Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021 | 1:29 p.m.
UNLV basketball great Freddie Banks was in shock when he received a phone call from Rebels coach Kevin Kruger with some long overdue news: The program is retiring Banks’ No. 13 jersey.
“My reaction was surprised. I didn’t know if I should tear up or if I should be thankful,” said Banks, a Valley High graduate who helped UNLV reach the 1987 Final Four and established many program shooting records in the process.
Banks will be honored Nov. 27 at halftime of a game with UCLA at the Thomas & Mack Center. Robert Smith, the point guard on UNLV’s 1977 Final Four team, will have his No. 10 jersey retired Feb. 19 when the Rebels host Colorado State, the university announced today.
When the call ended with Kruger, Banks immediately started thinking about his family. Mom Martha is 86, dad Tilmon 85. “It’s a real blessing that this is happening while my mom and dad are still here,” Banks said.
“Fearless Freddie” also thought of his college coach, the late Jerry Tarkanian.
“I know he wanted this to happen for a long time,” Banks said of Tarkanian, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame coach who died in 2015.
Banks grew up in Las Vegas, attending Helen Cannon Middle School and winning three state championships at Valley.
When it was time to attend college, he didn’t move to campus. He stayed at home with his parents. They’ve lived in the same house on Lake Mead Boulevard and Engelstad Street for more than 50 years. It’s where Banks honed his shooting touch in the driveway.
“I stayed in the yard shooting from sunup to sundown. It would be 11 or 12 at night, and I’d still be out there,” said Banks, who is now 57.
About the time Banks reached middle school, the Smith-led Rebels reached the Final Four, and Banks fell in love with Tarkanian’s fast-break style of play.
“It was Robert, Ricky Sobers, Reggie Theus and Sam Smith. Those guys are what made me want to go there,” Banks said. “I watched how those guys ran up and down the court, and UNLV was my choice.”
Banks holds the UNLV record for most 3-pointers in a season (152) and is second for career 3-pointers (229). He also ranks in the top-five for career scorers with 2,007 points. During the 1987 Final Four loss to Indiana, Banks set a Final Four record for 3-pointers with 10.
“We are very much looking forward to honoring these two Runnin’ Rebel legends,” Kruger said in a statement. “Freddie and Robert both had incredible careers at UNLV and have been amazing ambassadors for our university and the men’s basketball program. They are both very deserving and those will be two special nights for them, their families and the fans.”
Although the numbers of Banks and Smith will hang in the area rafters, they still will be available for current players, UNLV said. Banks’ No. 13, for instance, is wore by current Rebel Bryce Hamilton.