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Tark Tales

UNLV's storied basketball coach didn't let his hair down often, so when he did, it always caught the team by surprise.

UNLV History  |  Oct 18, 2017  |  By Jason Scavone
Editor's Note: 

This story is part of a series on the moments that shaped UNLV on the way to its 60th year.

It didn’t take long for Jerry Tarkanian to put his stamp on the men’s basketball program. Just two years after taking over in 1973, Tarkanian led the Rebels to the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet Sixteen. Two years after that, the Hardway Eight went to the Final Four.

Taking a cue from football coaches, Tark could be strict with his exuberant teams in those early days. During pregame meals, players weren’t allowed to talk to each other. Tarkanian wanted them intensely focused, even four or five hours before tip-off.

But his players found ways to have fun on the road. One night in Reno, Robert Smith snuck into the room Reggie Theus and Glenn Gondrezick shared. He poured water in their beds and chucked ice cubes on there so they’d freeze to the sheets.

Vengeance was swift and righteous.

“The next morning [Theus and Gondrezick] got up really, really early as the maids were doing their rounds, and tricked the maid by saying ‘Hey, I'm late for practice and forgot my hotel keys, can you open up the door of my room?’” said Larry Chin, the equipment manager who has been with the Rebels since 1974. “They open up the door and of course it's Robert Smith's room.” They wrapped him in athletic tape, put him in an elevator, and push the down button. “He ended up [in the basement] and the maids had to save him.”

The ’89-’90 team’s NCAA championship established the Runnin’ Rebels as a powerhouse in the sport and firmly entrenched UNLV in the national consciousness.

With a new generation of students building off a bedrock of success, the team buckled down. Under the leadership of Greg Anthony, bed checks weren’t necessary — everyone was focused on winning. In the championship season, after UNLV demolished Loyola Marymount, 131-101, in the West Regional, NCAA officials grew impatient when no one made a move for the ladders and scissors.

“Finally, an NCAA official comes up to me and says, ‘Do your players want to cut down the nets?’” Chin said. “I said let me see. I walk over and it's Stacey Augmon and Larry Johnson, and I interrupt them and say ‘I'm sorry you guys, but are we going to cut down the nets?’ There was a pause, and Stacey Augmon looks at me and says, ‘No, those aren't the nets we want.’”

As the team got a little more serious, Tark, showed signs of lightening up. He caved on idle chit-chat during team meals though he still frowned on guys laughing too loudly.

Except one day.

The team was eating breakfast together during a road trip. “Coach Tark comes down and he gets his food and he goes over to the table. He says, ‘Oh my god, I stayed up last night watching Eddie Murphy's Coming to America. The scene where he's out on the balcony and he's singing he's in love, and everybody is telling him to shut up? That's the funniest thing I ever saw.’

“The team just kind of looks at each other and goes, ‘Oh my God, he said something other than basketball.’”