THE 1990 UNLV RUNNIN' REBELS STORY
We are in Las Vegas, Nevada playing the #7 ranked UNLV Runnin’ Rebels.
The UNLV vs. NMSU (game) itinerary sheet is precise – right down to the last second. As is customary during NCAA basketball games, anyone remotely associated with the event – playing, organizing or otherwise – is provided a 2-page outline of exactly what will transpire throughout the night. Tonight is an ESPN TV game, meaning most of the south-west is watching #7 UNLV Runnin’ Rebels play the #23 NMSU Aggies.
We are very fired up, but also nervous– everyone in the Thomas & Mack Centre locker-room is ~20 years old – and believe me, we know there are 18,000 people just outside our locker-room door at dying to scream and yell at us.
Our Head Coach Neil McCarthy enters the locker room. He is looking at the players and pacing the room – head-coach-like. Players have watched the pre-game scouting video and are taped and dressed. It is Pep talk time and McCarthy is here now to prepare us even more for tonight’s big game.
He starts talking…
“Well… (pause)… you guys think you’re going to win tonight?” (players collectively nod or mutter ‘Yes’)
“Well, no you are not. Nope! You are not going to win tonight. (Pause…) Why? I’ll tell you why. This team has won 65 straight games at home, one of the longest winning streaks in history… and WE, the NMSU Aggies are NOT waltzing in here tonight to the Thomas & Mack Centre to knock off ‘possibly’ THE GREATEST NCAA Division 1 basketball team in history. NO not us. Not on their home court. I’ve been coaching Men’s Division 1 basketball for 30 years, and I can tell you without a doubt that we are NOT coming to Las Vegas tonight to upset this extraordinary, unbelievably stacked, team.”
“(William) BENJAMIN, you afraid?… you nervous?” (Benj utters something) “It’s OK to be nervous – these guys are good. Tell ya what, I’m gunna ask only a couple things from you guys tonight. 1) Benjamin, you are our point guard and you’re great, you’re one of the nation’s best. Therefore, I am going to give you 3 turnovers before I even begin to get upset; so whatever you do… DO NOT look over to me with your contorted face looking for help until you’ve committed your 4th turnover (vs. Greg Anthony & Anderson Hunt). 2) As for the rest of you – you know we are playing in The Shark Tank (RE: Head Coach Jerry Tarkanian) and UNLV’s fans can’t wait to get ALL FIRED UP putting their arms straight out to do their CHOMP CHOMP CHOMP crap. I don’t want the CHOMP CHOMP CHOMP crap, nor to let UNLV’s fans into this game early. SO OUR GOAL, our only goal tonight is to see how long we can go before allowing UNLV’s team to get a dunk. Got it?” (players agree with nods and ‘Yeses’)
After UNLV’s customary laser light show the zoologists finally caged the real-life Grizzly Bear which clawed at us as we exited our changing room headed toward the basketball court (Hey, this is Vegas) the ball was finally tipped. Game on. We miraculously won the jump ball and went down court to take our first shot (it clanged off the rim), and wouldn’t you know it future NBA #1 draft pick, Larry Johnson outlets (throws) the ball to a streaking future NBA all-star Stacey Augmon who jumps clear out of the gym, taps the ball mid-air off his heals and POWER DUNKS the ball.
UNLV’s gym absolutely ERUPTS. Anderson Hunt then hit 9 tightly contested 3-point shots in the first half – his last 3-pointer scored from half-court just as the half-time buzzer sounded. We lost that game, and UNLV went on to win the NCAA National Championship.
Our plan lasted but a minute. And yes, Benj did eventually need to look over but I must say few could have done a better job that night. It was an INCREDIBLE GAME.