NEW YORK -- Jerry Tarkanian stood, misty-eyed, in the midst of three of his former players.
Tarkanian, the controversial coach of the Nevada-Las Vegas Runnin' Rebels, was beaming like a proud father because those three players -- Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon and Greg Anthony -- were among the first 12 players selected last night in the NBA draft.
"We haven't had anybody [drafted] since 1987 [when Armon Gilliam was picked]," Tarkanian said. "To see the three of them go was such a great thing."
Johnson, the dominating power forward, was taken by the Charlotte Hornets to start last night's proceedings.
The gallery at Madison Square Garden, known for its brutal honesty in rating picks, cheered moderately.
Augmon, a 6-foot-8 forward, went to the Atlanta Hawks at the ninth position, eliciting a loud cheer laced with a smattering of boos.
But when Anthony, the all-time assists leader at UNLV, was selected at No. 12 by the hometown New York Knicks, the crowd roared.
It was truly a night for the men from the Nevada desert.
"They're the greatest kids you'll ever find," said Tarkanian, adding that too often, his players have gotten bad raps.
Hornets coach Gene Littles had said earlier in the week that his team would take Johnson, although there had been speculation that Charlotte might take Georgetown's 7-2 center, Dikembe Mutombo, or Syracuse forward Billy Owens.
Because Johnson stands only 6-5 1/2 , some critics thought the Hornets might have erred. But not Johnson.
"I've been playing power forward all my life, and I've done all right with my height," he said. "I'm not worried about my height."
Augmon, a defensive type with adequate offensive skills, was so coveted by the Hawks that they traded veteran guard Glenn "Doc" Rivers and two future second-round draft picks to the Los Angeles Clippers to get the No. 9 spot and snatch the wiry forward.
"They have good personnel and they have a good coach," Augmon said. "I expect to do well there, but I have a lot to prove. It makes me feel good to be compared to Dennis Rodman because Dennis Rodman is a great player. I hope that I'm sort of like Dennis Rodman."
As Anthony, a 6-2 guard, was making his way to the podium after being chosen, he was met by an open-armed Johnson, and then Augmon embraced both of them.
Tarkanian, standing nearby, was immediately swept up into a four-man bear hug.
"That's what he wanted," Tarkanian said as Anthony approached the stage. "I'm so happy for him. He wanted the Knicks so bad. The crowd will love him."
Actually, there were few surprises in the opening round. The first 10 players were selected almost exactly as the form chart read.
Kenny Anderson, the marvel of a point guard from Georgia Tech, drew a major reaction from the crowd when he was chosen by the New Jersey Nets at No. 2.
The crowd, with Anderson's mother in attendance, was ecstatic to have a native New Yorker playing on a New York-area team.
"I know it was a tough decision picking me over Billy Owens," Anderson said. "I thought I'd wind up in Sacramento."
The Kings sorely needed Anderson's talents, as point guard is a weak spot on their team, but many expected them to take Mutombo because they also are weak at center.
Sacramento grabbed Owens, however, as general manager Jerry Reynolds predicted they might if Anderson were gone.
"I'm not really disappointed," said Owens, who was robbed of the opportunity to play with former Syracuse teammate Derrick Coleman. "It's a dream come true to be in the NBA. I didn't want them to call my name after the fourth pick. As long as I was one, two or three, I'm happy."
The Nuggets, who picked fourth and eighth, worked to improve their defense, which was porous last season. They chose two tough defenders, Mutombo and Temple guard Mark Macon.
Denver took the former Georgetown center at No. 4, adding fuel to rumors that it is looking to dump last season's pivotman, Blair Rasmussen, and grabbed Macon at No. 8.