Rebels basketball:

Tarkanian ‘deeply grateful’ for statue outside the Thomas & Mack Center

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Former UNLV head basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian sits next to an oversized statue of himself after it was unveiled in front of the Thomas & Mack Center, Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013.

Tarkanian Statue Unveiled

Former UNLV head basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian sits next to an oversized statue of himself after it was unveiled in front of the Thomas & Mack Center Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013. Launch slideshow »

Jerry Tarkanian Inducted Into Hall of Fame

Lois Tarkanian holds her husband Jerry Tarkanian's hand after he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013 in Springfield, Mass. Launch slideshow »

Tark’s Final Game as UNLV Coach

UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian coaches his final game at the Rebels head coach at UNLV, a 65-53 win over Utah State March 3, 1992. Launch slideshow »

In front is the Thomas & Mack Center, behind is the Mendenhall Center, and in the middle is the new statue for UNLV legend Jerry Tarkanian, the man most responsible for it all.

A couple hundred friends, former players and fans attended today’s dedication ceremony for the statue honoring Jerry Tarkanian that now sits on the concourse outside the Cox Pavilion. The bronze version of the hall of fame coach is literally larger than life — he’s about two times larger — and is sitting, with a towel in his mouth, next to an open chair facing the Mack. After an unveiling that included blowing up a wall of balloons and a couple confetti cannons, the real version was able to stare right back at him.

“This beautiful statue is a lasting tribute to not only me but all my players and coaches,” Jerry Tarkanian said. “I never dreamed something like this could happen.”

The statue was created by Brian Hanlon, who is the official sculptor for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. He started talking to the Tarkanian family in April, and a couple of months later, the university announced the Jerry Tarkanian Legacy Project, with the statue as its main piece.

“We’ve never built a sculpture of this magnitude in this amount of time,” Hanlon said.

Jerry Tarkanian sat in the front row next to his wife, Lois, and their children. Her speech took everyone back to the Tarkanians’ initial decision to move to Las Vegas through this year’s hall of fame induction. Everyone at the ceremony was glad the couple moved here.

“There are two things you need to succeed,” Lois Tarkanian said. “One is passion and one is persistence, and we’ve got that at UNLV.”

Behind the statue is a wall that features a mural of career highlights and a list of the notable donors who made it possible. UNLV transformed a smoking area into something that future generations will be able to observe as a piece of Rebels tradition, coach Dave Rice said.

“This adds to the history. This adds to the legacy,” he said.

Rice was a player and then an assistant coach for Tarkanian at UNLV. He’s a key piece to the program’s efforts to reconnect with that era of success, and he’s been along for the ride at each announcement and celebration of his former coach in recent months.

“It’s been an exciting year for everyone,” Rice said.

Most fans would say both the statue and September’s hall of fame induction were long overdue. Either way, they’re now both a reality. Jerry Tarkanian is at the center of it all.

“I love you all,” he said, “and I’m deeply grateful.”

Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Taylor on Twitter at twitter.com/taylorbern.

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