Tarkanian changed college hoops

Dave Rice understands better than most the impact Jerry Tarkanian had on UNLV's basketball program.

Rice played for Tarkanian when the Runnin' Rebels won the NCAA title in 1990. And as the current Las Vegas coach, he has embraced the legacy of Tark's teams.

"I don't think there's a coach that's ever coached in college basketball that had more of an effect on the game in terms of playing pressure defense and offensive transition basketball ... making the game a better game and more exciting game," Rice told ESPN.com in 2012. "His teams truly were the Runnin' Rebels."

Tarkanian, who died Wednesday at 84, may be best known for the way his tenure ended at UNLV under the cloud of NCAA sanctions, or for a similar outcome at his alma mater, Fresno State. But Tark also should be remembered for how he changed the game and revitalized a city around a sports team like no other college coach before or since.

"There had been up-tempo teams before," said Cal State Northridge coach Reggie Theus, who played for UNLV in the 1970s. "But Tark was the one who really started fast-paced basketball. Well, maybe he didn't start it, but he took it to another level. The thing that always impressed me about him was that he was so much of a chameleon. He was a zone coach at Long Beach State. Then he was full-court pressing man-to-man defense."

Stacey Augmon, who was a member of the dominant Runnin' Rebels teams in 1989-90 and 1990-91, said the practices were always harder than the games.

"He had everyone believing what he wanted to accomplish on the court," Augmon said. "... Our conditioning was second to no one. I don't think the NCAA would let teams practice as hard as we did now. When we had a game it was like taking a break."

Tark didn't believe in stretching too much. He wanted the teams to go at it as soon as possible.

"There was a high level of fatigue at the end of practice," Augmon said.

"His on-court coaching made him a Hall of Famer," said San Diego State coach Steve Fisher, who won a national title at Michigan in 1989. "You can talk about all the other things if you want, but he brought in kids from all over and was successful.

"He won over a long period of time. He was as good as there was out there. He guarded like crazy. They shared the ball. They liked one another. It was a tribute to his coaching. He took players and found ways for them to be successful. They ran like crazy. They scored a ton of points. They all enjoyed playing for him."

Despite all the points, Rice said Tarkanian's legacy should be about defense.

"The offense came out of the defense," Rice said. "A lot of teams didn't commit to defense the way his teams did. He changed the style of play."

Tarkanian and Las Vegas reached the Final Four in 1977, then in the early '80s UNLV started a dominant decade that ended in a national title in 1990 and a 34-0 record in the 1990-91 season before the Rebels lost a stunning national semifinal game to Duke.

The Rebels weren't just winning. They were changing how the game looked, too, in ways that would be followed later by Michigan's Fab Five.

"Before the Fab Five, we had the long shorts, the black socks. We started the trend," Augmon said. "UNLV was the best place to be on the West Coast."

"We were way before the Fab Five," said Theus. "We came from an urban setting. We were all urban kids."

Tark believed in individual expression by his players. Rice called it a swagger that only the Runnin' Rebels had at the time.

"The very best coaches in the business, at the end of the day, turn the game back over to the players," said Mark Warkentien, a former UNLV assistant and longtime NBA personnel director. "It's their game. He made the players more important than him. He made the players the show. It was about the players first."

Warkentien said Tark wasn't afraid to change. He said Tark's early teams at Riverside City College and Pasadena City College were running a tight 1-2-2 zone and played in the 60s. When Tarkanian first got to UNLV, he didn't have the personnel to run.

"He changed quite a bit and then running 94 feet worked," said Warkentien.

Jalen Rose was a Detroit high school player who was recruited by UNLV and Michigan, among others. Anderson Hunt, who graduated from the same high school as Rose, played for the Runnin' Rebels. And Rose worshipped the whole scene.

"They were rough, they were a hardworking team," said Rose, an ESPN analyst who was one of the most outspoken members of the Fab Five. "I idolized them."

Rose said he saw the way Tark was able to get players from high schools and junior colleges and mesh them as one.

"Everything he did was unorthodox," said Rose. "We were considered rough-and-tumble at Michigan, but it started with UNLV."

Rose said he admired the work ethic of players on that team, such as Hunt and Greg Anthony. He loved the personal expression of Larry Johnson and his gold tooth. He enjoyed watching Augmon, with his length on defense.

"And they had the fresh gear, the Nike contract, with multiple uniforms and shooting shirts and different pairs of shoes," said Rose. "So often, the programs are about the head coach. But Tark was someone who sacrificed a lot for the college athletes. He allowed them to have their personality and flavor. He took chances on kids that others wouldn't. He took players and turned them into better men."

The freedom of expression that he allowed was celebrated by the players and made him a magnet for some of the top talents in the country. Sure, some were high-maintenance, but few other coaches would be able to deal with the various egos and put together a functioning team.

Las Vegas was also hardly the city it is today, an international destination where the adult Disney World-like atmosphere dominates the landscape. Tark made the Runnin' Rebels a Vegas institution.

"We had the interest of the entire community," said Rice. "It was an exciting time in college basketball because it was all about the Runnin' Rebels. The program changed a city. We don't have a professional franchise here. The UNLV Runnin' Rebels were that to the city."

How many coaches actually had a theme song? UNLV's Tark the Shark did. The "Jaws" theme was all for him. "I never got involved with any of that promotion," he told ESPN.com in 2012. "When we came here we didn't even have a fight song. ... We'd take the court and our pep band would play 'On Wisconsin.' ... Our band leader was from Wisconsin."

The city loved him. The NCAA did not. But ultimately he was the one who stood his ground and challenged the NCAA. He won a $2.5 million settlement. And he never received a show-cause penalty from the NCAA.

"It was absolutely brutal. ... We had guys that had to sit out games for reasons that were beyond belief," Tarkanian said in 2012. "I was really proud of the way our guys acted."