After years of mediocrity or worse, the recent re-emergence of the UNLV basketball program is a surprise to younger college basketball fans who are unaware of the program’s dominance in the early ‘90s.
It all started with a move that appeared to be a deflating blow. Then-head coach Lon Kruger left the Runnin’ Rebels to take Oklahoma’s head job. Many feared Kruger’s departure was a loss from which UNLV would be unable to recover. However, UNLV athletic director saw it as an opportunity.
The loss of Kruger developed into the greatest thing to happen to UNLV basketball since the ‘90s. In the hiring Dave Rice, a member of the 1990 UNLV national championship team and then an assistant at BYU , came the restoration of the history and pride that UNLV had been lacking.
Rice arrived at UNLV with the goal of this being his ultimate head coaching position. With that mentality he was able to instantly gain the trust and love of Runnin’ Rebel fans. Rice continually preached his philosophy of the runnin’ and gunnin’ style that was successful in the ‘90s under his coach Jerry Tarkanian.
In Rice’s one-and-a-half seasons, UNLV has not become the scoring machine that the early ‘90s teams were, but he has started a desperately needed transformation. Rice has done the unfathomable in recruiting not one, but two McDonald’s All-Americans.
Rice is 44-14 since taking over for Kruger, a very impressive record for a relatively young and inexperienced team. Notably impressive is that the Rebels only have one home loss. Not only has Rice been successful in overall performance but he has also brought national attention to UNLV. Rice’s resume boasts impressive wins, such as the dismantling of North Carolina, which was the number one team at the time.
Rice is still young and inexperienced in terms of strategy. But with the type of recruiting and the people with whom he surrounds himself, it is easy to see that there is no ceiling for how well he could do.
While not everyone will be satisfied with the Rebel’s performance, it is safe to say that the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels are back. The idea that this Runnin’ Rebels squad is beginning to become a mirror image of ‘90s teams strikes fear in the hearts of all schools around the country. The Rebels are back and with Dave Rice at the helm they are here to stay.
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