Living his best hoops life. That’s a simple but accurate description of Joe Esposito, who is in the middle of his first season with the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels serving as special assistant to the head coach, a job with a wide range of duties. A veteran of three decades in the coaching business, Esposito has quickly made an impression in Las Vegas with fans and followers because of a Twitter personality that mirrors his infectious enthusiasm both on and off the basketball court. He and his wife, Mary, have two sons, Jordan and Jacob, and two daughters, Shay and Harmony.
I wanted to work at UNLV ever since I started doing this. My first year coaching in college was in 1988 and the one team that everyone knew was UNLV. I’ve had a relationship with Coach (Marvin) Menzies for 20-plus years and when this opportunity came about — it was a no-brainer for me. To help rebuild a program is something I have done throughout my career and I am honored to help in any way I can.
This is the first time I’ve been in this position. It allows me to work with many different areas of the program, which has been great. I look at myself as a consultant at times, using my many years of experience to help in any way possible to make UNLV the best college basketball program in the country. I have been a head coach at the high school and NCAA levels as well as an associate head coach and high major assistant for more than 30 years at eight different schools. That background helps me contribute here every day.
How UNLV is different
There are so many things — the diverse student body, the city’s incredible love for the Rebels, and the location. UNLV has a special buzz not only throughout the campus but also throughout the community. The university and the athletics department have incredible leadership and the focus is on the students. UNLV is truly “Different, Daring, and Diverse” and that’s what makes it a great place.
Where you grew up
I’m from Mahopac, New York, which is a suburb 50 miles from New York City. My dad is a deacon in the Catholic Church and my mom worked at the church as well so growing up I was there more than anywhere else. It was really a great community.
Inspiration to get into your field
I wanted to be a coach ever since I could remember. I am very competitive and was inspired by a few of my coaches growing up. The relationship you have with a coach is so special and I wanted to make a difference in players’ lives.
Last celebrity death that really affected you
I just recently lost a player I recruited at the University of Memphis to cancer. Karim Azab was a 22-year-old student-athlete from Egypt. After the last game last season, he felt something strange in his side and was diagnosed with stage four leukemia. He fought for seven months and I stayed in close contact with him when I left for Vegas. We just lost him last month. He was a celebrity to me and many people around Memphis and the college basketball community.
Alternate career choice
I would love to be a TV or radio announcer calling games or analyzing them on ESPN. I’m sure Dickie V (Dick Vitale) is almost ready to retire so maybe it’s time for Joey ‘E.’ I really enjoy talking about the game I love.
Tips for success
Dream no little dreams. I always say I have a hockey last name, a football body, and I work as a basketball coach. No matter what your dreams are, through hard work you can achieve your goals. One of my favorite quotes is “Average is as close to the top as it is to the bottom so why be average?” I never wanted to be average.
I love baseball. One of my sons plays college baseball in Virginia. I am a huge Mets fan. I actually follow all the New York teams. Besides that, I really don’t have many hobbies except for now living in Vegas, I love to go to shows with my wife. We have seen some great ones and really enjoy our date nights.
A guilty pleasure
I don’t watch much TV but would have to say it’s the reality show Big Brother. I have watched every season and even watch the live feeds. I have my kids hooked on it now as well.
An object in your office that has significance for you
I have many family photos and team photos, which I cherish, but my coach’s Bible given to me by the FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) on my desk is a favorite. It has great devotionals each day that actually relate to coaching. It’s inspirational and a great way to start the morning.
Something people would be surprised to learn about you
I tell everyone everything so not much is hidden. One thing would be that I was a magician growing up. I used to do parties for kids and perform magic tricks. I actually had a live rabbit in my skit. Maybe someday I’ll get a residence here in Vegas!