Thursday, February 12, 2015

Remembering The Shark

TigerBlog has two vivid memories of the pre-tournament reception he attended with the men's basketball team at Fresno State in 1995.

The first was when Pete Carril walked into the building where the luncheon was being held. He was smoking a cigar, and he was told by Princeton's escort that he couldn't take it in the building. There was a handrail by the stairs that led into the building, and Carril placed his cigar underneath the handrail as he walked inside.

About two hours later, when the event ended, Carril walked outside, grabbed his cigar back and stuck it back in his mouth.

As an aside, when TigerBlog first started doing this every day, he figured that if he ever was without something to say, he'd just tell a funny Carril story.

Anyway, the other remarkable thing about that day was the reaction that the local fans had to the new Fresno State coach.

The Bulldogs were in their first year under Jerry Tarkanian, the legendary "Shark" who had coached UNLV during the glorious Runnin' Rebels years. And now here he was, the biggest rebel of them all in college basketball, a coach who figured to be followed all the way to his grave by the NCAA and its investigators, now two games into his Fresno State career. Jerry Tarkanian, who couldn't sneeze without having the NCAA wondering what rule he was breaking in the process.

Tarkanian passed away yesterday at the age of 84. He wasn't the greatest coach in NCAA history, but he definitely was up there as far as entertaining goes. His teams - he coached at Long Beach State before he left for UNLV - played in fifth gear at all times, and there was no better show in college basketball than the Runnin' Rebels. The fact that they played in Las Vegas only upped the level of excitement.

No team ever was better on one given night than UNLV was in the 1990 NCAA final, when it blasted Duke 103-73. In the interest of fairness, Duke got revenge a year later, beating a 27-0 Vegas team in the semifinals 79-77.

In between those two games, Princeton ventured to play at UNLV early in the 1991 season, in a game televised by ESPN. It was on that night that a team that Carril always called "Las Vegas-Nevada" instead of "Nevada-Las Vegas" gave out its NCAA championship rings and then thumped Princeton 65-35.

Princeton and Fresno would meet in the final of the 1995 Coors Light Classic - that was the name of the tournament - and Princeton won 59-54 behind six three-pointers from current head coach Mitch Henderson. TigerBlog was at the first game of the tournament - Princeton drilled Boise State behind 18 from current assistant coach Brian Earl - but had to leave afterwards due to the death of his grandmother. For what it's worth, it's the only Princeton men's basketball game he missed between December of 1994 and December of 1998.

Tarkanian's Fresno teams never matched what he did at UNLV, but that didn't matter to the locals, who couldn't get enough of him (Tarkanian played at Fresno in the 1950s). He and Carril are both in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, the two coaches with so little in common other than they were never quite part of the coaching establishment around them, an establishment embodied by another coach who went head-to-head with Carril and who passed away this week, North Carolina's Dean Smith.

Carril and Smith took each other on four times, all in the late 1960s and early 1970s. When Princeton played North Carolina at Jadwin in 1996, Bill Carmody was the Tiger head coach.

Smith arrived at the game in a limo, not on the team bus. TigerBlog can imagine that Tarkanian would arrive in a limo, along with his players and perhaps a few Las Vegas showgirls.

TigerBlog was a fan of Tarkanian. It was really hard not to be.

As for present-day basketball, this is yet another big weekend in the Ivy League.

Harvard and Yale are tied for first at 5-1. Princeton is in second at 3-2. Everyone has at least three losses.

The good news for Princeton is that if it wins the rest of its games, it'll win the Ivy League title and play in the NCAA tournament. At the very least, you always want that to be the case.

The bad news is that Princeton doesn't have a lot of margin for error.

The Tigers home with Brown tomorrow night - the game was changed to 8 pm -  and Yale Saturday night. Harvard hosts Cornell and Columbia.

Harvard, by the way, is 5-1 in the league, with one three-point win and back-to-back two-point wins last weekend. Harvard appears to be averaging the same number of feet of snow per week as it is points per win of late.

Still, 5-1 is 5-1. Yale would love to have last weekend's game back, a 52-50 loss at home to the Crimson. It'll make the Bulldogs a desperate team this weekend.

Of course, with no conference tournament at the end, the drama is all in the regular season. Harvard is either vulnerable or has gotten its hiccups out of the way. Yale is either a legitimate contender or a team that won't be able to bounce back from that home loss.

And Princeton? The Tigers had a tough, tough loss to Cornell last Saturday, when a double figure lead vanished in the blink of a 22-0 run by the Big Red.

Now Princeton is playing to stay in contention through the end. The Tigers play at Dartmouth next Friday and then have consecutive games at Harvard (Feb. 21) and at Yale (Feb. 27).

This weekend will go a long way to showing if those games matter.

Of course, as TB said, keep winning and there's nothing to worry about.

As for Tarkanian? Rest in peace, rebel.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I was at one of those UNC v. P games at Jadwin, fall 1971. Smith would rotate 10 guys interchangeably, in fact he may have done so in 5 man units. Bob McAdoo was on that team. We were so thin up front, we played 6'3'' super guard Brian Taylor at forward. UNC was highly ranked and no one gave us a chance. We beat them, with the subhead of a big NYT story the next day, "Rimol Ouplays McAdoo." Rims, our 6'10 soph center, among other things, threw up a crazy hook shot that went in. Roger Gordon '73, one of the most popular guys on campus and still a Jadwin regular, was inserted with a little time left by Pete. He closed the scoring by sinking a 45 footer, just inside the halfcourt line, at the buzzer. It was that kind of day. I think we won by double digits.