An Ode to Tark’s 1990 UNLV Runnin’ Rebels

Jerry Tarkanian

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Memories of watching the Chicago Bulls with my Dad began to coalesce in the early 90’s. At the ripe age of 5 years old (going on 6), the ’93 Chicago Bulls championship is the first memory I have of basketball. Since that time 22 years ago, I have become hooked to the sport. With that being said, I have always wished I could have enjoyed live (and remembered) the years that came before me, particularly the years immediately preceding my ability to retain thoughts.

The 1989-90 UNLV Runnin’ Rebels were one of those teams that arrived just a few years before my memories began to take shape. This particular team featured four future NBA draft picks, including three first round picks in Larry Johnson (#1 pick), Stacey Augmon (#9 pick) and Greg Anthony (#12 pick). The closest I can find to three teammates being selected in the first 12 picks are the 2012 Kentucky Wildcats, who had three guys go in the first 16 picks: Anthony Davis (#1), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (#2) and Terence Jones (#16).

I can’t find another team that sent three guys in the first 12 picks, not to mention a 4th guy with the 2nd pick in the 2nd round of the draft, in George Ackles (#29). The 2012 Cats are the closest team to accomplishing this feat.

This team stands out to me for a couple of reasons. They absolutely eviscerated teams in a two-year window while these guys were in school. From the 1989-90 to the 90-91 season, this squad compiled a record of 69-6, which included two NCAA Final Four appearances and one NCAA championship in 1990. The Runnin’ Rebels torched Duke in the 1990 NCAA Championship game, winning by 30 points, 103-73, and setting a record for margin of victory in a championship game.

The closest team I can find that was as dominant as UNLV in a 2-year span is the Billy Donovan led Florida Gators teams of 2005-06 & 2006-07. Those squads brought home back-to-back NCAA championships and compiled a record of 68-11. By comparison, that’s still one less win than the UNLV squads and nearly double the amount of losses.

The craziest aspect of UNLV’s success is how quickly the entire program fell apart so soon after their apex. Shortly after losing to losing to Duke in a rematch in the 1991 Final Four, Jerry Tarkanian announced that he would resign after the following season. Tarkanian fought the NCAA tooth and nail for much of his career and in this particular instance, the NCAA had deferred a postseason ban from 1991 to 1992, which in effect allowed UNLV to defend its 1990 National Championship.

When a photo of troubled player and recruit Richard Perry emerged just months after the Duke loss in 1991 consorting with Tark’s players, Tark announced that he would retire following the 1991-92 season. Despite being banned from that year’s postseason and losing their top four players in that year’s NBA draft, the Rebels still ripped off 26 wins against only 2 losses.

For anyone counting, that’s a 3-year record of 95-8. The 1995-96 Chicago Bulls are widely regarded as the greatest basketball team of all time at any level, when they compiled an otherworldly record of 72-10. The 1990-92 Runnin’ Rebels and Tark might have something to say about that position. Rest in peace Tark, your teams will be remembered for their tenacious defense and hellacious sprints down the floor on breaks….and one of the greatest 3-year runs we will ever see at any level of basketball.

About Jim Armstrong

Jim is a life-long sports fan and split his childhood between the ‘burbs of Chicago and central NJ, while throwing in a summer living outside of Boston into the mix. This explains his passion for the 90′s Bulls, late 90′s/early 00′s Knicks and late 00′s Celtics (he will explain in a future post). Jim never played a minute of college basketball or football but did complete a Tough Mudder recently and continues to play in basketball leagues year-round. If this doesn’t make him an expert, then I don’t know what does. Jim crunches numbers for a living and enjoys applying these analytical skills to his sports obsessions. In his free time, Jim enjoys spending time with his family, fishing and writing.

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