Whatever it is that you’ve been putting off—launching a business, writing a novel, learning to breakdance—start doing it the minute you finish reading this.
Ken Boehlke and Jason Pothier, creators of the Sin Bin media franchise, are Las Vegas’ new poster boys for following your dream. When the first serious conversations about our city’s National Hockey League franchise began, the best friends and sports radio vets committed themselves to becoming the ultimate insiders, launching a website and podcast in August 2015 to cover everything and anything related to the future Vegas Golden Knights.
“If anyone said the word ‘Vegas’ and ‘hockey,’ that was a story for us,” explains Boehlke, sitting across from his partner in the podcast studio they share at The Space arts complex west of the Strip.
Having grown up in major league cities—Boehlke hails from Chicago, Pothier from Boston—and spent time at local station KXNT-AM, the pair knows how ravenous sports fans are for the home team. Las Vegas fans, as we’ve all seen, are no different and have been feeding off a steady diet of Knights-related news from Sin Bin for more than two and a half years.
“We’re all just having fun,” Boehlke says. “We live by one goal: to make it more fun to like the Golden Knights. Granted, that’s been ungodly easy because they never lose.”
Adds Pothier: “There’s us and then there’s traditional media that will give us one big storyline. Then our goal is to find different storylines within that storyline.”
For their efforts, Boehlke and Pothier have proven the power of nontraditional media. They are on a first-name basis with players, team executives and league officials. They’re in the locker rooms after the games. They’re on the road with the team. They’re delivering more coverage and more angles than fans could ever expect from sports radio or nightly news highlights, partly because they don’t have to play by the same rules.
Tapping into a niche market has also turned Sin Bin into a full-time business, with advertisers, merchandise sales and a fan base from here to Manitoba.
Last month, Boehlke and Pothier recorded their 100th episode of the Sin Bin podcast. In a chat with Vegas Seven, they reflect on Sin Bin’s beginnings, breakthrough moments and what they’ve learned along the way.
Vegas Seven: What was the conversation like when you started?
Pothier: I never really knew how you started [a website]. Ken had it in mind, he said, all along, “We’re going to do it online.” All of a sudden, one day, he said, “We need a name.” We started talking. We came up with a name, and then boom. The next day it was up.
Boehlke: It was there.
Pothier: He’s like, “We need to start writing.” We were writing the most bizarre, ridiculous articles just to get content up there, because we wanted to start the flow of people paying attention. Then, I don't know. What do you think? Around December, January people started …
Boehlke: It took a while. It took a few actual happenings. There was a meeting that [owner Bill] Foley went to and presented what he wanted to do with the team. Quebec was there, too. They had this meeting and nothing really came of it. A lot of people were finding that to be interesting. As things would happen, you'd realize that no one in local media is really talking about it. Nobody has enough information about it to where they're going to be able to have something every single day. Originally, I told Jason, “The only thing we really need to do is we need to have consistent content all the time.” You have to be able to know that if it happened, [Sin Bin] has it. We're not going to blow up overnight; we're not even going to blow up when they get the team. I didn't even think we'd be popular at this point. We had to have the content to be the go-to.
We were pumping out 25 stories a month. I'd say by December we probably had 150 hits on the website and then by March, it started getting real.
Pothier: It was a big boom for us. It was an event that boom. All of a sudden we're like, “Oh, OK. We have more than we expected.” You know what I mean?
Boehlke: Then the team happened, and that's what really helped. The day the team happened, or was going to happen, we decided, “Let's do a party,” like a “Hey, we did it! Let's have a party” type thing. Every single news station, radio station, TV station, they all picked up on it. It was the only party of its kind that anyone knew about, so we had every TV camera there; we had probably 250 people there. People still come up to me and say, “I was at O’Aces the day we got the team.”
Vegas Seven: Was that the breakthrough moment?
Boehlke: I don't even know if that was it necessarily.
Pothier: I think the breakthrough was, as we were writing and covering the team, it was happening. We were 100 percent convinced at one point, and then we started to sort of feel the people around us catching on, sniffing on, saying, "Maybe this will happen." We were so focused and convinced. I think as we were writing, things were coming true.
For me, that was the breakthrough. Another breakthrough was when we first hit Puck Daddy. I remember an article was posted on [Yahoo blog] Puck Daddy, which is incredibly followed by hockey fans.
