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The past being prologue and life being just a bowl of cherries, would anybody care to guess what might happen as the Runnin' Rebel(lion)s of UNLV go forth under the banner of NCAA champions? Will they sit out games because of academic probation? Be delinquent on student loans? Not pay their hotel room minibar bills? Punch out a coach? Wage unholy un-war under their unrepentant coach, Jerry Tarkanian, as well as under the assumption that a snooping horde of investigators from some place called Mission, Kans., is ferreting through their automobiles right this very minute?
All that happened last season? Oh. Never mind.
Anyway, will Larry Johnson and Stacey Augmon—thunder and lightning—form an incomparably versatile tandem? Will they be twins of terror, yet supreme individual specialists? Will Johnson be as fearsome an inside scorer and Augmon as impenetrable a defender as you'll find on any campus?
Oh, yeah. Forgot again. That was also last season.
Essentially, folks, that's the news in a nutty shell. No matter what kind of bizarre undercurrents shake the foundations this season of Nevada-Las Vegas in year 1 A.D. (After David, as in David Berst, the NCAA's assistant executive director of enforcement who once called Tarkanian a "rug merchant"), probably the most stunning development at the college of fluorescent knowledge has already occurred: Johnson and Augmon came back for their senior seasons. Or, at least, they refused to leave—not once but twice.
They stayed even though they would have undoubtedly been chosen in the upper echelon of last June's NBA draft. Indeed, Johnson likely would have been the first player picked—seriously now, Derrick Coleman?—while Augmon would have been on the cusp of the lottery. What's more, they stayed even after realizing that the NCAA's decision in July to ban the Rebels from postseason play this season rendered them ineligible to defend their crown. It's called loyalty.
When Tarkanian, Johnson and Augmon heard about the NCAA's decision, Tark was at his summer home in San Diego, the two players at home, in Dallas and Pasadena, respectively. Says Tarkanian, "On the phone all Larry wanted to know was how was I doing? Was I all right?"
When Tark later contrived his lark of a plea bargain to sit out the tournament if the NCAA would allow UNLV to play it without him—a proposition that looked to have as much chance of getting by the NCAA Infractions Committee as Siegfried's performing without Roy—Augmon was the first Rebel player to speak up. "Coach don't coach, I don't play," says Augmon. "I told everybody that. The NCAA tournament is just a token now. It's all for pride this season. We want to go undefeated to prove a point. If they don't let us play [for the title], whoever wins will know the victory is hollow."
"It's a kinda...sorta...thing," adds Johnson. "Motivation? We're all about looking good, playing our hearts out and winning games, not trophies."
Johnson often playfully uses the phrase "kinda...sorta," a kinda, sorta kiddie affectation that belies his boulder-shouldered physique (250 pounds among the ripples) but also defines the 'tweener category he fits into. Johnson is listed as 6'7", but he's just barely. He averaged 20.6 points and 11.4 rebounds a game last season as a power forward. He's kinda Charles Barkley, sorta Buck Williams.