Greg Anthony’s Nevada Las Vegas teammates already call him the Senator. He would like for the usage to become more widespread, as in Gregory C. Anthony, Republican senator from Nevada.
He already has caught the attention of Barbara Vucanovich, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for whom Anthony worked as an intern in Washington last summer, performing tasks ranging from answering mail to writing press releases to making GOP missions onto the basketball courts of public housing projects.
“I kidded him (that) he’d better not run against me,” Vucanovich said.
If political pollsters ran a name-recognition survey in Las Vegas, who would win, Vucanovich or Anthony?
“I would say Anthony,” said Larry McKay, assistant principal at Rancho High, which Anthony led to a state title in 1986.
Anthony, a junior, is the UNLV point guard, the most prominent Las Vegas prep player to make a name for himself with the local university since Freddie Banks, who was on the last Rebel team to make the Final Four, in 1987.
Anthony is also the Rebels’ resident conservative on most issues, with the exception of abortion rights, which he supports.
He is worlds apart from the stereotypical Young Republican. He is neither white nor well to do. Jim Allen, his coach at Rancho, said that while Anthony was not “dirt-poor,” he “has had a tough life.”
Anthony admits that he has “caught flak” from his family and other blacks for his politics.
“There aren’t a lot of minorities in the Republican Party, and there’s always going to be a two-party system,” he said. “I think it would be foolish not to have blacks and minorites on both sides.”
Off the court, he is a well-spoken man who measures his words.
On the court, he is a Barry Goldwater Republican. To Anthony, extremism in defense is no vice.
Around the Big West Conference, he has a reputation as a talker. Playing with his jaw shut since it was broken in a game Feb. 12, Anthony has drawn three technical fouls. One, he says, was for his actions, but not all of them.
“I guess I used some four-letter words,” Anthony said.
With a jaw wired so tight that for a time he had to subsist on a liquid diet?
“You can try it,” Anthony said. “Just grit your teeth and talk. That’s how it happened.”
More than once this season, he has been accused of kicking other players on the court, most blatantly in a televised UNLV loss to UC Santa Barbara, during which ESPN replayed footage that seemed to show him booting Eric McArthur as he pulled away from a scramble for the ball.
Jerry Pimm, the Santa Barbara coach, said he criticized McArthur for getting upset at being knocked down, but after seeing the replay, he changed his mind.
“I saw it, and it was definitely intentional,” Pimm said. “In my contacts with Greg Anthony, I’ve had a lot of respect for him. I think he got frustrated. . . . I think he’s a solid player, a good competitor. I didn’t think he was capable of that.”
Allen, the Rancho coach, said Anthony’s on-court conflicts are only an illustration of his competitiveness.
“When he gets on a basketball floor, he’s the most competitive person I’ve ever seen,” Allen said. “He wants to prove to everybody how good he is. I think some of that’s his upbringing. He (grew up) in North Las Vegas. He got his way out with the competitiveness within him.”
UNLV Coach Jerry Tarkanian said competitiveness is what drove Anthony to play with a broken jaw, even though the pain has been severe.
When Anthony suffered the injury against Fresno State, he thought his season was over, and he broke down and cried. Doctors later told him that he could play if he could stand the pain. Anthony said the pain of not playing would be worse than the pain of a broken jaw, and he didn’t miss a game.
“He is a courageous player,” Tarkanian said. “I don’t know how many other players would break their jaw and be at practice the next day.”
Allen remembers that Anthony was difficult to coach for a time “because he is very strong-willed,” but he developed a closer relationship with Anthony than he has had with any other player.
“He’s a fantastic human being,” Allen said. “He’s done an awful lot for Rancho High School. When we won the state championship, he got a T-shirt, and he still wears that T-shirt. I sure hope Monday he gets a better T-shirt for himself.”
Anthony and Anderson Hunt are the guards who steer the Rebel fast break, a running game that can knock an opponent out of a game with frightening quickness.
But in a half-court game, the guards’ perimeter shooting becomes critical. On days when they have trouble hitting from outside, UNLV is vulnerable because opponents can pack in the defense on Larry Johnson, David Butler and Stacey Augmon. And those days happen. Hunt is shooting 47.2%, Anthony only 45.8%--the lowest percentage among the Rebels’ top seven players. And, although the percentages are not abysmal, they are bolstered by the large number of layups that UNLV generates.
Defensively, Anthony leads the team in steals with 100 in 37 games, a 2.7 average. Stacey Augmon, whose reputation has been built as one of the nation’s best defensive players, is second with 65. Most of Augmon’s steals come from anticipation. He steps into the passing lane just as the ball is released, cutting in front of the receiver. Anthony’s generally come off the dribble--quick pickpocket moves from behind, jabs from the front or side that knock the ball loose.
Anthony’s reputation for talking and being tough on the court sometimes has contributed to UNLV’s renegade image.
Both an opposing coach, Ball State’s Dick Hunsaker, and a broadcaster, Barry Tompkins, have been quoted calling the Rebels “thugs.”
Anthony is one of the team’s most articulate defenders.
Last weekend, a crowd of media sought to shape the Rebels’ game against Loyola Marymount in the West Regional final into a confrontation between good and evil, with UNLV cast as the latter.
Asked about the perception that UNLV would be the bad guy in that game, Anthony disarmed his questioner, saying: “ We don’t perceive it that way. It’s unjust and unwarranted. If we were to allow the media and others to mold our own characters and personalities and change what we do, we would have problems.”
When the issue of academics came up, Anthony rose to the team’s defense again.
“I’m so tired of these labels and stereotypes,” he said. “If you take time out to talk to me on a one-on-one basis, and then you form a perception of me, that’s fair enough. But don’t pass judgment on me before you talk to me. . . . Look, I could have graduated by now. I’m deciding whether to get a second degree in economics or work on my MBA.”
As for politics, Vucanovich urged him to wait a few years before trying a senatorial race.
“I encouraged him to run for the (state) assembly when he finishes school,” she said. “I think that’s where you have to start, to learn the grass roots.”
While Anthony was interning in Washington, Vucanovich introduced him to Jack Kemp, Bill Bradley and Tom McMillen, men who launched political careers after playing professional sports.
“He was a good kid, a very good kid, and a lot of help in the office,” Vucanovich said. “He knew how to run a computer. He’s very interested in politics and very interested in business.”
Whatever he does, Anthony will leave behind people divided in their opinions--those who think him dirty, and those who call him dedicated.
“If Greg never played another day of basketball, I think the future would prove him one of the better graduates of Rancho High,” said McKay, the school’s assistant principal. “Even if he never had played basketball, I’m sure he’d make a name for himself.”