Since Massimino's arrival the credibility gap between UNLV and the local media has widened. In May it was learned that some Runnin' Reb players had been given privileges to work out for free at a private club, the Las Vegas Sporting House. Initially, the athletic department issued a release that blamed this violation of the NCAA's extra-benefits rule on "the previous men's basketball administration." It turned out later that one of Massimino's assistants had written a letter designating which players were to use the club.
And then there's the matter of just how much the loss of Tarkanian has cost the basketball program. Local newspapers have reported that revenue from season-ticket sales is down $1 million: Weaver says it isn't that much. Then after announcing a paid attendance of 8,500 for its Nov. 27 exhibition against Marathon Oil, the school had to admit that 6,000 of the tickets had been freebies.
Massimino's own credibility begins to wobble when he tries to defend UNLV's made-for-success schedule of patsies. Last week the Runnin' Rebels were supposed to be in Hawaii taking on such heavyweights as Duke and Michigan in the Rainbow Classic. But after Massimino was hired, UNLV pulled out of the Rainbow so it could schedule a couple of easy W's, including a Dec. 30 game against Hofstra, a 79-41 yawner. The Rebs also bought out their contract to play at Lamar, meaning that Massimino doesn't face a single tough nonconference road game. And, with the exception of New Mexico State, the Big West conference has its usual lineup of soft teams, which should give UNLV an easy launching pad to the NCAA tournament.
While games against nice little private colleges from the East may be in keeping with the Rebels' new piety over academics, many Vegas fans didn't buy this new act—and not because they thought Hofstra was a movie about a dead mobster. Only about 10,000 people, slightly more than half the capacity at the Thomas and Mack Center, showed up for that game; in a town where the entertainment competition is stiff, UNLV versus Hofstra couldn't match up with that night's lineup on the Strip of the Beach Boys, Liza Minnelli, Frankie Valli, and Dionne Warwick and Burt Bacharach. After the game, when asked what he and Massimino said at the end of the blowout, Hofstra coach Butch van Breda Kolff, perhaps only slightly in jest, said, "We both apologized. I said, 'I'm sorry we came.' He said, 'I'm sorry we invited you.' " However, when Massimino was asked about the one-sided game, he talked about how much he respected Hofstra. And he never even cracked a smile.
Massimino seems to be trying to avert the sniping about his program by focusing on his players. Strange as it is to see a Massimino-coached team employing Tark's fast-break style, Massimino had to switch to have any chance of appeasing Vegas fans and keeping his players in the program. "He told us we would run and press, and we told him we would stay," says sophomore guard Reggie Manuel. "He kept his word, and we kept ours."
Trust. The healing process must be based on it. And though Tark's players have accepted their new coach, it apparently is going to be a long time before the feuding factions of Las Vegas will trust each other.