be in Las Vegas, and the Rebels have replacements. Bryce Dejean-Jones can play shooting guard. UConn transfer Roscoe Smith had a year to better understand the game and how to play power forward. Depth is available with Carlos Lopez-Sosa and Kendall Smith, who can play either the point or the two for the Rebels. Khem Birch is eligible for a full year and can try to be more assertive offensively and dominant defensively. This team will be in flux, but the pieces are still in play to be an NCAA team.

2. Players don't necessarily have the allegiances that fans do. That's why Antonio Barton has no issues going from Memphis to rival Tennessee. The Vols desperately needed another guard after losing Trae Golden. And of course the Vols are now a beneficiary of the new free agency in college basketball. "It's safe to say kids are more concerned with the best opportunity,'' Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said about players holding rivalry grudges. As for picking up players on the fly, Martin said, "Free agency, it's a tough call. We're on the good side of free agency. I think a lot of mid-major programs are affected by the market.'' Martin used to be the coach at Missouri State and knows all too well about life at a lower level.

3. Former Michigan guard Tim Hardaway Jr. said on our college basketball podcast Friday that Caris LeVert is ready for a breakthrough season in 2013-14. Hardaway heaped high praise on LeVert. Meanwhile, Kansas coach Bill Self hit on a number of topics, including Ben McLemore, a recruiting class that he said had tremendous promise even before Andrew Wiggins signed, and coaching Wiggins next season. You can listen to the podcast here.