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Tarkanian steals the show before Hall of Fame induction

Former UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian is surrounded by his grandchildren while people take photos after a news conference before his induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013, in Springfield, Mass. (Sam Morris )
Former UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian is surrounded by his grandchildren while people take photos after a news conference before his induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013, in Springfield, Mass. (Sam Morris )
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Updated: 9/07/2013 4:14 pm
By Ray Brewer
LAS VEGAS SUN

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — When Jerry Tarkanian’s family arrived today at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, one of the former UNLV basketball coach’s many grandchildren in attendance had a suggestion.

Lois Tarkanian, 10, turned to her father, Danny Tarkanian, after seeing signs for basketball inventor Dr. James Naismith — the Hall’s namesake — and immediately had an idea to honor her “papa.”

“She thought it should be named the Jerry Tarkanian Hall of Fame, not the James Naismith Hall of Fame,” Danny Tarkanian said.

The way coach Tarkanian was received later in the day during pre-induction festivities, it might as well be called the Jerry Tarkanian Hall of Fame. Of the 12-member class for Sunday’s induction, Tarkanian received the loudest cheer during a ceremony where inductees received their hall jackets.

Tarkanian coached UNLV to four Final Fours and the 1990 national championship, and he has long been a Las Vegas treasure for giving the city a winning program. On Saturday, the legendary coach — he won more than 80 percent of his career games in compiling 700-plus victories — stole the show in proving he’s also revered nationally.

“I’m surprised at this. I had no idea this was going to happen,” Tarkanian said.

Tarkanian, 83, didn’t address the crowd and spoke softly when greeting supporters because his health has declined in recent months and he’s limited to a wheelchair. Still, he frequently flashed a large smile as his excitement for taking his spot in the hall was obvious.

And not just for the coach — for his entourage of 11 grandchildren and many other supporters.

When Tarkanian took his spot on stage, a majority of the more than 50 family members and friends in attendance had tears in their eyes. They also wildly yelled and applauded.

As soon as the ceremony ended, the grandchildren rushed on stage for a picture, putting another smile on the coach’s face.

The moment helped Lois Tarkanian, the coach’s wife, recall his initial years in coaching when they were starting a family. The four young Tarkanian children — she called them Tarkanian’s Army — would attend practices to spend time with their father, racing up and down the bleachers, and eventually having some of the best seats in the house for when the UNLV dynasty was built.

Tarkanian isn’t going into the Hall alone. It’s a family achievement, Lois Tarkanian says, just like how they stuck together during the many trials and tribulations of his career.

“Jerry himself has said, ‘I wish (the grandchildren) could have seem our teams play,’” she said. “People will say, 'Do you have the tapes?' and we do play the tapes. But the problem is it’s not the same. It is just not the same feeling we had in the city. We had an absolutely electric feeling in the city at that time. It is hard to explain that.”

Tarkanian’s Army arrived early at the hall today, touring the museum in the late morning and wearing vintage shirts from his stops at UNLV, Long Beach State and Pasadena City College.

In the college basketball section of the museum, there are displays for Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim and Georgetown’s John Thompson. And for storied programs such UCLA, Indiana and Kansas, there are framed uniforms and other memorabilia from yesteryear to document their successes.

Tarkanian and his championship UNLV teams were noticeably missing. Well, at least until recently.

After years of being snubbed for induction because of his long rift with the NCAA, Tarkanian was finally voted in last spring. He donated his national championship ring and other items to the hall, giving UNLV a permanent spot in what one inductee called “basketball heaven.”

Sure, it’s a decade or so too late, but Tarkanian is finally getting his due.

“There is no doubt for anyone who knows basketball that my dad should have been inducted a long time ago,” Danny Tarkanian said. “He doesn’t get his due for being one of the best all-time coaches. He was the best in my opinion.”

Current UNLV coach Dave Rice, Rebels assistant Stacey Augmon, national championship star Larry Johnson and Reggie Theus from the 1977 Final Four team are notables committed to attend Sunday. Others from Long Beach State and two California junior colleges also are here.

The players developed a love for Tarkanian partially for how he taught them basketball. After their careers, they stayed in contact because of the person he was. Forgot about basketball wins; it’s Tarkanian the person they are here to cheer for.

Take Larry Bonzoumet, who played for Tarkanian at Riverside City College in 1966. Like many others, he’d go to great lengths to support his former coach, the man who gave him a college basketball home when others passed. That’s a similar story others tell and why the Tarkanian loyalists are numerous.

“If you are a ballplayer, you might get one or two good coaches in your career,” Bonzoumet said. “Tark recruited me out of high school and convinced me to play for him. He said, ‘If you come to community college and play for me one year, you will have 10 or 12 (Division I) schools to choose from,’ and I did. I owed it all to him.”

So did all the other players. Talk with some of Tark’s former players, and they’ll tell you a similar story about the coach taking a chance on them.

Talk with his family, especially his granddaughter Lois, and they'll let you know how special the coach is.

“We are going to see Papa get inducted into the Hall of Fame,” she said.

Ray Brewer can be reached at 990-2662 or ray.brewer@lasvegassun.com. Follow Ray on Twitter at twitter.com/raybrewer21.
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