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May 21, 2019

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Larry Johnson: Men’s Basketball (1989-91)

Larry Johnson: Men's Basketball

UNLV great Larry Johnson cheers on his teammates from the Rebels bench. Johnson led the Rebels to a NCAA title and another Final Four appearance. Launch slideshow »

Many consider Larry Johnson the best player to ever suit up for UNLV. As a star with Vegas, Johnson did nearly everything well, averaging 21.6 points per game and grabbing more rebounds in a season (457) than any other Rebel.

He also has the best field goal percentage in team history (.643) and was a quality shooter and defender. Johnson only played two seasons with UNLV before heading to the NBA, and he still ranks 14th on the UNLV career scoring list (1,617 points).

Greater than any individual statistics, Johnson and his teammates won the school’s first National Championship in 1990 and returned to the Final Four the next season after an undefeated regular season.

The UNLV teams Johnson led from 1989-91 are still considered two of the best teams in NCAA history, and with Johnson in Vegas, the Rebels collected a 69-6 overall record.

During the Rebels dominance in the late 80s and early 90s, UNLV had a lineup full of stars, but Johnson stood above the rest. Twice he was a first-team All-American and he won the John Wooden and James Naismith Awards in 1991, awarded to the nation’s best college player.

As dominant as Johnson was individually, he had a reputation as the ultimate team player. Johnson once took himself out of a game because it was UNLV’s senior-day and he wanted senior Moses Scurry to play more. His selfless attitude made Johnson a joy to have in the locker room.

"He was a great player, but he was just a great person," former Rebels coach Jerry Tarkanian said.

Tark said Johnson might have been his favorite player to ever coach.

“He is the most caring, and most unselfish, the most team-oriented player I’ve ever been around,” Tarkanian said. “It spreads. When you’ve got a guy like him, he’s giving credits to his teammates and it just spreads.”

Johnson’s success didn’t stop when he left Vegas.

The Charlotte Hornets drafted the Johnson in 1991 and he was the NBA’s Rookie of the Year and played 10 seasons in the NBA before back problems forced him to call it quits. As a professional, Johnson played in two All-Star games, 66 playoff games and scored over 11,000 points.

He also gained notoriety for his popular “Grandmama” ads for Converse.

Johnson had his jersey retired by UNLV in 1995. After leaving Vegas early to play in the NBA, Johnson returned to UNLV 16-years later and completed his degree in social science studies.

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