Thursday, Jan. 19, 2012 | 2 a.m.
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Las Vegas Sun reporters Taylor Bern and Ray Brewer break down the UNLV basketball team's 101-78 victory against TCU and look ahead to the Rebels' big home game Saturday against New Mexico.
- Here come the Rebels: Mendenhall Center puts UNLV on par with Duke, other national powers(1-19-2012)
- About 3,000 tickets remain for Saturday’s home game against New Mexico
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- UNLV falls two spots to No. 14 in Associated Press rankings
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The UNLV basketball team’s excellent start to the season has been gratifying for several people.
There are the players and their first-year coaching staff putting in countless hours of practice and preparation. There are the students, who have a team to brag about, and the fans in the community, who have been waiting for their sleeping giant to awaken.
Then, there's the coach responsible for putting the bulk of this team together. UNLV has a 17-3 record, is ranked No. 14 by the Associated Press and earlier in the season upset the nation's top-ranked team.
“It’s been fantastic,” ex-UNLV coach Lon Kruger said Wednesday from his office at the University of Oklahoma. “We’ve been watching whenever we can and keeping a close eye. Just really, really happy for the guys, coach (Dave) Rice and the staff. Everyone’s doing a great job and they’re fun to watch.
“They’re a great group of workers and Mike Moser’s energy has added a lot.”
Kruger left for the Sooners in the offseason after guiding the Rebels for seven seasons. His fingerprints are all over the roster, and his legacy continues today with the grand opening of the Mendenhall Center, a state-of-the-art practice facility that Kruger helped usher into reality.
The meetings started years ago. Kruger said they may not have made it past that point without Brad Rothermel, UNLV’s special adviser to the athletic director, and Maury Gallagher, the chairman and CEO of Allegiant Travel Company and member of a group of donors looking to help the program.
“Brad and Maury are the real catalysts for getting it off the ground and getting it going, because they both had a vision, they both understood the significance of it, you know, how much the program could benefit from it,” Kruger said. “Those two guys are deserving of the credit for getting it off the ground and then really keeping it going.”
Kruger also gave credit to former Rebels director of basketball operations Mike Shepherd, who now holds the same position on Kruger’s staff at Oklahoma.
“We had a vision for how the program could best benefit, from the training room and weight room to the two courts side-by-side and the reception area all connected right there to the Thomas & Mack,” Kruger said. “He was in all those meetings day-to-day and had that same vision for it.”
Kruger will be back in Las Vegas in late May for the Coaches vs. Cancer event at the Bellagio. If UNLV’s Rice has any questions about his duties for the event, Kruger will be more than willing to help.
“I talk to coach Rice on a regular basis,” Kruger said. “He’s been very, very kind.”
Even without the event in May, Kruger has plenty of reasons to swing through town. His daughter, Angie, lives here with her husband, and his son, former UNLV guard Kevin, lives here during the NBA offseason.
Plus, there are all of the people he met in the community during his tenure, when he led the Rebels to the NCAA Tournament in four of his final five seasons — highlighted by the 2007 Sweet 16.
“A lot of good relationships and nothing but great memories … Barbara and I love Las Vegas,” Kruger said. “The fans are great, it’s a terrific place to live and we still feel very close to Las Vegas and the program, even though we’re a few months removed. We’re huge fans of what they’re doing and expect them to continue to do well.
“They’ve got a great thing going there.”