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Full-Court Press

By Paul Arnett

Friday, February 2, 2001

Colorful McGuire
had impact on Tark

THE news of Al McGuire's death didn't bring the flag to half-staff or leave the nation grief-stricken.

Instead, thousands of stories were traded among family and friends, colleagues and acquaintances, and those who only saw him broadcasting basketball games on TV. He was the kind of person who amazed you with his insight, bewitched you with his stories and left you laughing outside an elevator as he punched a button for the top floor.

Fresno State head coach Jerry Tarkanian could tell enough McGuire tales to take you through dinner and dessert.

One of Tark's favorites was the time McGuire invited him to a Marquette practice that better resembled a street game than a relegated workout. The players were arguing with the coaches or fighting among themselves. It bordered on two hours of chaos, something that left Tark believing his Long Beach State team would win in a walk.

"We lost by 17," Tark said. "It was unbelievable."

Some 20 years later, McGuire met up with Tark again, this time as a broadcaster the night before one of the biggest nonconference games of the year. Nevada-Las Vegas traveled to Oklahoma to face Billy Tubbs' dangerous Sooners.

It was bone-chilling cold outside. But during that Saturday afternoon game on national television, it was 100 degrees in the shade in OU's gym.

"Billy loves to turn up the heat -- literally," McGuire told a small gathering of reporters after UNLV's Friday evening practice. Tark was already incredibly nervous. Even with Larry Johnson, Greg Anthony and Stacey Augmon, he knew it would take a supreme effort to beat the Sooners.

Despite a broken ankle, McGuire braved the frigid Norman, Okla., weather just to see what the future national champions looked like in the flesh. He traded jabs with Tark. "You took on the Supreme Court and lost by one in overtime." He wished him the best of luck, "Because Tark, you're going to need it," and then pointed his cane at an unsuspecting reporter and said, "Young man. I need a ride back to the hotel."

THIS is the story that this somewhat older reporter likes to tell, particularly on quiet afternoons when those memories burn brightest. Later that season, McGuire would be in Vegas the weekend after a brawl broke out between UNLV and Utah State.

He would counsel Tark through this tense period, one in which the Runnin' Rebels' head coach would push a local cameraman to the court after he got too up close and personal for Tark's taste.

But on this short drive, McGuire was feeling expansive about the upcoming game. He believed UNLV had the kind of talent needed to compete for a national title. McGuire also felt that Oklahoma would win.

"Because it's tough to beat Billy at home," McGuire said. "You have to be 10 points better than them. And Vegas isn't that good -- not yet."

Here is where the details of that trip fade from view. It's like riding with Starman. Given the time, there's a million questions you could think to ask. But not a single one came to mind.

McGuire didn't notice. He talked about this and that. How he hurt his ankle. How the college game had changed since his national title days at Marquette. And what it's like to win it all.

"Can't describe it kid," he said almost to himself. "It's like no other feeling in the world."

Tark knows those feelings. And at 70, two years younger than McGuire, he would love to pass it on one more time before he's through. As McGuire said, "Never underestimate the Tark. You'll pay if you do."

Paul Arnett has been covering sports
for the Star-Bulletin since 1990.
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