If the players find a way to take turns shooting the dice, and the NCAA does not impound their score books, and Coach Jerry Tarkanian does not bite off his fingernails and swallow his towel in the clutch, the Las Vegas Rebels could win the national championship.
The University of Nevada, Las Vegas, to call it by its proper name, is so laden with talent that no marquee could handle the billing. The top five scorers are back from the team that went 29-2 last season, shredding seven NCAA records along the way, among them scoring 110.5 points a game. In one game, the Rebels racked up 164. And with a schedule that begins with the Nationalist Republic of China and continues with a collection of mystery teams, Las Vegas might hit 200 one night. "We're so good," says Guard Glen Gondrezick, "that even I'm in awe of it sometimes."
Tarkanian does have a few problems, however. The NCAA is wiring its electric chair as it completes an investigation of his program, but if Tarkanian can figure a way to make a happy equation out of Time divided by Nine Players, the sleuths are the only thing that can beat him.
The Rebels have six capable seniors, two fine transfers and a sophomore who probably is the best of the bunch. The coach's answer is a whirlwind attack and liberal substitution. Las Vegas never relaxes, pressing all over the floor, running the fast break and letting fly with 30-foot jumpers like so many Beat the Clock contestants.
The town loves the Rebels. One service-station operator swapped a year's supply of gasoline for two tickets, and Sands' blackjack dealer Sandy Berman turned down $1,200 for his two seats.
The leading scorer is Eddie Owens, a left-handed part-Japanese forward who averaged 23.4 points while playing 27 minutes a game last year. Gondrezick anchors a defense that is better than most people suppose, and Forward Jackie Robinson is the leading rebounder; also a Ferrari on the break and an improved shooter. Sam Smith comes off the bench as the master of the rainbow shot. Lewis Brown is big and mean in the middle. And Robert Smith is the dealer on the fast break. That takes care of the seniors.
The two newcomers are Tony Smith, a transfer from Houston who hardly ever uses the whole basket on his jump shot, and Larry Moffett, up to the big time from the junior colleges. If Tony Smith can show any kind of defense, the Rebels will have still another gun, and if Lewis Brown does not bruise Moffett during practice, he will help inside.
The team's best player might be Reggie Theus, a sophomore with a complete game, an ability to play guard or forward and an unusual virtue: patience. "I'm able to accept not starting," says Theus. "There's enough in winning for everybody." And on that score, everybody should be happy.
During his four years at Arizona, Freddie (the Fox) Snowden has taken a ramshackle basketball program and made it over into a sleek high-rise. This year he has done some more renovating, including installing a bank of high-speed elevators.