Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Tuesday, July 1, 2014 | 1:13 p.m.
The most iconic courtside photo of UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian, through a career of disappointing defeats and stunning victories and championships, was of him leaning forward, chewing on a white towel.
It was a water-soaked towel, intended to prevent dry mouth. For years, the task of readying the towel was assigned to Gil Castillo, who served as Rebel team manager for Jerry’s first three seasons at UNLV in the mid-1970s.
Gilberto Alvino “Gil” Castillo, who after leaving UNLV in 1976 forged a successful career in the gaming industry including as a baccarat pit supervisor at Caesars Palace, died June 25. He was 63.
Tarkanian, who coached the Rebels from 1973 to 1992, praised Castillo for being the best towel preparer he ever had. Castillo began preparing Tark’s towels at Long Beach State in 1969, and their relationship was so special that Castillo was at Tarkanian’s side last year when “Tark the Shark” was enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.
Despite Tarkanian’s success at recruiting and producing winning teams (706-198 all-time record), the one thing basketball fans and nonfans alike seemed to want to talk about was his towel, which is prominently featured at Tarkanian’s lips in a statue dedicated last year at the university.
The practice of chewing on soaked towels began in 1956 while Tarkanian was coaching a high school basketball game in a sweltering Southern California gym. The image continued through Tarkanian’s career at the junior college level and followed him to Long Beach State, where Castillo played a hand in Tark’s legacy.
Castillo is credited with providing Tarkanian one dry towel and one wet one, which Tarkanian would alternate, using the soaked one when he felt his mouth or throat were going dry. In later years, the practice became more of a superstition as well as Tarkanian’s endearing trademark.
When Tarkanian moved on to UNLV in 1973, he asked Castillo to come with him. Castillo served as Rebel team manager from 1973 to 1976.
Castillo left UNLV in 1976 to work in the gaming industry at the Four Queens; the Dunes; the old MGM Grand, which now is Bally’s; and finally Caesars Palace.
Castillo is survived by his wife, Juareen; daughter, Kristal, and her husband, Lenny; son, Mackenzie, and his wife, Janelle; four grandchildren; and siblings Virginia, Andres and Edward.
Services were Monday at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church. Arrangements were handled by Palm South Jones Mortuary.
Ed Koch is a former longtime Las Vegas Sun reporter.