In the mid-1970s, Jerry Tarkanian recruited Reggie Theus out of Inglewood, California. At the time, Tarkanian had only been at UNLV for a couple of seasons, he had yet to advance to the first of his four Final Fours, and he had yet to win a national championship – and a whole bunch of schools were recruiting Theus, a future NBA All-Star.
So, how the heck did Theus become a Runnin’ Rebel?
“Tark is one of those guys, when you meet him, it’s hard not to like him,” Theus said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “It doesn’t matter if you’re the inner-city kid or from the other side of the tracks. He could relate to everybody. So he had a way about him that was just very friendly and very inviting. The thing that really was the best for me was the style of play. Growing up in L.A. in the background of UCLA – the interesting part is John Wooden had just retired my senior year. That changed things for me and for UCLA.”
“But having the opportunity to go (somewhere) not far from home, the UNLV style of play – it was sort of an easy, easy choice for me when it came to just being at a big-time school in a city that was growing,” Theus continued. “If you remember those days, it was only 5- or 600,000 people in Las Vegas. We were part of the fabric of the growth of that city. And to really start that program the way we did (with our) style of play – we scored 110 points with no three-point line. People forget – and I’m so happy that he finally got his credit for the defense. Because people forget that we would turn teams over over 25 times a game. That’s the only way you can score that many points with no three-point line.”
Tarkanian gave college basketball a never-before-seen style and identity, one that will live on even without “Tark the Shark,” who died Wednesday at the age of 84.
Tarkanian, who coached for 31 seasons, has the seventh-highest, all-time winning percentage among Division I men’s basketball coaches. He went 729-201 (.784) in his career, which trails only Adolph Rupp, Wooden and a handful of others.
He went 509-105 in 19 seasons with UNLV, which, for a time, was arguably the best program in college basketball, especially at home. The Runnin’ Rebels didn’t lose too many games at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
“That was the first time that anybody utilized the strobe lights and the spotlights,” said Theus, 57. “You could look at the other team and basically know the game was already over. Because when they put the strobe lights on and the spotlight’s going and there’s 6,500 screaming fans – it was some kind of scene. But it was an absolutely basketball-rabid place. It was loud, and that dome made the acoustics even stronger. So it was just a loud, really tough place to play, and it had a lot of glitz and glamour going to it. Tark’s style, our style of basketball – it was the whole package.”