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New UNLV coach T.J. Otzelberger passes barber shop test

Updated March 30, 2019 - 3:28 pm

According to the latest census and Google, there are 22,056 people in Brookings, South Dakota — soon to be 22,051 after T.J. Otzelberger and family pack their things — and three barbershops.

At the barbershop, you’ll almost always find a guy hanging around who has his finger on the pulse of the community. This is especially true in the small towns. It’s why I decided to call a barbershop in Brookings — where Otzelberger had been coaching the South Dakota State Jackrabbits — instead of trusting the news release about his qualifications to be UNLV’s basketball coach.

The website at Brookings Barbers revealed that somebody recently had taken a homeless man out of the freezing cold, only to have him urinate on the living room floor.

A barber with a strident voice at the Razor’s Edge said most everybody in Brookings gets jacked up about the Jacks’ basketball teams — the SDSU women were eliminated from the Sweet 16 by Oregon on Friday — but that he was more of a football and wrestling guy.

“Try Jim Van Erem at Main Barber — he’s got season tickets,” said Bob Melmer, the barber with the strong pipes.

So I did. Van Erem is the shop owner, and he answered the phone on the first ring. This is another good thing about the small towns: They almost always answer the phone instead of letting it go directly to voicemail during business hours.

Van Erem said his seats at Frost Arena, the 6,500-seat home of the Jackrabbits, were on the baseline by the cheerleaders — the cheapest in the reserved section. He said Otzelberger was not a customer, but that one of his assistants, Curtis Weathers, is his neighbor.

Otzelberger seemed like a nice man and a fine coach, the barber said, even if the top-seeded Jackrabbits were upset by the eighth-seeded Leathernecks of Western Illinois in the first round of the Summit League tournament, and Otzelberger already had left for a better deal in Las Vegas.

“He puts pictures of his family online,” said Van Erem, who added that he had been giving haircuts in Brookings for 30 years and that I could get one for $18 the next time I get lost trying to find Mount Rushmore.

In towns such as Brookings, sharing family pictures is more important than holding serve against Western Illinois.

“I’ve got nothing but good things to say about him, and I was sorry to see him leave,” Van Erem said.

When a barber in a small town says that about a fellow citizen, you can take it to the bank. Provided the bank is still open.

No finale for LVMS

The talk in the garage area was that NASCAR soon would begin rotating its championship race in the manner of the Super Bowl and NCAA Final Four, and that Las Vegas would be a great place to have it every three or four years.

It would now appear that’s not going to happen anytime soon.

While NASCAR is indeed moving its season-ending race from Homestead, Florida, to Phoenix next season, indications are it might be indefinitely instead of temporary.

“This wasn’t a decision (where) we said, ‘Hey, let’s go there for a year and rotate it,’” NASCAR vice president Steve O’Donnell said this past week after the 2020 Cup Series schedule was announced. “Our intent is to stay for a few years and see how we net out.”

Solid Wood

Six days after being claimed off waivers from the Milwaukee Bucks, former Findlay Prep and UNLV standout Christian Wood scored a career-high 23 points with nine rebounds, six blocked shots, three steals and an assist in 32 minutes for the New Orleans Pelicans in a loss to the Atlanta Hawks.

Two nights later, he scored 25 points against the Sacramento Kings.

This is what is commonly known as benefiting from a change of scenery.

Patch job

The Oakland Athletics did not wear their emotions on their sleeves when they recently opened the baseball season in Tokyo against the Seattle Mariners. Instead, they wore an MGM patch on their sleeves.

It was actually an MGM Resorts Japan patch, an extension of a gambling platform partnership between MGM and MLB announced in November ahead of the Baseball Winter Meetings in Las Vegas.


Otzelberger is said to bring an offensive-minded approach, but he also expects more than a modicum of defense from his players, if this sound bite from the team huddle during a 2017 South Dakota State game is any indication:

“If you don’t want to play defense, then you better fake it, because I’m watching every possession right now.”

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

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