I lived in Las Vegas for almost three years. I began my basketball career there.
As I spent more time around Las Vegas basketball, one name kept coming up again and again: Jerry Tarkanian.
Coach Tark passed away today.
I grew up in the Northeast and his name was one I heard often enough in reference to the UNLV basketball program.
I rarely heard specifics about the man though. I knew about the national title. I knew about his run-ins with the NCAA. I didn’t know much more.
I feel fortunate now to have close friends who played for UNLV and who coached with Coach Tark. Hearing their stories about him — and about how he influenced them — during my formative scouting years made a big impact on me. I came to admire how he stood up for himself and led his basketball program.
Those stories and that related wisdom impacted me in a positive way over the years.
Even better, I feel blessed to have my own Tark story, one from the beginning of my basketball journey.
A few years ago, I attended an important high school basketball tournament in Las Vegas. It was one of my very first events working as a credentialed scout.
I felt horribly, brutally self-conscious at the time. I was working one of my first events and I felt like I did not belong there and like I did not know what I was doing.
I am in over my head, I thought.
This game is on national TV.
Future NBA players are on the court.
Famous people are all over the place. I see Harry Reid. I see the Mayor. I see Shane Victorino from the Phillies, my favorite baseball team.
Oh god, Tark is here.
What the hell am I doing sitting on press row next to a scout from ESPN?
It was a huge struggle for me. I just tried to keep going.
Focus. Calm down.
And then something unexpected happened.
During halftime, having noticed Coach Tark sitting at courtside, I somehow found myself walking — or perhaps floating — toward him.
Even though I was still very green, I knew that we knew a couple of the same people. Maybe that’s how I conjured up enough courage.
I introduced myself.
I told Coach Tark who I was and that I was scouting the event. I said I was very new at it.
I’ll never forget this next part.
Coach smiled, and he touched me on the arm, and he said, “That’s great. Keep up the good work!”
I could have cried.
Sparing him my tears, I thanked him and went on my way, as if carried by invisible wings of encouragement.
I kept scouting.
Tark didn’t know me. He didn’t know my work. I know that.
But he encouraged me when he didn’t have to. His kindness meant the world to me then.
When I find myself doubting my work, I go back to that moment in that gym with Coach Tark.
Thank you, Coach.