Boehlke: Mine was when they hired [general manager George] McPhee. We went to the press conference. I had talked to the owner; I had talked to the VP and the ticket guy. Now they’re hiring a GM, and he’s been in the league for 17 years with the Capitals, an awesome team. Now we have the guy and [Jason and I] go to the press conference, and there’s probably 20 media members there, and I think [Jason] and I asked right of the 10 or 12 questions that were asked to McPhee.
That was my breakthrough, when it’s like, “Wait a minute. We are so far beyond where everybody else is. This is going to just get better and better.”
Vegas Seven: You knew about radio, you knew about hockey when you started this. How much have you had to learn about business, marketing, merchandising, etc.?
Pothier: For me, I’m still learning, because I’ve never been in a position like this. I’ve never had to worry about [anything] outside of what my job was, and that was programming. I got to give Ken credit, too, because he had a little bit more vision. In my head, I’m thinking accounting—you need a bankroll first, you need all this first. He said, “We just got to start small.”
Boehlke: We’ll just go.
Pothier: We’ll just go.
Boehlke: It's all trial and error. It's all failure. It's all being wrong. We've messed up over and over and over and over again. I will inevitably do the taxes and the IRS will be after me probably.
Pothier: I'm moving out of town by then.
Boehlke: We will likely mess it up, but you got to figure it out. You got to figure it out. That's part of the cost of making the mistakes. We had the wrong server at one point. I still think our hosting is incorrect and we need to fix that. We've never redesigned the website even though we really need to. It's all being wrong. We're just wrong, and when you're wrong, you figure that out. The only way to figure out that you're wrong is to do it and be wrong, and then you fix it and make it better.
Vegas Seven: At what point could you comfortably say, “This is now my day job.”
Pothier: For me, it was [October 2015] when I lost my job. I was kind of panicking. I had a wife who was pregnant. I got another job right away as program director and it lasted two weeks. Knew that I didn't like it. Then I realized …
Pothier: Got sick during it. Yeah. It didn't work out. Then, as we're still pumping out these articles, I start realizing that maybe we can do something here. Ken kept reminding me it's going to take us a while.
Boehlke: I kept yelling at him, like, “This is going to happen, but it's not going to happen now.” It's definitely not happening before they play a game. It's probably not happening before an entire season goes away and an off-season, which wound up being wrong. It's going to take a while and we're going to have to keep going. It can and will happen. I've seen it. I know other people have done it. There's no reason why we can't do it.
Pothier: There's nothing like this situation. I always say that if Ken and I were back in Chicago or Boston, we wouldn't have this opportunity, because it's almost grassroots. This team is almost grassroots. Nobody really believed in it until they actually named the team. They still don't.
Boehlke: People still ask us, “You guys really covered Vegas hockey before there was Vegas hockey?” Yeah, we believed it was going to work. It's working.
Pothier: I think also, again, I got to give a lot of credit to my wife, because she is currently the breadwinner in the house. She works her ass off. It worked out well, where we had the kids, so I was distracted that way. Instead of going to work, I was [parenting], but then this started growing and growing and growing, and here we are today. I can't imagine us having other jobs.
Tim Herlihy gained worldwide notoriety when he set a Guinness World Record for the Largest Irish Coffee in 2017 and followed that feat with a quest to visit the best pubs in all 50 states in the U.S.—which he managed to do in 30 days. In his role as Tullamore D.E.W. Irish Whiskey’s national brand ambassador, he has appeared on national television shows including Steve Harvey, Access Hollywood Live and Fox & Friends. During a recent stop in Las Vegas in advance of St. Patrick’s Day, I sat down with Herlihy at ReBAR in the Arts District to learn about his exploits, the Irish whiskey he represents and his thoughts on what makes a pub worthy of your patronage.
[caption id="attachment_167570" width="360"] Tim Herlihy[/caption]
Herlihy was born and raised in Termonfeckin, Ireland, where, before landing his ambassador gig, he worked on his family’s egg farm with more than 80,000 hens, but had always been a whiskey fan. His ambassadorship, in which he has served for six years, entails traveling from city to city explaining the story of how Tullamore D.E.W. is made and hosting various events. Regarding Irish whiskey, Tim classifies it as being smooth and bright and being a blend of three distillates: grain (sweet, light and delicate); malt (bearing citrus fruit notes); and pot still (imparting a creamy, thick and peppery mouthfeel). He suggests that Tullamore D.E.W. Original measures up ideally as it is a complex drink due to being a combination of all three and is a blend of whiskeys aged for 4–7 years in ex- bourbon, sherry and Irish whiskey casks. Similarly, the 14-Year is aged in ex-bourbon and finished in a combination of ex- port, sherry and Madeira wine casks for two to six months before being combined. The company also comes out with new expressions each quarter; currently available is the XO Rum Cask, aged 4–6 months in ex-rum casks from the Caribbean, resulting in rummy raisin and ripe banana notes.
