In the mid-1980s, Jerry Tarkanian had already tasted Final Four glory, having led the Runnin’ Rebels to the national semifinals in 1977.
But in order to get back, there was one player he wanted to have, one player he needed to have: Lloyd Daniels.
“Everybody knew what type of player I was,” Daniels said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “And when he first saw me, he couldn’t stop looking at me.”
Daniels was a 6-7 point forward who could shoot, and Tarkanian convinced him to play for UNLV – that is, after taking care of some business at Mt. San Antonio, a junior college near Los Angeles.
“I just had to get a couple of grades up, a couple of more credits,” Daniels explained. “I just went out there and worked hard in the classroom.”
Unfortunately for Daniels, he was arrested during a drug bust in February 1987. He never played for UNLV.
And yet, Tarkanian kept in close contact with Daniels until passing away Wednesday at the age of 84.
“Tark was like a second father to me,” Daniels said. “He was a great man. Forget about basketball. He tried to talk to me every day. He’s just a real person. I used to go over to his house, and me and him just used to talk about life. And he just understood what I’ve been through in life.”
But how did Tarkanian relate to you? How did he motivate you? You were a troubled African-American from New York City. He was a middle-aged white guy from Euclid, Ohio.
“You know why?” Daniels asked. “Because he’s a real person. He understood. He didn’t look at Lloyd Daniels being from New York City. He looked at me as an 18-year-old kid. ‘How can I teach this kid to be in high school? How can I teach him to be a college student?’ Great man. He looked at me like i was one of his kids.”
“I never got the chance to play for him, but he never turned his back on me,” Daniels continued. “That’s a real person. He had to see something in me as a human being.”
Daniels wound up playing overseas for a few years, during which Tarkanian remained in close contact – even as he led UNLV to three more Final Fours and a national championship.
“Me and Tark, even before he passed away, we talked at least once a week,” Daniels said. “I just felt loved. Me and his daughter Jodie, (his son) Danny – we all stayed in touch. Every time they come to New York, they call me up or I call them up. ‘Hey coach, how are you doing? How’s the family doing? How are the kids doing?’ We just had that special bond.”
In fact, Daniels wound up playing for Tarkanian – not at UNLV, but with the San Antonio Spurs, in 1992. Daniels said Tarkanian was instrumental in getting his NBA career off the ground.
“He was No. 1,” Daniels said. “One of my friends, they laugh. They say, ‘Lloyd, I think Tarkanian took that job because of you – to prove everybody that, Hey, this guy’s still got something in the tank. Let’s see what type of person he is.’”
“Another college coach probably would have turned their back on me after losing their job,” Daniels continued. “Tark never turned his back on me. That’s a real dude. And you know what? He’s in a safe place. He’s up in heaven.”