Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Saturday, Dec. 22, 2012 | 2:05 a.m.
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Jerry Tarkanian still can command a room.
Tarkanian was honored Friday at Bishop Gorman High School in between semifinal games of the inaugural Jerry Tarkanian Classic, receiving a standing ovation from the roughly 500 people in attendance after a seven-minute video tribute.
Tarkanian, who coached the UNLV basketball team to four Final Four appearances and the 1990 national championship, stayed long after the ceremony to take pictures and meet with fans. He’s 82 and not in the best of health, but still cracks a smile when talking about the players he coached and his memories in turning UNLV into a powerhouse program.
“It was very nice. It was a good time,” Tarkanian said afterward. “I haven’t been out too much. I go to the UNLV games, but I haven’t been out much (besides) that.”
UNLV coach Dave Rice, part of the championship team and Final Four squad the following year, spoke briefly about how Tarkanian influenced his career. Rice, who credits Tarkanian for several of his coaching philosophies, got his start in coaching as an assistant during Tarkanian’s last year at UNLV in 1992.
Tarkanian finished with a 509-105 record at UNLV without a losing season, and won nearly 800 career games also coaching at Long Beach State and Fresno State.
“We came to coach Tarkanian as individuals, and we left as men and we left as a team. That is his great legacy,” Rice told the crowd.
Former UNLV players Kaspars Kambala and H Waldman, and assistant coach Tim Grgurich highlighted the small group of former players and coaches in attendance. Reggie Theus, a star on the 1977 UNLV Final Four team, had previously committed to deliver a speech on Tarkanian, but canceled earlier Friday because of a practice conflict with the professional team he coaches, organizers said.
“Coach Tark had everybody’s back,” said Waldman, a Clark High product who was Greg Anthony’s backup on the 1991 Final Four team. “It was the mentality of us against the world and everyone bought into it. It brought everyone together. It brought the town together. It fit for the team. It fit for this city.”
Organizers distributed towels with a Tarkanian silhouette to everyone who attended. Tarkanian, of course, famously chewed a wet towel during games. The video tribute had highlights and interviews from his tenure at UNLV, including the 103-73 victory against Duke in the 1990 national championship game.
In a city with no professional sports teams, it was Southern Nevada’s most significant night on the sports scene.
“Every day I wake up and drive to the Thomas & Mack Center to go to work it is all about the standard of excellence he started here at UNLV, and what he has meant to this community and meant to the university,” Rice said in a later interview.
Tarkanian had a mild heart attack last March that kept him hospitalized for about two weeks. Still, he’s often seen at UNLV practices and games, relying on the help of a walker and his children to bring him to the arena.
The moment he walks in a gym, however, he’s immediately greeted like a rock star — regardless of which generation you are from, everyone seems to know the man who built the UNLV basketball dynasty.
“As soon as you put that (UNLV) jersey on the first thing you think of is coach Tark and the tradition he brought to Las Vegas,” said Katin Reinhardt, a freshman guard on this year’s UNLV team who attended the ceremony.