As for where to enjoy these delights, Herlihy’s description of an ideal Irish pub includes having a design to encourage conversation (no TVs; conversational noise only), being narrow so as to force people to congregate, having a story on every wall (paraphernalia), a good selection of Irish whiskey and having no pretentiousness but offering hospitality and a friendly atmosphere. While ReBAR is not an Irish pub, in Tim’s estimation it does measure up as a quality pub worth frequenting, and he praises for its narrow entry area, myriad interesting knickknacks adorning its walls (all of which are for sale) and for serving Tullamore D.E.W. on tap along with a well-rounded beer selection including an assortment of local brews from Bad Beat, Big Dog’s, CraftHaus, Joseph James and Tenaya Creek, as his preferred drink is a D.E.W. and a brew.
Herlihy’s Guinness World Record actually had a Las Vegas connection. The 234 gallons of coffee—enough to pour 3,500 Irish coffees at Fado Bar & Restaurant in Chicago—were poured into a six-and-a-half-foot diameter acrylic vessel crafted by Acrylic Tank Manufacturing, a local aquarium tank company known for its Tanked reality TV show.
He also shared some Irish St. Patrick’s Day tidbits, such as the day being a public holiday (with schools, government offices and many businesses being closed) and abbreviated as St. Paddy’s Day (never Patty, as that is a girl’s name); there is no green beer to found anywhere; and that corned beef is strictly an Irish-American tradition (in Ireland, they combine their cabbage with bacon).
During our visit, I presented Herlihy with a 10-question quiz on St. Patrick’s Day. Interestingly, on several occasions he has given others similar quizzes, but said this was the first time he himself had been put on the spot to test his knowledge. He fared quite well, scoring 90 percent on the quiz, which was quite challenging.(Nearly every American would not know more than one or two of the answers. See below for the quiz/answers and how Tim fared.) For more of Tim’s anecdotes, check out the March 17 edition of Fox & Friends, where he will talk about how to celebrate (and survive) St. Patrick’s Day.
St. Patrick’s Day Quiz(Tim missed questions 1 and 5, but got the bonus question right to give him his impressive score.) Was Saint Patrick Irish? If not, where was he from? Saint Patrick was British. He was born to Roman parents in Wales in the late-fourth century.
What is St. Patrick’s real name? His birth name was Maewyn Succat, but he changed his name to Patricius after becoming a priest.
Where was the first ever St. Patrick’s Day parade held and in what year? New York City’s Saint Patrick’s Day Parade, which debuted in 1762.
How did the association with the color green come about and what color was originally associated with St. Patrick’s Day? His color was “Saint Patrick’s blue,” a light shade. The color green now represents the Irish flag, the shamrock and the color leprechauns wear.
Why do we pinch people for not wearing green? It is thought wearing green makes one invisible to leprechauns, so people pinch those not wearing green as a reminder that leprechauns will sneak up and pinch green abstainers.
Why do we drink (and drink so much) on St. Patrick's Day? Christians are allowed to put aside their Lenten restrictions on food and alcohol consumption on this day, which is why excessive drinking has become so permanently linked to the celebration.
What happened on March 17 that is actually being celebrated? It’s the day St. Patrick died.
How did the shamrock become associated with Saint Patrick?
According to Irish legend, the saint used the three-leafed plant as a metaphor for the Holy Trinity when he was first introducing Christianity to Ireland.
How did St. Patrick drive the snakes out of Ireland? This is a trick question. While legend has it that the Irish saint got rid of the reptiles, according to the fossil record, Ireland has never been home to any snakes and is too cold to host any reptiles. Modern scholars think the “snakes” St. Patrick drove away were likely metaphorical.
What kind of corn is in corned beef? Corned beef and cabbage, a traditional St. Patrick’s Day staple, doesn’t have anything to do with the grain corn. Instead, it refers to large grains of salt that were historically used to cure meats, which were also known as “corns.”
