Dave Rice wasn’t retained when Lon Kruger was hired as UNLV’s basketball coach in 2004.
Now that Kruger is leaving for Oklahoma, Rice could be on his way back to Las Vegas.
The UNLV alumnus and Brigham Young associate head coach has emerged as the leading candidate to replace Kruger, sources said Friday.
Attempts to reach Rice and Rebels athletic director Jim Livengood were unsuccessful.
Another former UNLV player, Reggie Theus, who starred in the 1970s, is also expected to express interest in the job.
Colorado State coach Tim Miles, Northern Iowa’s Ben Jacobson, St. John’s assistant and former Arizona assistant Mike Dunlap and Utah State’s Stew Morrill could also be names attached to the opening.
"People will surface for the job," said Brad Rothermel, special adviser to the athletic director. "It’s one of the better Division I basketball jobs based on history and based on the current situation."
As for Rice, he played two seasons for the Rebels — on the 1989-90 national championship team and the 1990-91 squad that suffered a heartbreaking loss to Duke in the national semifinals.
He spent 11 seasons on UNLV’s bench as an assistant under four head coaches. UNLV made the postseason in seven of his final eight seasons.
Rice then went to Utah State for a season under Morrill, and the Aggies went 24-8 and won the Big West Conference tournament championship to receive a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
BYU hired Rice in 2005 as an assistant and promoted him to his current title three years later. He stepped in briefly to run the program when coach Dave Rose was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in June 2009.
Rice also coordinates the Cougars’ offense, which this season ranked seventh nationally in scoring with an average of 81.4 points per game. Jimmer Fredette, The Associated Press’ player of the year, led the country with a 28.9-point average.
BYU won the Mountain West Conference regular-season title, lost in the tournament championship game and made the NCAA Tournament’s round of 16.
Rice is the Cougars’ recruiting coordinator. His brother, Grant, coaches powerhouse Bishop Gorman High School.
Gorman guard Shabazz Muhammad is one of the nation’s most highly sought recruits in the 2012 class. Another top 2012 recruit, Ben Carter, also plays for the Gaels.
Rice isn’t the only ex-Rebel expected to show interest in the position. Theus, an assistant coach for the Minnesota Timberwolves, pushed hard for the job in 2004 before it went to Kruger.
He played under coach Jerry Tarkanian in the 1970s before going on to a 13-year NBA career.
Theus spent two seasons as New Mexico State’s coach. He took over a team that went 6-24 the season before he arrived, and two seasons later, the Aggies went 25-9 and won the 2007 Western Athletic Conference tournament title to secure an NCAA bid.
Theus then coached the Sacramento Kings for a little more than one season.
"I think Reggie would do a really good job," Tarkanian said. "He’s got a great resume.
"I think as long as they get someone from UNLV, they’re going in the right direction, and Reggie would be my choice."
He would also be a popular pick for many in the community, including perhaps some prominent boosters, but one source insisted, "It won’t be Reggie."
Theus applied for the vacant Arizona job two years ago when Livengood, then the Wildcats’ athletic director, hired Sean Miller.
Though sources said Rice is the favorite, some suggested caution because it’s so early in the search process.
Kruger leaves the Rebels after leading them to their fourth NCAA Tournament appearance in five years.
"I think right now it’s an incredibly attractive program after he resurrected it," Board of Regents chairman James Dean Leavitt said. "You couple that with the basketball practice facility coming up, and it will generate a lot of interest.
"I think we will get seasoned, proven winners to apply."
Leavitt pointed out the timing to begin the search is fortunate because many coaches are gathered in Houston for the Final Four, which begins today.
"It’s a great opportunity for Jim Livengood," Leavitt said. "He doesn’t need to go looking. They come to you."
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.