Hall of Fame basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian died in Las Vegas on Wednesday, this after battling numerous health issues for several years. He was 84.
Tarkanian is best known for his time at UNLV, where he coached from 1973 to 1992. Tarkanian led the Runnin’ Rebels to four Final Fours and won a national championship in 1990, blowing out Duke, 103-73, in the final.
“It’s a sad day for me,” former Blue Devil and NBA All-Star Grant Hill said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “Obviously I grew up a college basketball fan. I remember that 1987 UNLV Runnin’ Rebels team that got to the Final Four. Mark Wade, Freddie Banks, Gerald Paddio, Jarvis Basnight, Armon Gilliam. I’m going way back now. But I was a fan of how they played, and that was how and when I first got introduced to Jerry Tarkanian.
“Obviously he put a whooping on my Dukies in 1990 and had me thinking, ‘Man, maybe I picked the wrong school,’” Hill continued. “They beat Duke so bad. I was fortunate enough to compete against him. I’m an East Coast guy, but I was familiar with him and his story and how he gave people second chances. He went after guys that weren’t necessarily blue-chip players, but he identified talent that maybe others didn’t and just had a remarkable impact on the game and on the young men that he coached.”
Hill was impressed that Tarkanian agreed to be interviewed for Duke 91 & 92: Back to Back, which came out in 2012.
“He was gracious enough, even with his health not great, to sit down and do an interview,” Hill said. “I had a chance to go and be there at his enshrinement ceremony (in 2013). It was a long overdue induction into the Hall of Fame. Just a great man. I did not have a lot of interaction with him because we were on opposite ends of the country, but (I’m) certainly a big fan of what he did throughout the course of his career. He will be missed. He’ll be missed. Just a sad day for college basketball.”
A sad week is more like it. Tarkanian’s death comes right on the heels of Dean Smith’s passing. That duo combined to win more than 1,500 games, but they couldn’t have been more different. Smith was more buttoned-up, while Tarkanian injected style and flair into the game. Neither style was better than the other, but both were effective.
Hill referenced a conversation he had this past weekend with former Blue Devil Jeff Capel comparing Mike Krzyzewski and Jim Boeheim, both of whom will retire with more than 1,000 career wins.
“And they couldn’t be more different,” Hill said. “Everything that they do – how they approach the game, their beliefs on defense, offense. They’re obviously good friends, but it just proves that there’s different ways, different paths to success. And there’s not one sort of written formula to be successful. And I think the comparison of Coach Smith and Coach Tarkanian . . . embodies that whole idea.”
“You have to stay true to who you are,” Hill continued. “Your personality and your beliefs. I think that’s the most important thing, and I think you take from other coaches that you were influenced by. I know Coach K took a lot from Bobby Knight and a lot of the same principles and coming from (a West Point) background. I know Coach Smith took from Frank McGuire. There’s a lot of influences that I think Coach Tarkanian and Coach Smith (took) that helped them become who they became.”