Bonus Question: What green-hued celebration is held in Chicago on every St. Patrick’s Day since 1962? The city celebrates St. Patrick’s Day by dumping green dye into the Chicago River, turning the river a fluorescent green for up to five hours.
Whenever a Las Vegas nightclub celebrates an anniversary or other milestone, it’s always a fun exercise to hop in the “way, way back machine” and take a look at how far they’ve come.
Let’s do that for 1 OAK Nightclub at The Mirage, which celebrates its sixth anniversary on March 16. Six years don’t seem that long ago, but consider this: The first Avengers movie was still a couple of months away; The Bachelor was only in Season 16; and 1 OAK sixth-anniversary headliner Lil Uzi Vert was still in high school.
When 1 OAK first swung open its doors, Las Vegas was still getting over the recession, and the nightlife scene was still getting over its Ed Hardy phase.
Fortunately, both are buried in the past, where they belong.
[caption id="attachment_167660" width="630"] 1 OAK regular Scott Disick by Bryan Steffy[/caption]
1 OAK, arriving in Las Vegas via New York, had big shoes to fill (remember, this is where Jet used to be) but lived up to its East Coast rep by maintaining a level of intimacy and accessibility that you don’t experience at megaclubs around the Strip.
Go to a 1 OAK show and you’ll be so close to the performer, whether it’s Sisqo or Kanye West. The club has carved out a decent hip-hop niche over the years, which offers an alternative from Las Vegas’ EDM clubs and pulls in a lot of celebrities.
“I’m a big hip-hop and sports fan, so it’s great being able to meet some of my favorite performers and athletes I grew up idolizing,” says lead VIP marketing host Andreas Vasiliu, who has been at the club since 2015.
Ahead of the anniversary, Vegas Seven caught up with Vasiliu for a Q&A about his favorite one-of-a-kind moments.
Who are the biggest celebrities you’ve seen in 1 OAK?
Throughout my time working here, I’ve seen the Kardashians, Mariah Carey, Usher, Nicki Minaj, John Legend and Jason Derulo, to name a few. Scott Disick has also hosted countless parties at the venue.
Who put on the best show?
One of the best shows I’ve seen at 1 OAK was Ludacris’ performance with Usher and Lil Jon [in 2016]. To see three superstars performing together is definitely a night I won’t forget.
[caption id="attachment_167662" width="630"] Photo by Denise Truscello[/caption]
1 OAK performers are so close to the crowd. Other than the dance floor, what’s the best seat in the house?
All performances at 1 OAK happen on our catwalk, which is directly in front of the Owner’s Row tables. This section is elevated and overlooks the dance floor, and is set behind the DJ booth.
What are the best presentations you’ve scene?
There’s nothing like a massive dragon brought to a table to help celebrate an engagement, or an oversized cake with a cocktail waitress ready to jump out for a customer’s birthday to pump up the crowd.
Lil Uzi Vert performs at 1 OAK’s sixth anniversary on March 16. Tickets can be purchased via the Hakkasan Group website.
There’s a lot of talk about how quick Las Vegas is to throw out its history. (“Las Vegas” being used as shorthand for the resort operators who make many important decisions about the region’s most prominently built environments.) What’s missing is how that history can often find a second life that is sometimes more fulfilling than its original one.
Exhibit A: something you’ll see if you venture into the Las Vegas Natural History Museum, just south of the Old Mormon Fort.
Luxor once stood out for its all-encompassing theming, no small feat in an era when Excalibur, Paris Las Vegas, New York–New York, Treasure Island and The Venetian all sought, with varying commitments to fidelity, to reproduce, respectively, medieval England, the City of Light, Art Deco Gotham, a pirate haven and the Queen of the Adriatic. For starters, the resort itself was a pyramid—you can’t get much more literal than that. Then there was the sphinx outside. Those are still there, but what was inside made the black glass exterior look subtle. A Nile River ride and talking animatronic camels were, again, the most obvious tributes to ancient Egypt, but an important part of the resort was the Tomb & Museum of King Tutankhamen.
