In sports, the record book is a great purveyor of historical memory. But statistics alone can’t capture the small but game-changing things players do-and the context in which they do them. And sometimes even big numbers fade in our imaginations with the passing years. Here are seven Rebels whose contributions are often overlooked, but who were essential to the success of UNLV basketball.
1. Larry Anderson
The 6-foot-6 sharpshooting forward was overshadowed by fellow four-year starter Sidney Green his entire career, yet he remains the eighth-leading scorer in UNLV history with 1,818 points. Anderson led the Rebels in scoring his sophomore and junior years, ranks third all time in career field goals made with 821 and averaged 15.2 points per game for his career. UNLV went 87-34 in his four seasons, including 28-3 his senior year, before he was picked in the third round of the 1983 NBA draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers.
2. David Butler
Quick, name the starting center on UNLV’s 1990 national championship team. No, it wasn’t George Ackles, although many people seem to think so. It was the 6-foot-10 Butler, who was third on the squad in scoring (15.8 ppg)-topping future NBA first-round draft picks Stacey Augmon and Greg Anthony-and second in rebounding (7.4 per game) after Larry Johnson. And Butler led the Rebels in scoring (15.4 ppg) in 1988-89, when they went to the NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight. Overall, the Rebels were 64-13 in Butler’s two seasons after he transferred from San Jacinto Junior College.
3. Anthony Jones
In the two seasons the Georgetown transfer played for UNLV (1984-86), the Rebels were a combined 61-9 and reached at least the second round of the NCAA tournament both years. The 6-foot-6 forward averaged 15.9 ppg for his career, including a team-leading 18 ppg in 1985-86, when he was named the Big West co-Player of the Year (along with Utah State’s Greg Grant). He is tied for fifth at UNLV in career 3-point shooting at 41 percent (51-for-124), and was selected by the Washington Bullets in the first round of the 1986 NBA draft.
4. Gary Graham
The 6-foot-4 guard never was a full-time starter for the Rebels and averaged just five ppg over his four seasons. But that was only because he had to share playing time in the backcourt with UNLV standouts Freddie Banks, Danny Tarkanian and Mark Wade during his career (1982-87). The finest sixth man in UNLV history, Graham averaged 10.1 ppg in 1986-87, when the Rebels went 37-2 and reached the Final Four, and was selected by the Indiana Pacers in the sixth round of the 1987 NBA draft.
5. Odartey Blankson
The Marquette transfer spent his two seasons at UNLV (2003-05) during an overlooked time in Rebel history: the final year of coach Charlie Spoonhour (when son Jay Spoonhour finished the season as interim coach) and Lon Kruger’s first year. But the 6-foot-7 forward led UNLV in scoring and rebounding both seasons, averaging 17.5 ppg and 9.1 rpg for his career, and was twice named first-team All-Mountain West. Of the players to spend just two seasons at UNLV, Blankson ranks seventh in scoring with 1,087 career points.
6. Eddie Owens
How can the all-time leading scorer in UNLV history (2,221 points), who played on the Rebels’ first Final Four team, be considered underrated? Because his No. 11 jersey is still not hanging in the rafters at the Thomas & Mack Center, and he wasn’t inducted into the UNLV Athletics Hall of Fame until last year. The 6-foot-7 forward, despite playing alongside 11 other NBA draftees over his four-year career (1973-77), averaged 18.8 ppg in 118 games, making 52 percent of his shots. He averaged 23.4 and 21.8 ppg, respectively, his final two seasons, when UNLV went a combined 58-5.
7. Earl Evans
The 6-foot-8 forward is arguably the most physically talented player in UNLV history, but the program was on probation during the USC transfer’s two seasons (1977-79), limiting his national exposure. Evans averaged 16.7 points and 10.2 rebounds in 55 games at UNLV, leading the team in scoring (17.9 ppg) his senior year and in rebounding both seasons (10.2 and 10.1 per game, respectively). Evans scored a career-high 37 points against Idaho State in 1979, and the Rebels were 41-16 during his career.