By Bob Vazquez, Assistant Athletics Director, Strategic Communications
Long Beach, Calif. – As last Saturday morning's CSUN basketball practice was drawing to a close at the Pyramid (Long Beach State's home arena), an extremely frail elderly man slowly appeared from behind the bleachers.
Even from a distance, the CSUN coaches and players looked in awe at this elderly fellow who struggled to stand even with the aid of a walker. He simply smiled.
Head coach Reggie Theus quickly noticed the face of this 83-year-old man. It was Jerry Tarkanian, the beloved head coach who brought national fame to the basketball programs at UNLV and Long Beach State.
Tarkanian, who has endured several major health issues in recent years, smiled at Theus. The Matador coach hugged Tarkanian and simply said "I love you coach, Thanks."
Tarkanian was honored for his distinguished accomplishments at Long Beach State during halftime of the CSUN game against the 49ers at the Pyramid on Saturday afternoon. The 49ers twice made it to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament during Tarkanian's five years there as head coach.
Theus played for Tarkanian in the mid 1970's at UNLV. Many of Theus' strong values were cemented by his relationship with his mentor, Jerry Tarkanian.
"I have such a high admiration for coach Tarkanian," gushed Theus. "So much of what I have learned as a basketball player and coach I try to translate into a learning experience for my players. I learned so much about life from coach Tarkanian over the years with his friendship. He shaped who I am as a person and as a coach. I have learned from many people. Coach Tarkanian has played a big part in my life."
All the players on the Matador roster weren't even born when Tarkanian was making national headlines as one of the great basketball coaches in the 1960's, 1970's and 1980's at Long Beach State and at UNLV. As practice ended, every player on the CSUN team gathered around the coach to say hello, and to give congratulations and thanks for his contributions to the game of college basketball in the United States.
"Coach Tarkanian is one of the greatest basketball coaches of all-time," said Theus without reservation. "Coach was super intense and a phenomenal motivator. He was one of the approachable coaches you would ever want to be around."
The door to Tarkanian's office was always open especially if you wanted to talk about basketball, according to Theus.
"Tark also talked about other issues if you needed help," remembers Theus. "These issues were very important to a young person. That was one of the things that made him very special."
Theus played three seasons (1975-76, 1976-77, 1977-78) for Tarkanian and helped the Runnin' Rebels chalk up an eye-popping 78-13 record. That included a trip to the NCAA Final Four during the 1976-77 campaign.