Duncan, who did not go on the payroll until September, and then received just $480 a year for teaching two volleyball classes, hit the recruiting trail with Tarkanian in May 1968. "Our recruiting budget was only $600," exclaims Tarkanian. "We were allotted 42 pairs of basketball shoes, so I knocked off 14 pairs and put the extra $150 into recruiting. While other coaches were fishing or playing golf, Ivan and I worked and worked and worked, 14 hours a day, seven days a week. I don't ever remember sitting down to eat with my family. One of the reasons I left Pasadena was to get out of the smog and onto the beach. I don't think I even saw the ocean that first year."
Tarkanian and Duncan did see every spring and summer league basketball game within a 60-mile radius and haunted the playgrounds and recreation centers. They went to prospects' graduations, to their parties, to their sisters' weddings. When Duncan heard that the father of one coveted player was a tippler, he took a fifth of vodka to the home and made his pitch as they got drunk together. "It didn't work, though," says Tarkanian. "Another school in the area bought his parents off with a house and job for the father at Columbia Pictures."
Once, after 19 consecutive days on the road, Tarkanian was stopped by a state trooper late at night for weaving in and out of his lane. After giving him a sobriety test, the cop correctly diagnosed that Tarkanian was suffering from galloping fatigue and escorted him to the nearest motel. Says Tarkanian, "Ivan always said, 'If you see a coach with a camper or a fishing pole or a golf club, fire him. He's a loser.' And he's right."
Tarkanian, once described as having worry beads for eyes, had no need to fret. When the time came to enlist his recruits, he merely tugged on his long line of contacts and reeled in five of the best JC players in the state. Led by the redoubtable Sam Robinson and billed as "The Fastest Growing Power in the West," Long Beach State waltzed through a 23-3 season and won the school its first conference championship.
Times remained tough, however. While Tarkanian was out trying to drum up support at frat houses and Rotary luncheons, Duncan held forth on the telephone. "I'd call people in Long Beach trying to find summer jobs for the players and they didn't know where the school was," he remembers. "I'd say, 'You know, the place by the VA hospital,' and they'd say, 'Oh, that place.' We were nobodies, nonentities. No tradition, no famous grads. It was like being in high school."
When, heady with the success of their first season, Tarkanian and Duncan blew $22 on a lunch with two prospects, the school bounced their expense account, explaining that Long Beach State never had spent that kind of money on a recruiting lunch. "Right away," says Tarkanian, "Ivan wrote a note back saying, 'That's because this school never has recruited any top-quality players before.' "
Tarkanian began believing the top-quality line himself when his grapevine informed him that Ed Ratleff, one of the most hustled-after prospects in the country, was wavering on his commitment to Florida State. Quickly borrowing $350 from a friend, Tarkanian flew to Columbus, Ohio and moved in with Ratleff's high school principal. In short order Ratleff moved out for Long Beach and Tarkanian had his first bona fide, out-of-state "super." "We sold Eddie on the idea that he could come to Long Beach and put it on the map," says Duncan, "and he found that very romantic."
With Ratleff averaging 40 points and 25 rebounds a game for the freshman team, Tarkanian made do with Robinson, George Trapp ("George didn't even know what a scholarship was," says Tarkanian, "he just went where I went") and a makeshift road show. The mighty 49ers traveled to away games in private cars. When Sam Robinson's clunker snapped a fan belt, the school refused to reimburse him. "Unreal," says Tarkanian, still cringing at the memory.
The team always stayed in Motel 6s—$6 a night, rooms with linoleum floors and, for those who had it, 25� for the coin-operated TV. "We couldn't afford a pregame steak, much less a training table," says Tarkanian. "I told the players that sirloin curled up in their stomachs and was bad for them and that ground beef—I never called it hamburger—made them play better. And whenever we went into a restaurant, Ivan the Terrible would go in the kitchen and put the arm on the cook to knock down the prices. I'll bet there's never been another team that made it into the Top Ten on hamburgers."
Lean and hungry, the Motel 6 gypsies posted a 23-3 season and won the Pacific Coast conference title before bowing to UCLA 88-65 in the 1970 NCAA Western Regionals in Seattle.