By Paul Arnett

Friday, March 26, 1999

UNLV proved upsets
can happen

D ICK Vitale hung over a railing at McNichols Arena just above press row waving his arms and yelling at the top of his famous lungs.

Nevada-Las Vegas and Duke were seconds away from the tip-off of the 1990 national championship game. The atmosphere was akin to a title fight at Madison Square Garden.

This was good against evil. Saint Mike Krzyzewski in a battle of wits with demon Jerry Tarkanian. McDonald All-Americans squaring off with Jerry's Kids.

"You're going to be a happy man tonight, Paulie," Vitale shouted at me as I took my seat among the thousand or so media members gathered around a court that now calls Blaisdell Arena home. "It's going to be blow-out city, baby. Duke can't handle the pressure. Score one for Father Flanagan."

As the beat writer for the UNLV Rebels, I had been privy to stranger scenes than this during the 1989-90 season. Vitale and I had crossed paths earlier that year at the preseason NIT in New York.

And while Kansas cut up UNLV in the November semifinals, Vitale remained a fan of Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon, Greg Anthony, Anderson Hunt and David Butler throughout the season. His strong belief proved prophetic as the Rebels routed the Blue Devils, 103-73.

"Do you miss it?" my wife asked, shaking me out of my reverie. Vitale was arguing a point with Digger Phelps on ESPN; something to do with Duke being the team of the 1990s. Not much of an argument there, I thought to myself.

"Sometimes," I replied.

Especially during the Final Four. There's nothing quite like being a beat writer for a high-profile national championship team. Famous reporters and broadcasters from all over the country called, wanting background information on a team many felt was one for the ages.

T HESE Rebels were as well known for their antics off the court as their talent on it. An ill-fated trip to Maui the year before led to so many last-second suspensions that on road trips, the pilots held the plane five minutes just to make sure there were no NCAA calls.

On one road trip to LSU to play Shaq Daddy and Chris Jackson, Augmon was called off the plane just a few seconds before departure. Talk about adversity. If these guys weren't linked to Las Vegas gang leaders and gamblers, they were talking to NCAA investigators about cars, clothes and jewelry. It wasn't always a pretty picture, but certainly an intriguing one for reporters.

Driving home Wednesday night, I heard a late-night talk-radio host say this was the best collection of point guards of any Final Four. Now granted, it's not a bad group. But the point guards of that 1990 Final Four weren't too shabby, either. There was Anthony for UNLV, Lee Mayberry of Arkansas, Georgia Tech's Kenny Anderson and Bobby Hurley of Duke. All are still in the NBA.

These days, Anthony and Augmon are teammates at Portland. Johnson is still making news with the New York Knicks. And Butler is playing in Italy. None has ever had another championship season.

"I would have thought Larry would have won an NBA title by now," Tarkanian recently said. "I don't care what anybody says, those guys were special. They won in spite of nearly everybody being against them. We should have won two."

Duke eliminated UNLV that following year in the semifinals. Much like the Blue Devils of this season, nobody thought the Rebels would lose that year.

"But they did," I said, causing my wife to look up in wonder. And the beauty of it is, an upset could happen again, leaving the Blue Devils exiting the 1990s the same way they came in.

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

E-mail to Sports Editor

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
[Stylebook] [Feedback]

© 1999 Honolulu Star-Bulletin