‘Moving forward and continually developing’
QUESTIONS & ANSWERS | MARVIN MENZIES
‘Moving forward and continually developing’
UNLV’s storied basketball program has a new leader. Marvin Menzies is the first African- American head basketball coach in the school’s history, and the Los Angeles native can’t wait for the season to start on Nov. 1. He recently sat down with Las Vegas Black Image Magazine to discuss his historic hiring, how he views the upcoming season, and the honor of being part of a winning tradition. Before coming to
UNLV, where did you coach?
Right before coming to UNLV, I was the head basketball coach for New Mexico State University. I have worked at USC, San Diego State, and Sacramento State. I have been coaching for a while.
What brought you to Las Vegas and UNLV?
I felt like the UNLV brand and the City of Las Vegas are very well-respected in Division I basketball. The resources and the commitment afford me the opportunity to be very competitive in the profession I love.
Did you play basketball while attending college?
No, I actually played football and ran track. I was not an actual basketball player. I loved the sport, but wasn’t great enough to get a college scholarship.
What propelled you to get into coaching basketball?
I started coaching in 1980 as an assistant coach at my old Hamilton High School in Los Angeles. I did that for eight years before I went up to the junior college level and progressed on to Santa Monica College. The whole time I had other jobs on the side, but coaching is what I really loved to do. It was my way to give back to our youth and young adults. This ended up being the thing that I was most passionate about. As a result, I was recognized because I was pretty good at coaching basketball and it advanced me into a professional career.
It has always been a topic of discussion in Vegas’ black community about UNLV hiring an African-American head basketball coach. What are your feelings on this?
I am proud to be the first African-American head basketball coach in the history of UNLV. You know, obviously, when you take over a job and you are the first of something … there is a different set of responsibilities that you have to be aware of. I hold myself accountable to those responsibilities, and it serves as a motivator to do things at a higher level because of the awareness that is brought to the position. Obviously, I want to make people proud and look up to the position and hear them say, “This brother is doing a great job. He is doing it the right way and successfully.” Hopefully, the better I do the more opportunities will open up.
Are you still recruiting basketball players for the season?
We are still very actively recruiting.
Do you go out of the country to recruit players?
Yeah, we want to focus on Las Vegas’ players first and expand our recruitment from there in our search for new players. But our recruitment expansion goes beyond our United States’ borders. We have relationships in Europe, Africa, and wherever we need to go. We have relationships that bring the type of player we need to help us win games.
Who are some of the basketball players that you are really excited about for your new season?
We do have some very good young players in our basketball program that we think will leave their mark on the UNLV record books. Specifically, we signed a player, Troy Baxter, who is a very exciting player that we signed during the first week of school. Another player is from Mali, Africa, named Cheickna Dembele — unbelievable player.
Is it the routine for all coaches from universities and colleges to find basketball players internationally?
No, not at all. There are only actually very few basketball programs that go as far and wide as we do in search of great players. We are going to look all over, but we are going to take care of home base in Nevada first.
What game will be the real game changer out of all the basketball teams you play this new season?
I don’t know if there is one particular team because I focus on getting better every game and developing our guys throughout the season. So I don’t think there is any particular game that is going to make or break our season. It’s more about having a focus on consistent development and consistent growth throughout the season. The game is just what we do. There will be 30-plus games throughout the season, and it’s all about improvement from one competition to the next.
Are there any coaching tips that you have adopted from the legendary UNLV basketball coach, Jerry Tarkanian?
Yeah, for sure. Tark is a legend in the basketball profession. The UNLV Runnin’ Rebels played basketball under Tark’s guidance back in the day with such style of play, and a proficient fast pace resulting in winning scores. Our goal is to play at an aggressive pace, but not so fast that we are out of control. We will play basketball very fast with an exciting style on both sides of the ball. We want to be a very aggressive team both offensively and defensively, so the pressure with be on competing teams. I think some of the things we picked up from Tark’s legacy along the way — from different UNLV programs that won a national championship and went to the Final 4 — will allow us to recreate some of the buzz that excited fans. We want to play fast, but we also want to play smart.
How do you determine if a player has what it takes to play at UNLV?
We are big on bringing in players that want to get their degrees and who come from good families. A player’s character is also very important. We also want players who want to reinvest in the Las Vegas community and help us with our service hours. We want guys who are winners, come from winning basketball programs and are passionate about us winning here at UNLV.
What is your goal as a coach?
I have short-term goals and long-term goals. My short-term goals are to be as competitive as we can be this season. Moving forward and continually developing in order to compete for a conference championship or conference tournament championship — year in and year out.
Did you have any misconceptions about coaching at UNLV before you were hired?
No, I did my research on the existing basketball program and the challenges that we were facing. So I am well-informed, we are working hard, and have put together a full team. We only had three scholarship players here when I arrived. Every Division I team has 13 players, and we only had three players on scholarship. So, it was quite a task to round out the roster.
Nevertheless, we did it in a relatively short amount of time — so now we have a full roster of 13 players on scholarship, and I feel much better about that. We also had to fill our staff positions simultaneously and put our stamp on the new UNLV basketball program. It’s long days and long nights — but we see progress every day.
What do you feel our young black males who want to play basketball in college and professionally are doing right or wrong?
I think that young African-American student athletes need to understand that their priority needs to be on getting educated. And put themselves in a position to provide for themselves and their families, whether basketball exists in their lives or not. One of the things that is wrong is that the basketball industry has not been properly conveyed to your young men … the level of difficulty it takes to make money playing basketball. It’s a lot more challenging than they’re led to believe. So that false sense of confidence sometimes can lead to negative ramifications. But for those who understand the profession, and who still desire to make it happen, are the guys who put the extra work in to pursue their goals.
How much is coaching basketball at UNLV a business and how much is a job?
For me, none of it is a job. I don’t look at it like that. I enjoy what I do immensely. To a degree, I am wired a little differently than most people. A full day of work is technically just another day on the planet — because I don’t consider myself at work when I am at the University. I consider myself as pursuing my passion. When I wake up in the morning I am living a dream. There really is no other way to look at it. I have great support in my family. My wife, Tammy, totally understands me and is supportive of what I do. She plays a tremendous role in my success. She is built for speed and understands the basketball profession. My wife knows what it takes to keep me in a good place mentally, so that I can handle potential expectation that a community can put on a head coach. She knows how to support me and I wouldn’t have the job without her.
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