Friday, Dec. 30, 2011 | 7:05 a.m.
Las Vegas Sun reporters Taylor Bern and Ray Brewer talk about the UNLV basketball team's offensive explosion in a 124-75 victory against Central Arkansas and look ahead to the New Year's Even game at Hawaii.
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The man with the most significant rooting interest on both sides of No. 19 UNLV’s game at Hawaii on Saturday will sit there expressionless.
Riley Wallace, a former Warriors head coach for 20 years and current housemate with his great nephew, Rebels fifth-year senior Kendall Wallace, has been down this road before. Two years ago, when the Rebels traveled to the island and won 77-53, Riley gave his courtside seats to Kendall’s grandparents. Their Rebel red shirts set one particular Hawaii fan off like a bull.
“This lady jumped all over me because, ‘Those are Hawaii seats, why are you letting Vegas people sit in those seats?’ ” Riley said. “I had to kind of knock her off.”
This time, when the Rebels (14-2) and Warriors (7-5) tip off at about 5 p.m. Las Vegas time, Riley won’t make the same mistake.
“Everybody will be watching me,” Riley said.
Kendall currently lives in Riley’s house in Summerlin near Red Rock. After living on-campus as a freshman, Kendall lived with Riley and his great-aunt Joan for a year, then spent the next two years in the athletes’ complex before moving back in with Riley.
“He’s been great to me and great to the whole family,” Kendall said. “Everybody I know likes my uncle.”
The relationship has helped Riley transition into retirement.
Riley, who grew up on the Illinois side of St. Louis, got into coaching as a high school assistant to Larry Little. He then became an assistant at his alma mater, Centenary, and helped the program recruit NBA great Robert Parish.
Shortly after taking over at Centenary, Little, then the Hawaii coach, brought Riley out to be his assistant, where he stayed for six years. After a three-year pit stop as coach at Seminole Junior College, Riley returned to the island for the top job and in 20 seasons took the Warriors to three NCAA Tournaments and six NITs.
When he decided to retire in 2007, Las Vegas “just seemed like the right place.”
Riley’s daughter lives two houses down from him and Little’s family has roots in Las Vegas.
Plus, Kendall’s games are just a short drive away, and Riley rarely misses one.
“When you retire and give up something you’ve been doing for all those years, it made it easier Kendall being there playing for UNLV,” Riley said. “Get your fix that way.”
Riley said he only feels the pull of coaching on game days, when the teams’ plans unfold and being a coach is fun. The traveling and second-guessing that come with the job, though, are elements he happily left behind.
Riley now works for Boyd Gaming Corp., as an executive host for its Las Vegas downtown casinos, with duties that include trips to Hawaii for golf tournaments. He and Joan kept a condo on the edge of Waikiki, where he’s been staying since traveling out Tuesday for the game.
Kendall said that Riley probably had the trip planned the second he saw Hawaii on UNLV’s schedule. Kendall found out about the game while performing knee rehab on a treadmill.
The last year was difficult as Kendall took a redshirt and worked back from an anterior cruciate ligament tear in his right knee. However, he hasn’t missed any time this season because of the injury and he said he no longer has to deal with it mentally.
“I think I got past that stage over the summer, playing on it and making every cut. I’m confident in it now,” Kendall said. “It’s just a little bit of pain and it gets pretty sore after playing.”
Kendall’s 3-point shooting has dipped about seven percentage points, but he’s already set a career high in blocks and is on pace to almost double his career high in steals.
“I’m here to just do whatever my teammates need me to do,” Kendall said.
That’s true at home, too.
Riley said Kendall helps around the house with chores and especially with anything computer-related. Kendall also picks up some of the bills.
“He has to pay something,” Riley said. “That’s the rule.”
Another rule, if Riley could have his way for everything, would be no bad-mouthing the St. Louis Cardinals. Kendall and Riley have more basketball knowledge than most houses could contain and they also compete on the golf course, where Kendall has the slight edge, but baseball conversations seem to bring out the most passion.
“We get into it a little bit on that,” Riley said. “Kendall is very knowledgeable on all sports. He knows way more than I know, even on the Cardinals.”
Kendall, an Arizona Diamondbacks fan, can hold his own equally on the court or in a conversation. On Saturday, he’ll likely get upwards of 20 minutes to do the former.
And throughout it all, Riley will sit stoically, with all eyes on him and his fixed on the court.
“Show no emotion,” Riley said, “but obviously I want Kendall to have a really good game.”