Remembering Armen Gilliam: A great Rebel, even better person

One of the biggest mistakes I made in coaching was not playing Armen Gilliam against UNR in one of the first games of his career at UNLV.

We didn’t lose to Reno often, but we lost to them that night, and Armen didn’t get off the bench. After the game, I remember my son, Danny, giving me hell for not playing him.

He started every game after that during what turned out to be a tremendous run with the Rebels. Everyone knew Armen for the points he scored in leading us to the 1987 Final Four. But he was much more than a basketball player. He was a quality person of high character.

Armen died Tuesday of heart problems. It was such shocking and devastating news.

Armen was such a great person. He was just so warm and kindhearted, but tough as nails. Everybody loved him. I don’t know anyone who didn’t care for him or think highly of him.

When he played for the Philadelphia 76ers during his NBA career, I remember getting a call from their owner talking about how happy they were to have Armen. He told me Armen isn’t the best player in the NBA, but he is the best human being in the NBA.

He was a nonrecruited player out of high school and better known as a football player and wrestler. He just put in the work and was so committed and dedicated. He got a late start and made it up by outworking everybody.

I used to get reports about Armen being at the Sporting House (a now-closed workout facility) working on his game late at night. During his senior year of 1987, he led us to the Final Four and a 37-2 record. We lost to Indiana in the national semifinals and also lost to Oklahoma by one point on a disputed basket. Replays show Gary Graham’s shot at the end of the first half should have been worth three points, but it was ruled a two. That was before referees could overturn calls on replay.

I would see Armen each time he would come back to Las Vegas. I met his son in 2007 when UNLV retired Armen’s jersey. It was really great meeting his son and telling him what a great person his dad is.

I’m glad the world is hearing about the great man Armen is today. Everything you hear about him is true — he was a classy guy, a great Rebel and friend to all.

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