[caption id="attachment_60267" width="630"] Dawn of a dynasty? Luxor opens on October 15, 1993.[/caption]
Back at the Luxor’s opening in 1993, this was family-friendly Las Vegas in a nutshell. Not only could you gamble at Luxor, but instead of dropping off your kids at the pool and hoping they avoided sunburn, you could give them an honest-to-God educational experience. The exhibit included a replica of an Egyptian village, hands-on instructional activities, videos and a re-creation of the tomb that Howard Carter rediscovered in 1922.
Fifteen years later, the exhibit, whose reproductions and depictions captured life and death more than 3,000 years ago, had worn out its welcome on the Strip. The Nile River ride was long gone as the property shifted to a less obviously pharaonic ambiance. Rather than consign the Tomb & Museum, which cost a reported $3 million to assemble under the auspices of Egypt’s antiquities ministry, the casino decided to donate the collection to the Las Vegas Natural History Museum, which has been displaying it since 2010.
Perhaps fewer people see the wonders of the 18th dynasty in their current digs on North Las Vegas Boulevard than when they were ensconced in a new casino resort, but it’s a good bet they’ll last more than 15 years in their current home. What’s more, Treasures of Egypt, as the museum is now called, is almost certainly more accessible to the families of Las Vegas now than it was on the Strip. A few blocks north from the 95’s Las Vegas Boulevard exit, travel time from most parts of the Valley is likely shorter, since museum-goers don’t have to traverse the congested Strip. And while there is a fee, an annual family membership is reasonable, and parking remains free (by contrast, rates just went up at Luxor—again).
Exhibit B: The Stardust (remember that place?) once had a Polynesian restaurant named Aku Aku. It served its last mai tai in 1980. But one of the two giant stone moai (known to those of us less worldly in the Pacific islands as “tiki statues”) that decorated its exterior has, for years, stood in silent watch over Sunset Park’s lake.
[caption id="attachment_152059" width="630"] Photo by Kin Lui[/caption]
Unlike the Egypt exhibit, the statue standing by itself has few purely educational lessons to offer. Its value might be more aesthetic than instructional. But it gives one of the Valley’s public spaces just that much more quirkiness. A reproduction of moai makes sense in front of a Polynesian restaurant; on an island in the middle of a lake in the middle of a park in the middle of a desert, it makes you wonder. How did an artifact from the South Pacific end up in the Mojave? It’s an interesting story (the basics of which are explained above), but one that wouldn’t be asked if it were still in its original place.
Compared to the incongruity of an artificial lake in the desert, maybe a moai isn’t such a big deal. And it might teach us something about the history and influence of Pacific islanders in Las Vegas.
Casino operators often boast about how much they give back to the community, and they certainly deliver funding to a wide range of charitable organizations around the Valley. But allowing their discards to be reused might be the most significant way they have genuinely contributed. Something made for tourists becomes a thing of real value to locals.
It’s kind of like when banquet-goers don’t eat as much dessert as has been prepared, and it gets passed on to the employee cafeteria. Finally, a chance to eat the stuff we give company.
For many years, the identity of Las Vegas hinged on being a place where replicas outshined the originals, sometimes literally: a black glass pyramid with thousands of rooms and a gigantic light beam shooting out the top, a casino themed after Monte Carlo with more hotel rooms than the actual Monaco resort. For the past decade and a half, the focus has been less on re-creating distant locales and more on providing a presumably more authentic modern luxury experience. In many ways, though, faux Las Vegas made a more original design statement than “genuine” Las Vegas.
In that way, we’ve seen the replicas, cast off from their original homes, make their way out into the surrounding city. Adopted, appreciated and even cherished, they are symbols of the unlikely and sometimes unexpected ways that community can blossom in the desert.
“Bring it in!” Eric Salazar shouts to the nine kids who are contorting their bodies in various ways in the bright dance studio. The B-boys circle around him. “Great session. Zoologic in 3. 3-2-1 …”
“Zoologic!” they shout in unison.
Ranging in age from 6 to 15, the kids look exhausted but happy after the grueling two-hour session at Zoologic Breaking Training Camp. Class size varies each weekday, and sometimes adults and a B-girl or two appear.
Zoologic’s main studio is in a no-frills gym between a 99-Cents Only store and a Chicago-style pizza joint in a strip mall at Eastern Avenue and Warm Springs Road. Zoologic’s classes are also conducted at several other locations across the Las Vegas Valley.
B-boying and other elements of hip-hop culture were born in the 1970s after the height of the civil rights movement. Breaking, known as breakdancing on the mainstream level (much to the chagrin of many hip-hop purists), is a form of hip-hop dance.
