Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017 | 2 a.m.
Cedric Cormier seemed to always be in the stands for the most important high school basketball game of the night. Every time I stepped into a gym, he was already there.
He had just moved to Las Vegas to join the UNLV football coaching staff. I assumed the wide receiver coach was attending games as part of his recruiting elevation process because the Rebels had signed a prospect who also played basketball.
Turns out, Cormier wasn’t assigned to be there. That’s how he spends his free time. He’s from Texas, where high school sports are king. In Texas, you support your neighbor.
“In our family, that’s what we did,” he said. “I grew up going to every high school game, every Little League game, any kind of youth sports.”
When the Rebels open the season in a few weeks, Cormier will be in his eighth season with the team, making him the fourth-longest tenured assistant in the program’s 50-year history. That’s an eternity in a profession where turnover is high and there’s little stability, and it's a credit to his value to the program.
Cormier was the lone holdover from the previous coaching staff when Tony Sanchez assembled his assistants three years ago. The previous regime lightly recruited at Bishop Gorman, where Sanchez built a national power. The one exception was Cormier, who would frequently message before big games to let Sanchez know he was rooting for the high school program.
Cormier’s interest in Las Vegas kids is genuine and refreshing. You wish it was how everyone operated in our transient city.
“There’s something special about this program,” he said of UNLV. “Obviously, you are in a great city. I have always thought this was a sleeping giant. It’s just a matter of getting over the hump and getting some consistency.”
Cormier has had a hand in recruiting or developing UNLV’s best players in recent years. You could argue he’s the Rebels’ best recruiter.
He found Devante Davis and Tim Cornett in Texas, developed Devonte Boyd (one of UNLV’s all-time greats) and heads arguably the Rebels best position group. One season after UNLV was forced to regularly feature a quarterback, defensive back and 5-foot-5 walk-on in the wide receiver rotation because of injury, this year’s group of receivers — Boyd, Darren Woods, Kendal Keys — is likely the Mountain West’s best.
Other UNLV teams Cormier has been part of were projected to win two or three games. This one will threaten to reach a bowl game. I asked Cormier if this year’s team was the best he’s been a part of at UNLV. He didn’t take the bait.
He thinks every team has had a chance to win. His confidence, especially considering UNLV has just one winning season in his tenure, helps explain why the players he coaches are top performers. He saw something in Davis and Cornett, two unknowns who had little recruiting interest, and helped turn them into players who would spent time in NFL camps.
“The problem around here has never been talent,” he said. “We have talent. It is about guys, when adversity hits, trying to overcome it.”
Time will tell if the Rebels have a winning season. I think they’ll break through, but then again, I’m always overly optimistic when it comes to my alma mater.
Regardless of what happens, Cormier will surely return to the same spot in the winter — watching some local high school basketball.