Las Vegas Sun file
Published Sunday, April 10, 2011 | 11:55 a.m.
Updated Monday, April 11, 2011 | 2:15 a.m.
- Dave Rice learned his craft while part of UNLV’s legendary teams
- Dave Rice already familiar with brother’s prep program at Gorman
- Tarkanian: Dave Rice is a hard worker who deserves support
- Source: No decision on UNLV hoops hire to be made until ‘at least Sunday’
- Loaded junior class wows coaches at Gorman, waits to see what happens at UNLV
- Former BYU players recall Dave Rice’s impact, believe he’s earned shot at dream job
- UNLV announces official list of finalists for vacant men’s basketball job
- Livengood returns to Las Vegas today; coaching search hitting home stretch
- Lon Kruger says he doesn’t see Oklahoma as a rebuilding project
- Notebook: UNLV AD Jim Livengood’s coaching search heats up in Houston
- UNLV players, recruits react to news of Kruger's departure
- Brewer: Kruger leaving for Oklahoma isn't all that bad
- Jerry Tarkanian: Oklahoma's athletic department has deep pockets
- So, who's the odds-on favorite for Kruger's job?
- A look at Lon Kruger's coaching history at UNLV
- The coaches who have led the Rebels through the decades
Dave Rice had waited almost two decades for the phone call that came late Sunday morning.
UNLV athletic director Jim Livengood placed it, offering Rice the opportunity to become the 15th head men's basketball coach in Rebels history. It took Rice, who spent the last six seasons on the staff at BYU, almost no time to accept, and an hour later, he, his wife and their two sons were packed and in the car for a five-hour drive to Las Vegas.
Following a week that must have felt almost as long as the eight years since he last sat on the UNLV bench, what comes next for Rice will truly be a blur. He'll be on campus Monday for a 4 p.m. introductory press conference at the Thomas & Mack Center Board Room followed by a 5 p.m. fan reception next door at the Cox Pavilion.
Rice, who played for Jerry Tarkanian on UNLV's back-to-back Final Four teams in the early 1990s before an 11-year run as a Rebels assistant, spent next to no time getting to work.
On Sunday night, the Sun confirmed through multiple sources that San Diego State assistant Justin Hutson will officially become the first member of Rice's staff. Hutson spent the last five seasons heading up SDSU's recruiting efforts and coordinating the Aztecs' defense — both areas which contributed heavily to SDSU's storybook 2010-11 season that ended with a Sweet Sixteen berth.
Rumors are already flying regarding the other three spots on the staff — two assistant spots and a Director of Basketball Operations post — including some involving UNLV great, current Denver Nuggets assistant and former Rice teammate Stacey Augmon. More light should be shed on that situation in the next 48 hours.
Rice's other order of business upon arrival was meeting with the returning UNLV players Sunday night at the Mack. All but three players who were either unavailable or out of town showed, and the vibe was a good one.
"I woke up to the news, and it was good to finally find out who the coach will be, especially somebody who was part of the program before," said junior-to-be guard Anthony Marshall. "(The last week) was an emotional roller-coaster. When you lose the coach who brought you into the program, it's like losing a family member. Now, having a coach, I guess we just have a sigh of relief, you could say.
"You just can't help but be excited."
The team then held a scheduled open gym session at the Cox Pavilion, and Marshall said that what was displayed during that run was the excitement over the style of play Rice will bring to UNLV.
Rice spent the last three seasons as BYU's associate head coach, running the Cougars' uptempo offense that year-in and year-out has made them not just one of the most entertaining and explosive scoring teams in the Mountain West Conference, but in the nation.
The potential for similar results appears to be great, given UNLV's long and athletic roster that is already a stout defensive group. It includes several guards who can score from all over, versatile forwards and some big men who can run the floor exceptionally well.
"One of the things he said was just think about style of play from here on out — there was a lot of energy from that," Marshall said. "(BYU) really played in transition a lot. Even after a made basket, they'd hurry it up and get in bounds and up the court. I feel we can do that, we have the athletes to do that. That's all I've really been thinking about the last few days, before we knew who the coach would be. I've been telling the guys about the things we can do."
Though Rice wasn't named UNLV's next coach until nine days after Lon Kruger's unexpected departure to Oklahoma, there was a strong sense ever since that April 1 announcement that Rice would have the inside track.
