They’re not necessarily the guys who gain the headlines, but their presence on the court is essential to their team’s success. They are the blue-collar heroes—the players whose worth isn’t necessarily measured by statistics, but instead by their inspirational playing style, their physicality and their willingness to sacrifice personal glory (and their body) for the team. Here we take a look at the seven Rebels who exemplified those working-class virtues.
1. Glen Gondrezick—The Hardway Eight” Rebels of the mid-1970s gained headlines for their flash and dash, but it was “Gondo” who gave them their grittiness. The 6-foot-6 forward had plenty of talent, enough for the New York Knicks to select him in the second round of the 1977 NBA draft, but it was his hard-nosed style of play that endeared him to Rebel fans. He averaged 14.6 points and a team-high 10.8 rebounds as a senior, helping UNLV reach its first Final Four, but his greatest value came from his willingness to take a charge, set a pick, fight for a rebound or dive over the scorer’s table in pursuit of a loose ball. Gondo continued getting floor burns for six seasons in the NBA before working as UNLV’s broadcast analyst for 17 years. He died in April 2009 of complications from a heart transplant at the age of 53.
2. Rene Rougeau—The 6-foot-6 swingman’s penchant for doing the dirty work helped him progress from walk-on to starting the final 59 games of his UNLV career. Rougeau didn’t even start on his high school team, and had to convince UNLV coach Lon Kruger to take him as a walk-on in 2004. He saw little playing time his first two seasons, but had earned his way into the starting lineup by midway through his junior year. The energetic Rougeau led the Rebels in rebounds, steals and blocked shots in both his junior and senior seasons. He was rewarded with a scholarship before his senior year, when he averaged career highs of 10.9 points and 6.7 boards per game.
3. Louis Amundson—Tireless hustle and a hard-nosed approach have taken Amundson a long way. When he first got to UNLV in 2001, the 6-foot-9 forward weighed 190 pounds and could only bench press 145 pounds. He played just 10½ minutes per game as a freshman, averaging 2.8 points and 2.3 rebounds, but steadily improved each year through hard work. After bulking up to 225 pounds by his senior year, Amundson earned second-team All-Mountain West honors, leading the Rebels with 14.3 points and 8.6 rebounds per game. He went undrafted after college but took his high-energy game to the NBA’s D-League, where he was named Rookie of the Year in 2007. Amundson is now in his fourth full season in the NBA as a reserve with the Indiana Pacers.
4. Armon Gilliam—”The Hammer” left UNLV a star, but he worked extremely hard to get there. When Gilliam arrived at UNLV in 1984, the 6-foot-9 forward was fairly inexperienced on the hardwood. He had primarily wrestled and played football in high school, but his raw talent caught the eye of Rebels assistant coach Mark Warkentien while at Independence Community College in Kansas. Over three years at UNLV, Gilliam developed into a second-team All-American in 1987, when he led the Rebels to the Final Four, averaging 23.2 points and 9.3 rebounds per game. Gilliam, who ranks seventh on UNLV’s career scoring list, was selected No. 2 overall in the 1987 NBA draft by the Phoenix Suns and played for six NBA teams over 13 seasons, averaging 13.7 points and 6.9 rebounds. He died of a heart attack in July 2011 at the age of 47.
5. Warren Rosegreen—Possibly no other Rebel possessed Rosegreen’s combination of will, power and energy, and no one ever worked harder. As a 6-foot-4 forward, Rosegreen was the Rebels’ version of Dennis Rodman, acting as a bully on the boards and playing tenacious interior defense. Blessed with a 40-inch vertical leap, Rosegreen averaged 8.7 rebounds over his two-year career at UNLV, including a Big West Conference-high 9.5 in 1995-96. He snatched a career-high 21 boards against Fresno State on Feb. 17, 1997, the fourth-highest total ever at the Thomas & Mack Center. He had limited offensive ability, yet his attacking mindset helped him average 9.4 points per game for the Rebels.
6. Eldridge Hudson—”El Hud” was the glue guy for the Rebels’ 1987 Final Four team, leading the cheers on the bench and doing whatever was necessary on the court after a knee injury limited his effectiveness. He arrived a star at UNLV after being named a McDonald’s All-American as a high school senior in 1982, but midway through his freshman year with the Rebels, the 6-foot-6 forward slipped on the court and hyperextended his left knee. The multitalented Hudson needed reconstructive surgery after the season, and there were doubts whether he would ever play again. He returned after sitting out one season, and although he lacked the explosiveness he once possessed, he was a versatile, high-energy reserve over his final three years playing for Jerry Tarkanian.
7. Joel Anthony—The 6-foot-9 Canadian has always been an underdog on the court. He was cut from the basketball team at Montreal’s Dawson College, and could barely even catch the ball in the post while at UNLV. Yet, Anthony is now the starting center for the Miami Heat in his fifth year with the NBA title contenders. And he achieved that entirely through hard work. Anthony arrived at UNLV in 2004 after playing two years at Pensacola (Fla.) Junior College, and played just 13.6 minutes per game in 2004-05, averaging 1.9 points, 2.7 rebounds and 1.5 blocks. But after redshirting one season, Anthony blocked 109 shots in 2006-07 (second-most in a season at UNLV), was named the Mountain West’s Defensive Player of the Year and helped the Rebels reach the NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16. Anthony was signed by Miami as an undrafted free agent, and inked a five-year, $18 million contract with the Heat in July 2010.