Photo courtesy: Long Beach State Athletics
The college basketball coaching circle lost two of the game’s greats within a few days of each other last week when University of North Carolina legend Dean Smith and Jerry Tarkanian, a coaching titan in his own right, passed away. Although Tarkanian was probably best known for coaching the University of Nevada Las Vegas to the 1990 National Championship, he started his Division I career in Long Beach, and for that, the school will honor him at Thursday night’s game against UC Davis.
To honor the 84-year-old Tarkanian’s passing, Long Beach State has planned a host of gestures to honor their former coach who led the school to two Elite Eight appearances and a 122-20 record during the 1968-73 seasons. The game was already significant, being that Long Beach (13-14, 7-4) is hosting league leaders UC Davis (19-4, 9-1) and it's being nationally televised by ESPN3, but now it has an added special meaning for 49er and Tark fans throughout the city. Senior Associate Athletic Director Dedan Brozino said the impact that “Tark the Shark” had on the university’s basketball program as well as the surrounding community made it an easy decision to want to honor him.
“For what he’s done as far as putting our basketball program on the map in the early days of Long Beach State basketball and what he’s done for the game in general, I think it was a pretty easy decision in terms of taking a moment and taking the day to honor his memory and what he did to build the program that we have today,” Brozino.
Having the men’s team on the road last week was fortuitous for the university from a planning perspective, as the eight days since the news of Tarkanian’s death broke allowed for the proper planning to execute a fitting tribute for a Long Beach legend.
“That’s what it’s all about tomorrow night is representing him and what he meant to not just Long Beach State, but the Long Beach community,” Brozino said. “Making sure we represent that in the proper way and making sure we give an appropriate presentation throughout the evening.”
Starting tomorrow night, the men’s team will don black patches that say “Tark” in the school’s signature gold font. The first 1,750 fans through the doors will receive a “Tark Towel,” emulating the accessory he was famous for chewing on while on the sidelines. A giant thank you card will be available on the concourse of the Walter Pyramid where students and fans are invited to sign it and share their memories of the coach before the card is given to his wife and son, who are making the trip from Las Vegas to attend the ceremony. The game will also be discounted to what’s being described as “Tark-Era Pricing," with tickets available for $3 in the bench area and $8 in the chair-back seating section. The school said the pricing has helped sell an additional 100 tickets or so.
“We thought it would be really cool because he has touched so many people in this community and in the Long Beach area to really throw it back to what it might have been like when he was here and we were playing our games in the Gold Mine,” Brozino said. “We did that special pricing for one, to energize his fans that have been in this community for a long, long time. But two, to really get them out here to the building tomorrow to honor him as we’re trying to do.”
Then, about nine minutes before tip-off, the first of several tributes will be played, with former coaches and players reliving their experiences in practices and games with Tarkanian. The list includes Sam Robinson, Roy Miller and two time All-American Ed Ratleff who was notified earlier this week of his induction into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame.
Until earlier this year, Tarkanian owned the school’s all-time record for wins before being surpassed by current Head Coach Dan Monson. And during his years at Long Beach, Tarkanian became one of the first coaches to challenge an unwritten rule that three-fifths of a team’s starters must be white. The Shark’s career may have been marred by accusations of improprieties at all three universities at which he coached—Long Beach, UNLV and Fresno State—landing all of them on some sort of NCAA probation, but it was also filled with accomplishment. He ended his 31-year Division I head coaching career with a mark of 729-201 and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013.
Brozino, who has worked at the school for eight years and had met Tarkanian at two different reunions held for the coach said that the things shared during the filming of the tribute videos by those who knew him best speak volumes about Tarkanian’s character.
“To hear what kind of an impact he had, not just on the game of basketball but in life and psychologically and preparing his players to be solid citizens to grow up and pursue goals and dreams,” Brozino said. “That’s really something that popped out to me this week in talking to his former athletes. You really get the sense that he’s a solid, solid individual with incredible moral and ethical values.”
Tipoff for the game is scheduled for 7PM with doors opening at 6PM. In order to take advantage of "Tark Era Pricing", tickets must be purchased before the game using the promotion code "Tark".