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UNLV BASKETBALL:

Livengood returns to Las Vegas today; coaching search hitting home stretch

Dave Rice still the front-runner while both he and Reggie Theus will be in town this week to interview

Reggie Theus

AP FILE PHOTO

Minnesota Timberwolves assistant coach Reggie Theus, center, remains one of the top two candidates for the vacant UNLV men’s basketball head coaching position along with BYU associate head coach Dave Rice. Theus was contacted by UNLV athletic director Jim Livengood on Sunday night, and is expected in Las Vegas at some point this week for a formal interview.

Updated Tuesday, April 5, 2011 | 10 p.m.

Click to enlarge photo

BYU associate head coach Dave Rice

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UNLV athletic director Jim Livengood's trip to Houston for the Final Four was in no way a vacation, and upon returning to Las Vegas on Tuesday afternoon, he still won't have much time to unwind.

The search for the school's next men's head basketball coach was barely more than 72 hours old, but it already appeared to be hitting the home stretch.

Some interesting names have been thrown into the pot in recent days, such as former Rebel great Larry Johnson and legendary Indiana coach Bob Knight, but all indications point to them having fizzled, with the same two candidates jockeying for position at the top — BYU associate head coach Dave Rice and Minnesota Timberwolves assistant coach Reggie Theus.

According to several sources, Rice still remains in the lead position. He already met with Livengood in Houston over the weekend before returning to Provo on Monday afternoon, and the Sun learned on Tuesday that he'll be in town for a formal interview on Wednesday, where the rest of the school's administration will get a chance to get some face time with him.

Despite early suggestions that Theus was contacted right away, his first conversation with Livengood came Sunday night. He will likely be in town for his interview on Thursday.

"The formal interview process will be done in Las Vegas, certainly with the president (Neal Smatresk) present," Livengood said. "The big thing right now is just continuing to put the pieces together and do our due diligence."

Livengood hinted strongly that a selection could be made by the end of this week, ready to be presented to the Board of Regents at a regularly scheduled Friday meeting. Several sources close to the program are saying that, too.

The top two hopefuls themselves are remaining mum.

Smatresk maintained on Monday that he is leaving the coaching search primarily in the hands of the athletic director he hired a little over a year ago, though he and the rest of the administration have simply given some input as to qualities they would prefer the chosen hire to have.

"I think it's always nice when you can hire someone who has a connection to the university, because that may help to insure that they'll have a long tenure here if they're successful," Smatresk said. "You don't want someone who just wants to use UNLV as a stepping stone and move on. I want someone who wants to come here and be here for a long time, who will be a great coach and make us proud.

"I personally think that this should be a great destination for someone who wants to build their own legacy. I don't think of us as a stepping-stone program in basketball."

Both Rice and Theus would fit that bill, as both have long considered UNLV as their dream job.

Rice played on UNLV's back-to-back Final Four teams in 1990 and 1991. He was an 11-year UNLV assistant before Lon Kruger came to town, and since joining BYU's staff in 2005 has coordinated the program's offense and its recruiting efforts.

Theus suited up for the Rebels in Jerry Tarkanian's early days in the late 1970s, and after a storied college career, starred for 13 years in the NBA. After proving himself as a standout recruiter as an assistant under Rick Pitino at Louisville, he enjoyed a successful two-year run as a head coach at New Mexico State, including an NCAA tournament appearance in 2007. He left after that season to take over the NBA's Sacramento Kings.

While both coaches could institute exciting, uptempo styles of play that would click right away given UNLV's current batch of players, there's also a want at the top for the program to maintain the success off of the court that it enjoyed under Lon Kruger, who was introduced at Oklahoma at a Monday press conference.

"We have to have institutional control, and we need to continue that tradition that Lon Kruger set for us," regent Mark Alden said. "Every time there was even a blip on the radar screen, he took care of it immediately. He was cooperative with the athletic director, he was open with the press. Everything was open with him, and nothing was hidden. That's the way the program needs to be run."

A third darkhorse candidate for the position remains, and that's St. John's assistant coach Mike Dunlap. One of the nation's hottest names among the assistant coaching ranks, Dunlap, who has deep West Coast ties, was brought to Arizona in 2008 as an associate head coach when Livengood was the school's AD.

Dunlap is a defensive guru, and was contacted over the weekend by Livengood. He is rumored to be wanting to make a move back west.

Either way, expect the thorough coaching search to wind down this week just as fast as it heated up.

"All I'm concerned with is we don't have a rush to judgment," Smatresk added. "The wrong number is one right now. We need to look at a couple, three people. We need to make a good, solid decision.

"We don't have to go so fast that we don't consider every possibility."

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