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REBEL WITH A CAUSE
Pete Dexter
December 08, 1986
Jerry Tarkanian, Nevada—Las Vegas's combative basketball coach, won't let the NCAA or any of his other detractors alter his controversial ways
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December 08, 1986

Rebel With A Cause

Jerry Tarkanian, Nevada—Las Vegas's combative basketball coach, won't let the NCAA or any of his other detractors alter his controversial ways

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The top of the desk is arranged in a careful, symmetrical sort of way—one pencil on this side, one pencil on that side; a note pad here, a note pad there. Jerry Tarkanian does not do his work on a desk.

He also doesn't do much of it on the road. "I don't recruit a lot," he says. "One of my assistants does that, because it drives me nuts. There's so much lying. The kids lie to you. One week he's definitely coming to UNLV, the next week he won't answer the phone.

"I got unlimited funds [to recruit] here, but I rarely bring in as many as 12 kids a year. We'll zero in on eight or 10, and try to get five." And the five he gets will, more often than not, come from junior colleges—more often than not, junior colleges Tarkanian himself got them into because they did not have the grades necessary to make them eligible for scholarships to UNLV.

"A lot of coaches say you can't win with junior college athletes," he says. "I don't look down on them. I like junior college kids, I was one myself. I take kids nobody else will touch, and, yeah, a lot of them don't belong in Harvard.

"But basketball is instincts. The way we play the game, we get up and down the court fast, we shoot quick, play pressure defense. I'm not into passing up shots, I'm not into patience. We will try to take you out of your game, and I think we do that pretty well. Very few teams take the ball where they want it against UNLV. We deny them the spot they want, we deny them the ball.

"I always try to let the kids use what they have. You give our players too much to think about, it affects their shooting."

I ask if too much thinking is what makes him hate a team.

"It's an attitude," he says. "A good attitude is something you've got to nurture. It doesn't just happen because you tell some kid it's important, you got to show him you care. I never start out a season making goals. The only thing I tell my players is, 'Play as hard as you can.' You got kids that try, that's a good attitude. They don't, you hate the team."

Back at Fresno State, Tarkanian was exactly the kind of player he likes to put on the floor now—one who would kill to win—except he does not like small, slow guards who shoot set shots from outside.

"I wasn't any good," he says, "except for running the team, playing defense. I sometimes think if I'd been a better player. I would've been a worse coach. I always wanted to be this, but only after I realized what kind of player I was."

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