Updated March 28, 2019 - 8:58 pm
She said so from the beginning, that once her search for a UNLV basketball coach was over and he was introduced to the community, she wasn’t concerned with the immediate reaction.
Athletic director Desiree Reed-Francois said it wasn’t important to win the news conference.
Turns out, she didn’t need to say it.
Come on. He referred to the in-state rival as UNR. Talk about impeccable preparation. He’s already throwing a little shade at the Wolf Pack. Good for him.
T.J. Otzelberger might have arrived by helicopter — Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Brookings, South Dakota, anymore is right — but checked any ego at the door to the Strip View Pavilion at the Thomas &Mack Center on Thursday, when he said all the right things in a manner befitting a coach understanding of the (unrealistic) expectations he inherited and the hundreds of laborious hours it will take to achieve them.
“Coaches can stand up at their introductory press conference and talk about winning the right way, graduating student athletes and competing for titles,” Otzelberger said. “But that is really just talk. I know that we will be judged by the results on the court, in the classroom and in the community.
“Words are meaningless unless backed up by action, and that takes work. And that work has already started.”
He knows as much as anyone else that what was said and happened Thursday already has faded into a delightful memory, spectacular for its beginning (a helicopter!) and profound for how genuinely appreciative Otzelberger seemed for the opportunity.
He didn’t lack for energy or sincerity.
But it’s over now. None of it will win a game or fill one extra seat next season.
It’s time to grind, and the coach who went 70-33 at South Dakota State in the past three seasons will begin by trying to convince those current Rebels in the NCAA transfer portal to remove their names and embrace his vision and shoot-until-you-drop style of play.
This, as much as anything else, stood out Thursday, the respect by which Otzelberger showed those young men making such a decision. More than once he spoke directly to them, his eyes never wavering from where they sat across two rows, at one point purposefully pausing for the crowd to cheer the players when the new coach mentioned the need to re-recruit them.
It was as loud an ovation as there was all afternoon, and perfectly set up by Otzelberger.
Needs some dudes
He called UNLV the flagship program of the Mountain West. It isn’t, of course, having won (OK, shared) one conference regular-season title in league history. But it immediately led to belittling comments on Twitter from those who favor UNR, so good for Otzelberger again.
His coaching staff — who comprises it and how deep its West Coast connections run — is pivotal. Which current players might stay is a start. I also would imagine you might not see Otzelberger around Las Vegas much in the coming months.
He needs some dudes. He needs more talent. He needs to hit the road and recruit like nobody’s business. The guy who is now the highest-paid coach in the conference — although I’m assuming Eric Musselman’s agent has placed a call to the folks at UNR — has much work ahead.
“The future of UNLV basketball is as bright as the lights of Las Vegas,” Otzelberger said. “We will embrace past expectations. We will not shy away from them. We’re approaching the 30th anniversary of the 1990 national championship team, a team that I watched as a seventh-grader up in Wisconsin. The aura around UNLV basketball was electric, the play on the court was rivaled with excitement and the arena was rocking.
“We will get that magic back … We will compete for conference titles, NCAA Tournament berths and one day for a national championship again.”
That day is likely far, far away.
But for one day, T.J. Otzelberger, the 41-year-old coach now entrusted with making the Rebels relevant again on first a conference and then national scale, won the news conference.
It won’t mean a win next season.
It won’t mean one extra seat filled.
But, man, that helicopter entrance was something.
Contact columnist Ed Graney at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.