The dance is primarily expressed through four elements:
Toprock, moves that happen while upright or “up top.”
Footwork (or downrock), intricate foot movements that happen on the ground.
Power moves, windmills and air flares that everyone pictures when they think of b-boying.
Freezes, when movement halts, usually in a cool pose.
Putting these together, usually over a hip-hop track, make a B-boy (or B-girl) a breaker. Another integral part of breaking are battles, in which breakers go head to head, flexing their skills, often for a monetary prize.
Salazar, who has won countless battles, founded the Zoologic Empire in 2012 with Steve Corral and Justin Buenaventura. Salazar says it was a way to give back to the community.
“For a good two years here in Vegas, I entered every battle, and I won maybe 90 percent of them,” he says. “I liked it, but I reached a point where it got a little repetitive. I was [thinking], ‘All right, where's this going?’
“The scene is giving me all this money. I'm just going to these jams and taking it, taking it, taking it. That's what this culture is about—you gotta take, but you also gotta give back.”
This mentality is related to breaking culture itself. “Just like the moves: You take moves, but you gotta rewrite them and produce moves to put back out there. If not, you're just taking so much,” Salazar says.
Teaching is essential for the culture to continue.
Corral remembers why he felt starting Zoologic was necessary. “We just did it because we felt that the breaking scene in Las Vegas is separated. There was no connection between the generations, and so we wanted to make the next generation. We wanted the b-boy scene to exist in Las Vegas because we liked it. We loved it.”
Buenaventura says he had similar motives, but his were a reaction to the lack of teachers when he was coming up as a breaker.
“All the OGs back [when I was younger] were gangster, and they didn't want to teach us,” Buenaventura says. “Basically, they didn't want to teach us because they didn't want us to get better than them.
“From that point on, I realized that if I was ever in a position to teach somebody and pass down my knowledge that I would take that chance because I don't want the same fate for the next generation. I want to share what I know.”
Buenaventura, Corral and Salazar came to breaking in their own ways as youngsters, and they’re pursuing it well into their 30s.
Steve Corral, a.k.a. B-Boy Steve
[caption id="attachment_167524" width="630"] Photo by Andrew Sea James[/caption]
Corral, who has toyed with several aliases, is known simply as Steve in the B-boy community. A B-boy name is an important facet, whether it’s self-determined or bequeathed.
His dance moves radiate power and energy, and his teaching style is authoritative. The kids take well to the coupling of discipline and high expectations.
“When I push people hard, it's not because I don't believe in them or I want to be mean, it's because I actually really believe in them,” he says. “I'm as encouraging as any other instructor, but my means of encouragement does not come through softness. I push the kids because I believe they can do it, and I know their intelligence level. I see it. So I push.”
This confidence comes from his fearless immersion into breaking. Born and raised in Las Vegas, Corral spent most of his life on the eastside, where he discovered the dance form.
“I was a little kid, and I liked dancing. I liked being active,” he says, recalling his first experience.
“One of my cousins and his friends used to pop [another form of hip-hop dance]. I thought that was cool. I was like, ‘Oh, me, too.’ I used to pop with them. And then I saw one of them go on the floor, and I was like, ‘Me, too,’ on the floor. I saw more and more people on TV and just in general on the floor. I thought the floor stuff was awesome. It just caught me back then.
“Our community wasn't so tightly knit in the pre-internet days, Corral says. “So, if you saw someone else breaking, and you breaked (and at that time there weren’t lessons), you were gonna battle this guy. That happened a lot. My first battle was at the Boulevard Mall. It was at the back of Photo Mania in, like, 1997. It's hilarious. That's old-school Vegas though.
“I don't want to say I was self-taught, because I had a group of friends who I trained with,” Corral says. One of those friends was Buenaventura.
Justin Buenaventura, a.k.a. B-Boy Yust
[caption id="attachment_167525" width="630"] Photo by Andrew Sea James[/caption]
Buenaventura has been known as B-boy Yust since he was 16. The name started as a joke by friend who put a “Y” in front of names when he pronounced them. In this case, it stuck. Buenaventura has a calm presence, exuding both discipline and maturity. His fluid but structured moves convey self-assurance without pretension.