The process conducted by Livengood and the rest of the UNLV brass was as thorough as possible, and despite some unlikely fringe candidates popping out of the woodwork and trying to get into the conversation — Bob Knight, Larry Brown and Larry Johnson — the field was chipped down to four finalists. Rice's top competition in that group in terms of local support was UNLV legend and Minnesota Timberwolves assistant Reggie Theus. The other two candidates to come out to Las Vegas late last week for interviews were St. John's assistant coach Mike Dunlap and former Oregon and Saint Mary's head coach Ernie Kent.
While Rice seemed to have the larger volume of support from the fans, alumni and boosters, those backing Theus as their top choice were much more vocal, led by both Jerry and Danny Tarkanian.
However, the campaigning wasn't enough.
"I'm obviously disappointed in the decision, but I'm really happy for David," Theus said Sunday evening. "I'm very fond of my university, and I'm sure I will always be a part of the Rebel family. It was a great opportunity. I'm very happy that I had a real chance to get the job. If that's the direction the administration felt they wanted to go in, then good luck. I just wish them a lot of luck.
"One thing in the process that was overwhelmingly pleasing was I did not expect the incredible fan support I got."
Theus tried to land the gig in 2004, when Kruger was hired. He was told to go get head coaching experience, which he did at both New Mexico State and then with the Sacramento Kings. He said he believes that on his current path, he'll be a head coach at either the collegiate or pro level again.
As for Rice, details of his contract will likely be hammered out Monday, and getting the Board of Regents' approval will be no sweat.
"I think his record (at BYU) speaks for itself — all of his players graduated, and BYU is a run-and-gun team, with him running the offense," Regent Mark Alden said of his approval of the Rice hire. "There are other big reasons: UNLV grad, former UNLV player, former UNLV coach, Rhodes Scholar (candidate).
"Dave Rice has a tough act to follow, but I think he's ready to do it."
Then, of course, comes the meat and potatoes of this opportunity.
Rice inherits a team that loses only two rotation players from a group that went 24-9 this past season and advanced to the NCAA tournament for the fourth time in five years. Between Marshall, Chace Stanback and Oscar Bellfield, there's a strong veteran core of a team that appears primed for a jump. There will also be the intriguing new pieces, highlighted by versatile UCLA transfer Mike Moser.
If winning is the meat, then the potatoes are, without question, recruiting. To be specific, it's the 2012 class, which includes several high-level senior prospects in UNLV's backyard. Four of them — Shabazz Muhammad, Rosco Allen, Ben Carter and Demetris Morant — play for Rice's brother, Grant, at Bishop Gorman.
UNLV will have at least four scholarships to fill at the end of the 2011-12 campaign, and pressure will be high to keep some of that talent within the city.
"It's totally unexpected that this happened at this time," Grant said. "Obviously, coach Kruger did a great job with the program in the last seven years. We fully expected coach Kruger to be here several years longer and possibly retire at UNLV. When this whole thing went down on April Fool's Day, no one believed it at first. (Dave) is very excited."
Both Dave Rice and Jim Livengood will make themselves available for comments at the scheduled press conference. For full coverage of Monday's big day on campus, visit lasvegassun.com/rebels.
More recruiting notes
• One major recruit from the Kruger Era who will take a little work to retain will be Findlay Prep sophomore point guard Nigel Williams-Goss, who committed to UNLV back in December.
Williams-Goss heard the news on Sunday while in Los Angeles to train with his AAU team, but said he wasn't surprised, saying he'd felt as if UNLV was leaning in Rice's direction over the last few days.
He and his family will now sit down and decide whether to maintain the commitment or re-open the recruitment. They expressed some disappointment in Kruger leaving, citing that the relationship they'd built with him was the primary reason for the unusually early verbal pledge.
"I've heard that he's a great guy, (Findlay coach Mike) Peck knew him and he had good things to say about him. I haven't heard any negatives about him and he's a great offensive coach," Williams-Goss said. "If he chooses to approach me, I'm open-minded to hearing what he has to say, willing to start a new relationship with coach Rice and whoever he brings in on the coaching staff."
• USC transfer Bryce Jones, who took an official visit to UNLV not long before Kruger and his staff left for Norman, Okla., appears to still be in play.
He was UNLV's top target to fill its last remaining open scholarship for next season. Jones, a 6-foot-5 shooting guard, took an official visit to San Diego State this past weekend, and Hutson now coming to Las Vegas could be a major chip for the Rebels to recruit with. He's still set to take his third planned visit to Gonzaga in two weeks.