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Las Vegas’ basketball identity shines through March Madness

Updated March 23, 2019 - 7:34 pm

The manic success of the NHL’s Golden Knights and impending arrival of the NFL’s Raiders notwithstanding, there are those who believe Las Vegas remains a basketball town at heart.

“We all know the Runnin’ Rebels turned this town inside out (with) tremendous success, a lot of excitement, and it’s kind of lost its way at the top,” Bill Laimbeer, coach of the WNBA’s Aces, said recently at the Economic Power of Sports Luncheon at Nevada State College.

“But with all due respect, it’s not a football town, it’s not a hockey town, it’s a basketball town.”

Laimbeer easily was the biggest man on the panel. That was one reason Knights president Kerry Bubolz and Raiders counterpart Marc Badain, seated alongside, did not challenge his claim. They no doubt had seen those Detroit Pistons “Bad Boys” retrospectives on ESPN.

Bubolz even supported some of what the big man was saying.

“Even if you don’t follow college basketball, you follow March Madness,” Bubolz said. “So you’ll have eight regionals, and they’ll primarily be sold out. But if you add up all of those people who go to those tournaments, it would not equal the number of people who are going to fly to Las Vegas to watch (on TV).”

And they don’t come just once.

Outside the grand ballroom at South Point on Thursday, one of a bazillion places around town where grown men were screaming at large-screen TVs, I was introduced to a man from Austin, Texas, who has flown to Las Vegas every year South Point has had an NCAA Tournament viewing party.

“It used to be just one ballroom — now there are three,” said retired basketball coach, real estate developer and March Madness enthusiast Charlie Hensen. “It’s crazy, keeps growin’ every year, getting bigger and bigger.”

Moments earlier, the main ballroom had erupted when a Florida State Seminole, his team ahead 76-69, eschewed an uncontested dunk to run out the clock against Vermont.

Catamounts cover!

Grown men clutching betting slips imprinted with FLORIDA STATE -8.5 in one hand and a Bud Light in the other shouted epithets at the big screen TVs.

You won’t see that if you’re attending one of the four regionals.

Justice for some

Sometimes you read how women’s college coaches are discriminated against, which one can assume is true in many cases. But not all cases.

UNLV is seeking a basketball coach after Marvin Menzies was fired after three seasons. Menzies’ record was 48-48. Predecessor Dave Rice was fired midway through his fifth season despite a 98-54 record and two NCAA Tournament appearances.

Lady Rebels coach Kathy Olivier is 169-176 in 11 seasons and has yet to take UNLV to the NCAA Tournament.

In addition to the budget, many times the expectations of men’s and women’s programs are not level. And sometimes that’s a good thing for those who coach women.

Playing the Field in Iowa

The last time I saw Johnny Field, he and former Bishop Gorman teammate Paul Sewald of the New York Mets were hanging out at a pizza joint in Washington, D.C., sporting Golden Knights’ gear before Game 4 of the 2018 Stanley Cup Finals. Field is now headed to Triple A Iowa after being reassigned by the Chicago Cubs on Saturday.

He was hitting .308 with four home runs and 10 RBIs and struck out 23 times in 52 at-bats in spring training. Field appeared in 83 games for the Twins and Rays in 2018, hitting nine homers with 21 RBIs before the Cubs claimed him off waivers.

NFL camp at Faith Lutheran

Pro Bowl tight ends Zach Ertz of the Eagles and Austin Hooper of the Falcons, linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill of the Eagles, and local NFL players Tyrell Crosby (Lions) and Kai Nacua (Panthers) will serve as guest instructors at a free football camp Saturday at Faith Lutheran High School.

All are clients of Las Vegas-based Caric Sports Management, which is sponsoring the camp that will run from 10:30 a.m to 12:30 p.m. and is open to the first 200 from ages 7 to 17 who register via CaricSports.com.


■ College basketball analyst Jay Bilas, on the firing of Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew after three seasons:

“Perhaps Vandy was disappointed Bryce Drew wasn’t on a wiretap and therefore not trying hard enough.”

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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