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LONG BEACH STATE NOTEBOOK / JASON REID : Greenberg Credits UNLV With Success of Big West Basketball

October 15, 1995|Jason Reid

Nevada Las Vegas will leave the neighborhood at the end of the academic year; bad news if you're one of the Rebels' Big West Conference neighbors. Bigger and better things (money) await the Rebels in the Western Athletic Conference, so sticking around really wasn't an option.

Great for UNLV. But as the Rebels burn rubber leaving the Big West, they take much of the conference's name recognition with them. Especially in men's basketball, the Big West's marquee sport.

No matter what conference officials say to the contrary, the Big West minus UNLV equals a major void. Cal Poly San Luis Obispo is a fine school, but the Larry Johnsons and Stacey Augmons of the world don't figure to enroll there any time soon.

True, the Rebels also take a lot of negative baggage. Still, notoriety provides attention too.

"Obviously you lose something when you lose a Vegas," 49er Coach Seth Greenberg said. "You're losing more of the prestige. But Vegas wasn't what it used to be the last few seasons.

"So you're losing something, but you're losing more of the name recognition than anything else. Now other teams have to step it up."

Which begs the question: Can the Big West's pending identity gap be filled? And if so, by whom?

Guess who wants to try.

"Vegas was so dominant, I can't imagine anyone totally dominating the conference that way again," Greenberg said. "But I certainly feel we're among a group that has a chance to be one of the elite teams in the conference."

The 49ers seem to have as good a chance as anyone. They have an appealing, new arena and momentum from two conference tournament championships and two NCAA tournament appearances in the last three seasons.

They have the support of an administration that eagerly hopes the men's basketball program will boost the image of the university to unprecedented heights. And being in this media market shouldn't hurt either.

Although Long Beach remains a distant third to UCLA and USC in local and national coverage, its share has increased because of the Pyramid and recent on-court success. Not that media coverage is all you need to build a college basketball power--but it doesn't hurt.

Here's the key: Greenberg needs to sign one national blue-chip recruit. Not just some kid at the top of all the other Big West coaches' wish-lists. He needs someone, preferably 6 feet 7 or taller, who every coach around the nation wants on their side.

This player must have the potential to dominate games as a true freshman as well as look good doing so. Greenberg, like all of his Big West colleagues outside of Las Vegas, hasn't been able to attract someone with immediate star appeal. Obviously, this is all most programs need to take a giant step forward.

However, few coaches get as much out of their players as Greenberg. One top player would give Greenberg the edge he needs.

"We should all thank Vegas," Greenberg said. "The success of Vegas made everyone decide whether they wanted to have a basketball team or a basketball program.

"We hope that we're going to be one of the elite members. I'm no so arrogant as to think that we're going to be there, but that's our goal."

*

Mr. charisma: The 49ers don't play their first regular-season game until Nov. 15, but their coach already is in postseason form with the public. Greenberg kept them laughing Wednesday at the College Basketball Kick-Off Luncheon at the Los Angeles Athletic Club.

All of the Southland's Division I head coaches attended. They spoke about their teams and answered questions from reporters and more than 200 guests.

Greenberg opened his talk by congratulating UCLA Coach Jim Harrick on winning the 1995 national championship. Then he playfully zinged his longtime friend with this: "But real coaches repeat."

Harrick was all smiles too.

*

Early morning madness: Finally, it's here.

College basketball teams opened practice today, and many schools celebrated by beginning at 12:01 a.m. That's a little too early for Greenberg, but the 49ers got up early as well.

Long Beach practice started at 7 a.m. in the Pyramid. Practice was scheduled to last two hours and players were supposed to return at noon for another session scheduled to end at 2:30 p.m.

Senior guard Rasul Salahuddin usually doesn't go to bed early, but he made sure to get his rest Saturday night.

"We can't wait," said Salahuddin, one of the conference's best on defense. "Let's get it on."

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