As for teaching: “You need to have that patience, and you need to captivate them,” he says of kids’ short attention spans. “You need to know how to command the class and keep their imaginations ignited.”
Born in Los Angeles, Buenaventura moved to Las Vegas when he was 13, where he also came to b-boying on the eastside.
“The first time I saw it, this little Asian kid did a flare and then he did a windmill. It just took my breath away,” he says. “That's when I decided that I was going to start practicing and breaking.
Like Corral, Buenaventura’s first milestone was his inaugural battle.
“I was only breaking for about five months, and this guy who was really good called me out on the Strip, next to M&M’s World,” Buenaventura says. “The guy destroyed me. Killed me! I had no moves, and he was doing all kinds of crazy stuff. Windmills, one-handed jackhammers and stuff like that. That really inspired me to push myself and train a lot harder and get better.”
Birth of Knucklehead Zoo
The move to be more serious aligned him with eastsider Corral. In 1998, the pair became part of RNS (pronounced “Renaissance”).
“It was a party crew, it wasn't even like a B-boy crew. It was just a bunch of party people,” Corral says. “We were just about breaking and dancing. We would go to parties and break, but we weren't going to parties to get drunk and go crazy. We were just having fun on the dance floor.
“As we grew up a little bit, the B-boys [in RNS] started to get really serious about B-boying and battling, so we moved in another direction,” Corral says.
It was about 1999, when prompted by mutual friends, the more passionate members of RNS scheduled a battle with another Vegas crew, Knuckleheads. But when they came together, the battle never went down.
“We went to a barbecue one day, and we hung out with them. It was weird—we were just kind of cool with each other and clicked.”
The crews joined forces. Rather than simply adopting the Knuckleheads name as its own, they wanted to add a new element.
“One day, Leo [another crew member] said he saw a license plate with KHZ. He was like, ‘Z. Zoo, a bunch of animals, I like that.’ And it stuck. We were Knucklehead Zoo. Wild crazy animals,” Corral says.
The Knucklehead Zoo crew continued to practice together, push each other and reach new heights. Over the next few years, KHZ would go on to have success competing all over the world. They created an off-Broadway show, REWIND, and accumulated battle wins. In the process, the crew gained another few key members.
Eric Salazar, a.k.a. The Diss
[caption id="attachment_167526" width="630"] Photo by Andrew Sea James[/caption]
Salazar dubbed himself The Diss. First, it was a shortening of Eric the Disease, when he rejected a bequeathed name, Eric the Cure, after another b-boy who shared the same first name and a similar style of dress. “Man, I'm not Eric the Cure. I'm Eric the Disease. I don't heal people, I kill people when I break."
Salazar dabbled in several hip-hop elements, started winning battles and adopted a new name, an acronym for Destroying Intelligence Sideways. It was B-boy Dis Money, “because it was like, I was here for dis money.” Today, it’s simply, The Diss.
With a dynamic, complex and creative breaking style, his moves look effortless—which helps cement the diss he lays upon his opponents. As the proprietor, choreographer and instructor at Zoologic, he interacts gently with the kids, including them in building routines and letting them use their own creativity while on the floor. Like any good teacher, he leads by example.
“I want to inspire these guys and let them know they're learning from someone who's good and out there doing stuff,” Salazar says. “I want them to have that same work ethic. No days off, unless you need rest here and there. I'm just trying to push these guys every day.”
Born in the small town of Alamosa, Colorado, Salazar and his family relocated to the larger city of Durango, where he became interested in dancing. But when his family moved to Salt Lake City, he really became connected to breaking.
“I met some kids there that would break in school, doing windmills—they were already advanced. That's what got me serious about breaking.”
His first battle was equally impactful to his B-boy future.
“The first battle I ever did was in seventh grade,” he says. “The whole school, maybe 400-500 kids made a circle on the field. It was so much that the teachers and security had to shut it down. They actually banned breaking at my school because of it. I loved battling at that moment. It was the beginning.”
As a member of Angels of Dead Crew, he began traveling and entering competitions out of state, including in Las Vegas.
“My first out-of-state battle was here in Vegas, and one of my closest friends, Mig, his mom drove us. That was the first time I saw b-boys outside of Utah. In Utah, the B-boys were good, but nowhere near what we saw when we came out here. That was a big push.”
It was at one of these battles where Buenaventura and Salazar connected.
