Tark the Shark put Nevada on the sports map

Sports fodder for a Friday morning ...There will never be another Jerry Tarkanian in the state of Nevada. Tarkanian put the state on the national sports map. His UNLV Runnin’ Rebels captured the imagination of an entire nation that once thought Nevada was just a collection of neon, showgirls, quickie divorces, unmarked graves in the desert, nuclear test sites and cheap buffets. Tarkanian’s players loved him. The city of Las Vegas loved him. If you met Tark, you loved Tark. Yes, the NCAA hated him and northern Nevada was jealous of him (Tark was 23-2 against the Wolf Pack as UNLV’s coach) but that was only because he made them look bad. Nobody outside of Clark and Washoe County would even know there’s Division I sports in Nevada if not for Tarkanian. He gave the entire state a sports identity. There was never anyone like him in Nevada before he arrived in 1973 and there hasn’t been anyone like him since he left the Rebels in 1992. He’s the greatest coach in Nevada college sports history. And nobody else is even in the conversation.

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Tarkanian never got the credit he deserved for being one of the greatest coaches in college basketball history. Tarkanian accomplished the incredibly rare feat of allowing his players to be the show while also getting them to play exactly how he wanted them to play every second they were on the floor. He won nearly eight of every 11 games he coached in his career and five out of every six at UNLV. Tarkanian, though, was always looked upon as a blatant cheater who seemingly did nothing during games except chew on a towel. He looked like Uncle Fester of the Addams Family sitting down to dinner and not knowing he wasn’t supposed to eat his napkin. That was the unfair image. The reality was he could out-coach (and out-recruit) anybody on the planet. Tarkanian got a bunch of supposedly undisciplined inner city kids who were always the pampered star of their high school and junior college teams to play amazing team defense, unselfish offense and hustle like every trip down the court might be their last. He was a coach’s coach, a player’s coach and a fan’s coach.

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The Wolf Pack, at 7-16 with seven games remaining in the regular season, are likely headed to their fourth losing record in the last five seasons. UNLV is also just 5-6 in the weak Mountain West. Will the Wolf Pack or Rebels ever attain the level of success Tark’s Rebels enjoyed? Not likely. The Pack has only briefly approached national success over its century-long history and that lasted only as long as Nick Fazekas was on campus. The Rebels have always been talented but no Rebel coach the last two-plus decades has been able to blend all that talent into a hard-working, unselfish team like the ones that thrilled southern Nevada for two decades under Tark.

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Wolf Pack coach David Carter transformed his starting lineup six games ago and, well, the Pack has gone 1-5 since and is averaging about the same level of production on offense (61 points a game, 38 percent shooting) as it did before the changes. But don’t let the numbers fool you. This a much better basketball team with Eric Cooper and Tyron Criswell in the starting lineup. The problem is we might not really see the results change drastically until next season.

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The Wolf Pack baseball team should win at least eight of its first 12 games. The Pack opens the year starting Friday with a three-game series at Abilene Christian — a team in just its second Division I season — to begin likely its most forgiving 12-game stretch of the year. Anything short of at least an 8-4 record after those 12 games will likely suggest some deep-seeded concerns. They key to this Pack season will be the newcomers. We all know Austin Byler, Kewby Meyer and Trenton Brooks can hit but will they get some help? We know Michael Fain, Jason Deitrich, Barry Timko and Adam Whitt are a nice start to a pitching staff but they can’t pitch nine innings every game.

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It’s kind of ironic the week Tarkanian passed away a team from Las Vegas was awarded a championship because its opponent cheated. The public reaction to Jackie Robinson West of Chicago being stripped of its United States title because it used players outside its boundaries is everyone feels sad for the Chicago kids, the Chicago coaches are all to blame. Well, that’s true. But what about the Las Vegas kids who were robbed of their title by a team that likely wouldn’t have even been in Williamsport if it didn’t cheat? There are no winners here. It’s just a bunch of adults who should be ashamed of themselves.

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Do you care if Las Vegas gets a NHL team? Will northern Nevada embrace the team? Will everyone in the state feel like its their team? Yeah, right. Northern Nevada has never embraced anything that happens south of Tonopah. The problem with Nevada when it comes to its sports teams is the state is really made up of three different states: Northern Nevada, Southern Nevada and Eastern Nevada. Nobody cares what happens in the other two parts of the state. If the NHL puts a team in Las Vegas, it won’t be like the St. Louis Cardinals which draw fans from about five different states. A Las Vegas NHL team wouldn’t even draw that many fans outside of Clark County.

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Dare to dream, golf fans. Is it really that far fetched to think one day Tiger Woods will show up at the Barracuda Championship at Montreux some summer? OK, yes, it likely won’t ever happen, especially as long as the World Golf Championships share the same weekend as the Reno PGA event. But the Barracuda is about where Tiger’s game belongs these days, hacking away at a golf ball alongside the likes of immortals such as Geoff Ogilvy, Justin Hicks and Rod Pampling. Tiger wouldn’t even be the favorite and might not even make the cut. It would be sort of like watching and aging Joe Louis wrestle after his boxing career fizzled out. Baseball players sometimes have to go down to the minors to get their swings straightened out. Why not golfers?

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