Monday, March 9, 2009 | midnight
Before 1977, UNLV basketball was relatively invisible. The school from Vegas had never made it to the big stage and the basketball program had no longstanding history of success.
Then came the “Hardway Eight.”
The 1976-77 Rebels put UNLV on the map with the school’s first Final Four appearance, and the flashy guard Reggie Theus quickly became a household name.
“We were a very unique group of guys who had a blend of speed, finesse, and played a little smash mouth,” Theus said. “We were truly Rebels in that sense.”
During the 1976-77 season, Theus emerged as a primary player and a future star.
After UNLV’s trip to the Final Four, Theus and the Rebels had elevated the program into the national spotlight.
The 1976-77 Rebels had plenty of talent and could light up the scoreboard better than any team in the country. The Hardway Eight, which are still considered one of the best offensive teams ever, went 29-3 and averaged an out-of-this-world 107 points per game.
“We had a lot of guys who could put the ball in the hole,” Theus said. “But we were also a very tenacious defensive team.”
The Inglewood, California native came into the ‘76 season without much playing experience, but his all-around game quickly made him a go-to player.
The next season, Theus took on an even bigger role, leading the 1978 team in scoring with 19 points per game and earning a selection as a second-team All-American.
For his career, Theus averaged 12.9 points per game, shot 81 percent from the free throw line, and ranks in UNLV’s top ten for assists (401).
Theus had his jersey retired in 1997 in a ceremony with teammate Glen Gondrezick.
“When I think about UNLV, I think about the Thomas and Mack and I think about my jersey hanging from the rafters,” Theus said.
After his junior season, Theus opted to forgo his senior year in favor of the NBA Draft, where the Chicago Bulls picked him in the first round. He played 13 NBA seasons, scoring over 19,000 total points.
Theus went into broadcasting and acting after retiring from basketball. He worked as Coach Fuller during two seasons of the NBC Saturday morning teen sitcom, “Hang Time.”
He then transitioned to coaching and worked as a head coach for New Mexico State and the Sacramento Kings.
“I feel very personal when it comes to UNLV,” Thues said. “What makes it so special is that I’m part of the history of the program.”