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Former Tigers coach finalist for basketball immortality

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By James Williams | Features Editor

Former UNLV men’s basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian has been named as one of 12 finalists for the Basketball Hall of Fame class of 2013.

Tarkanian has found success at nearly every level of coaching in his 43-year career from 1959 to 2002, including his time at Riverside City College.

Tarkanian’s name can still be found on plaques and awards on the RCC campus. One of his former players, John Smith is currently the coach for the men’s basketball team on campus.

“Words cannot express how much coach Tarkanian means to me. I learned how to coach sitting on the bench for him,” Smith said. “He was a father figure to us all and taught us the importance of hard work.”

Tarkanian has the highest winning percentage of any junior college basketball coach because of his success at RCC, from 1961-1966, and Pasadena City College, from 1966-1968, where he combined for an overall record of 210-26.

He won four straight California junior college championships, three straight with RCC (1964-1966) and the fourth with PCC in 1967.

Among the players on the roster for the last two championship seasons under Tarkanian at RCC was Smith’s father, Lucky Smith.

“(Tarkanian) was ahead of his time when he coached my father at RCC and made junior college basketball famous and a valuable route for others to consider,” Smith said.

Tarkanian has a 729-201 overall record (784-202 including games vacated by NCAA) in Division I games as coach of Long Beach State, University of Las Vegas, and Fresno State.

“He held everyone accountable whether they were future NBA players like Stacey Augmon or bench warmers like myself,” Smith added. “I guarantee you; the majority of players that played for him have gone on and applied some of his teachings into their daily lives.”

Tarkanian’s official 729-201 record still has him among the top 25 coaches for all-time wins and one of the top 10 coaches in winning percentage.

Out of his 14 NCAA Tournament appearances, Tarkanian and the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels have made four different appearances to the final four (1977, 1987, 1990, and 1991). The appearance in 1990 led to UNLV winning the NCAA Championship that season.

“He definitely deserves to be inducted to the hall of fame. He succeeded against all odds that other coaches would have succumbed to,” Smith said.

After leaving UNLV, he tested the waters in the NBA as the San Antonio Spurs head coach going 9-11 during the 1992 season before a difference in views with front office decisions led to him being fired.

Tarkanian along with the other 12 finalist will wait until the NCAA Final Four comes around in April when the Class of 2013 is selected.

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