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UNLV players, sports talk host play Santa at Sunrise Hospital

Updated December 14, 2019 - 4:52 pm

There are many wonderful things about local sports radio talk show host Ken Thomson’s annual holiday visit to Sunrise Children’s Hospital.

For instance, it makes a UNLV blowout loss to Brigham Young seem insignificant in mere seconds.

“It definitely gives you perspective,” forward Nick Blair said from the pediatric hospital’s intensive care ward two days after the Rebels were defeated 83-50 by the Cougars. “We’re going and talking to these families, going and talking to these kids … you never know down the road, you could be in that situation.”

The situation to which he was referring is not going home for the holidays because of severe illness — the fate awaiting many of the youngsters that Blair and other players and coaches representing the UNLV football and men’s and women’s basketball teams saw in the hospital this past week.

“Just to understand and respect what these families are fighting, what these kids are fighting … to be able to give them some words of encouragement, it goes a long way,” Blair said.

“This is bigger than basketball. You go and put the ball in the hoop, run lines or whatever, but when you come back to reality to stuff like this … this matters. This is a big deal.”

This was the 11th year Thomson showed up at the hospital with stockings full of glad tidings and wagons loaded with toy footballs and basketballs and UNLV sports posters.

“There’s so much passion coming from Ken to try to make these kids’ day, and that’s pretty much what we’re doing, too,” Lady Rebels coach Kathy Olivier said. “The student-athletes are visiting with these kids who are going through a really difficult time, and hopefully we can bring a smile to their face.”

Some of the children were feeling so sick and weary that TV cameras were not allowed in their rooms. But usually it wasn’t long before one heard the sound of little voices mingling with those of the taller visitors behind closed doors.

“You leave here, and it’s a wake-up call for everybody,” Olivier said.

Around the horn

— Update on the condition of former UNLV basketball great Robert Smith, per a tweet from his Rebels broadcast partner, Jon Sandler: “He is much improved — more alert, more responsive and smiling! But a very long recovery ahead.” Smith, the point guard for UNLV’s first Final Four team under Jerry Tarkanian, suffered a severe stroke in October.

— Tina Kunzer-Murphy’s final day at UNLV was Dec. 2. When she started her employment in 1977, one of her duties was arranging for courtesy cars for Rebels coaches. She worked her way all the way up the ladder to athletic director, and also was director of the Las Vegas Bowl during its heyday. Her time as Rebels AD was considered controversial by many, but she always returned phone calls.

— During Marcus Arroyo’s introductory news conference as UNLV’s football coach, the graphic on Channel 8’s live feed read “The Young and the Restless” — the long-running daytime drama normally would have been seen at that hour. But given the Oregon offensive coordinator is only 39 years old and the football program he inherited has produced only four winning seasons over the past 32, changing the graphic probably wasn’t necessary.

— With three more wins, Golden Knights puck stopper Marc-Andre Fleury will tie Curtis Joseph for sixth on the NHL’s all-time list. Had “Cujo” not skated for the International Hockey League’s Las Vegas Thunder during a contract holdout in 1995-96, Fleury might have a little more work to do before moving up the chart. Joseph went 12-2-1 for the Thunder with a 1.99 goals-against average before being traded from St. Louis to Edmonton and rejoining the NHL.

— After a 4-2 loss to the Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues on Thursday, Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant said, “I thought we had two great periods, the first and the third, but the second wasn’t nearly good enough.” Too bad the NHL isn’t like NASCAR. If what Gallant said was true, the Knights would have received two playoff points for winning stages in St. Louis.

0:01

Show of hands (as I raise mine): How many thought the sports subscription service DAZN — pronounced “Da Zone” — was pronounced “Days Inn” the first time you saw it?

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

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