Runnin’ Rebels hold open practice to fundraise for UNLV legend Robert Smith

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The Runnin' Rebels team poses for a photo with former UNLV player Robert Smith at Thursday's open practice. Photo by Jordan Anders-McClain.

The Runnin’ Rebels and first-year head coach Kevin Kruger held their first open practice Thursday evening to help fundraise for former UNLV player and broadcaster Robert Smith. 

In October of 2019, Smith suffered a severe stroke that took away his ability to speak. Two years later, Smith is still working on his recovery, mastering what are considered simple tasks.  

Despite the vast improvements to Smith’s health and movements, he and his family were hit with massive medical bills. That’s when Kevin Kruger and his team stepped up to help.

During Thursday’s open practice, nearly 250 people came out to support, including UNLV’s football head coach Marcus Arroyo and women’s basketball head coach Lindy La Rocque. At the end of the practice, they had raised over $25,000 for Robert and his family through donations and t-shirt sales.

“The city loves UNLV, they support UNLV and they’ll support us really for life,” Kruger said at open practice. “This was kind of a true example that no matter how far away from your playing days you are, the city and community will support and love you.”

A look back at history

Robert Smith joined the Runnin’ Rebels in 1974. In just three seasons at UNLV, he would forever change the franchise. Individually, Smith led the nation in free throw percentage at 92.5 percent during the 1976-77 season and led his team in assists during the 1975-76 and 1976-77 seasons. 

The most notable accomplishment, however, came in 1977 where the two-time NCAA All-Region point guard led UNLV to its first-ever Final Four appearance. After his career at UNLV, Smith was drafted by the Denver Nuggets in the third round of the 1977 NBA draft. 

Smith would spend seven years in the NBA, followed by another four years playing in France before retiring and becoming a high school basketball coach. After a few years, Smith found his way back to UNLV to broadcast the Runnin’ Rebels’ games up until his stroke in 2019. 

The present

With UNLV legend Robert Smith sure to be in attendance this season at home games, the games mean so much more to the team and coach Kruger. 

“Just for him to lay the foundation for us to be here as Rebels, and for us to be able to give back to him for a good cause is great,” point guard Marvin Coleman said. 

The open practice not only served to fundraise for Smith but also to introduce the nine new faces of this season’s Runnin’ Rebels squad. Jordan McCabe, Royce Hamm Jr., Donovan Williams and Victor Iwuakor are just four of the new transfers, all coming from Big 12 schools including Texas, Oklahoma and West Virginia. 

With a new coach and a few new faces, the Runnin’ Rebels are ready to take on the new season and campaign for March Madness. 

The campaign begins Nov. 10 at the Thomas & Mack Center where UNLV will take on the Runnin’ Bulldogs of Gardner-Webb University. The time is yet to be announced.

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