Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012 | 1:09 a.m.
When Jerry Tarkanian arrives at a local basketball gym, everyone quickly notices.
That’s something Bishop Gorman High junior point guard Noah Robotham is more than familiar with from his days playing alongside Tarkanian’s grandson, Alex, on the Our Lady of Las Vegas elementary and middle school teams.
Tarkanian, of course, is one of the most notable college basketball coaches of all time, leading UNLV to the 1990 national championship and three other Final Four appearances during his successful 19-year run at the helm of the Rebels’ program.
On Friday, Tarkanian will again be the center of attention at a local gym.
He’ll be honored at about 7:15 p.m. with a 30-minute tribute in between semifinal games of the inaugural Jerry Tarkanian Classic at Gorman.
Tarkanian is scheduled to attend the ceremony, which will include Reggie Theus, one of the most popular UNLV players of all time and part of the 1977 Final Four team, talking about Tarkanian.
UNLV coach Dave Rice, assistant coach Stacey Augmon — one of the stars of the 1990 title team — and other notable former players are committed to attend and participate.
If Gorman is playing in the semifinals, Robotham won’t be bothered by the distractions of the ceremony. After all, he is so familiar seeing Tarkanian on game days that he compares it to having another grandfather in the stands.
“It definitely grabs your attention because everyone wants his autograph or to take a picture with him during the game,” Robotham said.
Tarkanian, now 82 and retired in Las Vegas, posted a 509-105 record at UNLV without a losing season. His career record, which included stops at Long Beach State and Fresno State, was 778-202 (.794). Players from the other universities will be included in the tribute.
“Obviously, with coach Tark being a legend here, who better to honor than him?” said Gorman coach Grant Rice, Dave Rice’s brother. “It was a perfect fit to name the tournament after him and a perfect fit to honor coach Tark ... It’s going to be a special night.”
Gorman previously hosted a holiday tournament until the 2010 season, when the Gaels’ roster of multiple can’t-miss Division I prospects helped them receive an invite to several prestigious events nationwide. Last year, while at an event in Florida, Rice got the idea of bringing a prestigious event to Las Vegas.
“We decided it would be nice to stay home again around the holidays,” the coach said.
The 24-team tournament field has several respected programs, including Mater Dei of Southern California, Morgan Park of Chicago, Modesto Christian of Fresno, Calif., Our Savior of New York, Bishop O’Dowd of California, Pinnacle High of Arizona and a team from Australia. Play begins Wednesday.
The tournament also includes a handful of Las Vegas-area teams, including Durango High, which features shooting guard Alex Tarkanian, Jerry’s grandson.
Grant Rice said he already has commitments from eight perennial top-25 teams to attend next year’s event.
For defending state champion Gorman (7-0), the tournament comes during a hectic part of the season. The Gaels are playing 11 games in 12 days, opening Southwest League play this week with a victory Monday against Cimarron-Memorial and Tuesday against Bonanza. Last week, they went 4-0 at the Wild West Shootout in Reno to claim the tournament title. Robotham was named the tournament’s MVP.
While the Gaels have four in their starting lineup with major Division I scholarship offers, they still are finding their footing after graduating four from last season’s team who were ranked as top-150 recruits nationally. Plus, three starters are sophomores.
“We have a real talented team, just not a lot of varsity experience,” Rice said. “The good thing about playing that many games in a week is it’s a lot of playing time for our younger guys.”
Gorman, like Tarkanian’s UNLV teams during the program’s glory days in the late 1980s and early 1990s, plays an up-and-down style of basketball. Dave Rice’s mentor was Tarkanian and both Rice brothers’ teams resemble those of the legend — pressure defense, exciting offense and fast-paced.
“Coach Rice from UNLV and my coach Rice, they are very similar,” Robotham said. “They talk a lot about coaching style.”
Tickets for Friday’s event — a day of games, capped by the semifinals, and the tribute to Tarkanian — are $15.