Las Vegas Sun

August 17, 2019

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UNLV prez Smatresk is ready for some basketball

Dr. Neal Smatresk, UNLV’s new president, is ready for basketball season to begin and he’s hoping many in the valley are as enthusiastic come opening night.

The Rebels open the 2009-10 season Saturday night against Pittsburg State at the Thomas & Mack Center and Smatresk, an avid sports fan, plans to sit among the fans.

He has the use of a certain President’s Box at the arena, and he plans to use it when there are officials to meet and greet, when it makes good business sense.

Most often, though, he and his wife Debbie will be part of the crowd about 10 rows from the floor opposite the visitors’ bench. Smatresk even shot a video, poking fun at himself a bit, for opening night.

“The camera’s up here,” he said, pointing to a spot above him, in his office early Friday morning. “I’m hunched over writing, with a serious look, and I glance up. I say, ‘Oh, didn’t see you there. I’m the president of UNLV and there are three things that really matter to us here.

“ ‘One, our world-class educational programs. Two, our nationally ranked research. Third,’ and I wheel around in my chair, pop open my coat and I have a UNLV basketball shirt on, ‘is Runnin’ Rebels basketball! Fans, are you ready for opening night?’ ”

Approachable, engaging, funny, interesting and warm, Smatresk (rhymes with SPA-tresk) is as common as the fan sitting next to him. That’s what he wanted the video to show.

“It kind of pokes fun at myself as a fan, that kind of stuff,” he said, “where you don’t take yourself too seriously.”

He wondered if the video will work.

“I don’t know if fans will get it if they don’t hear the ‘president’ part,” Smatresk said. “I’m not sure it’ll matter, but it’s fun. I was thinking I needed to bite a towel.”

He was told that shtick had been used.

“I heard,” Smatresk said, and then laughter cascaded down his seventh-floor office corridor. It wasn’t even 9 a.m., and he couldn’t have started his day in a better way.

By the way, if you see him Saturday night, call him Neal.

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