As you enter the Thomas & Mack Center a few miles off the Las Vegas Strip, a giant sign welcomes you to a new era in UNLV basketball that looks a lot like an old era: “LET’S RUN,” it says.
That’s the slogan first-year head coach Dave Rice adopted after he was announced as the man to reignite UNLV basketball and bring the Runnin’ Rebels back to their glory years.
All around this year’s team is the aura of what this program did two decades ago, when it fielded some of the finest teams in NCAA history. Hanging near the locker room are framed photographs of All-Americans from the 1990 national championship team, names such as Larry Johnson and Greg Anthony. Working with the guards on their defense at a recent practice is Stacey Augmon, one of five NBA first-round picks from those early-1990s glory years and now a Rebels assistant coach.
And standing at mid-court, presiding over one of the most exciting surprises of this college basketball season, is Rice, whose experience as a bench player for that 1990 UNLV national championship squad under then-coach Jerry Tarkanian informs how he leads his Rebels today.
How has this 43-year-old former Rhodes scholar candidate been leading this team since he took over from Lon Kruger last year in Rice’s first head coaching job? In a word: Phenomenally.