“At the time Star Wars was really big. The Jedi had this particular haircut where they would have a long braid. I had one, and I noticed [Eric] had one. I walked right up to him, and I just introduced myself,” Buenaventura says.
Later, the partnership was solidified with a formal induction into the crew.
“When I met the Knucklehead Zoo guys, they recognized me and a couple of my other friends, Mig and Ali. We were making a lot of noise, winning competitions. They're like, ‘Hey, you guys want to be part of the crew?’ We entered a couple of battles, and we actually won. It was a perfect fit,” Salazar says.
Much like how Buenaventura and Corral moved beyond RNS, a few members of Angels of Dead Crew were more serious than others. That’s when Salazar was forced to decide whether to finish school for graphic design or pursue breaking. He chose the latter and moved to Las Vegas to work with KHZ more regularly.
“That [the move] was, for me, the breakthrough to go international. At that point I did a lot of battles here, but I'd never had the opportunity to go to another country and actually compete. That's a big deal in breaking. Once you step out, you're on the world level. When I moved here, we got to go to the Battle of the Year, which is the dream for people. Knucklehead Zoo opened the door for me to go on a world scale,” Salazar says.
Knucklehead Zoo’s impressive list of accomplishments includes competing in the Battle of the Year several times and traveling internationally to B-boy events and contests. They were featured in 2007’s Planet B-Boy, which documents their 2005 journey to the Battle of the Year.
KHZ members also went on to form Super Cr3w (along with Battle Monkeys and Full Force Crew). Super Cr3w, who won MTV’s America’s Best Dance Crew in 2008, also competed on NBC’s World of Dance in 2017.
Making money while dancing punctuated their success. But ultimately, breaking is an individual art, and many of KHZ members have had overwhelming opportunities in their individual careers.
Even as other KHZ members found other inspirations and outlets, Salazar continued to focus on dancing. He traveled frequently, performing and competing as a solo B-boy. Winning, and the drive to give something back to the community, led to the creation of Zoologic.
The Calling to Teach
[caption id="attachment_167522" width="630"] Photo by Andrew Sea James[/caption]
Teaching had always been part of his life, but Salazar was ready to take it to the next level. He started doing private lessons, but soon realized that the cost to the students’ parents was not sustainable. He then offered one-hour classes three days a week at a fellow crew member’s studio. From there, kids kept showing up, and they were serious.
“It wasn't just like, come to be entertained by me. No, you're gonna train. Nothing stops training,” he says. But the students weren’t the only ones feeling a benefit from the program. “Once we were breaking with the kids, it brought it back to the beginning essence.”
Corral, specifically, found that he was prepared for whatever opportunity crossed his path. “I'm 100 percent Las Vegas, I'm ready for everything. What are we doing? You tell me. We're working, let's work.”
His vitality garnered him some major (and sometimes outlandish) gigs. For a few years he performed with Cirque du Soleil’s The Beatles LOVE as a specialty act. He warmed up motorcycles and performed stunts for Headlights and Tailpipes, an automobile-themed topless revue at the Stardust. He also served as a dancer, stagehand and animal handler for The Flying Fercos
He then spent six years working as an international stage captain for Jabbawockeez, setting up shows in Australia and Las Vegas. His passion for working with kids and perpetuating the breaking culture led him to focus on teaching.
“I wanted to teach the [kids] about hip-hop in the community. ... We want to create amazing B-boys and B-girls, but our ultimate goal is to create good people. And people that support the community,” Corral says.
Meanwhile, Buenaventura got his first taste for the small screen with an appearance on Star Search in 2003, when he and a few other KHZ members auditioned for Arsenio Hall.
“We did the audition, and we totally messed up. We did horrible, but we still made it. We made it to the second round, and we got robbed. They gave [the win] to some cloggers. But from that point on, we realized that we could make a living off of dancing,” he says.
Performing before 20,000 at an NBA playoff game in New Jersey in 2003 was another highlight. When he turned 29, however, Buenaventura decided to pursue a different passion—boxing.
“That sport has taught me a lot about life—not just being able to defend myself and have a six pack,” Buenaventura says. “Boxing has taught me that I’ve got to be patient and in the face of adversity that you cannot give up. Being in the ring is like life … there’s nowhere to run and there's nowhere to hide.”
Frustrated working a typical office job and no longer dancing, Buenaventura had a revelation.
“Eric invited me to teach his class and seeing the kids' excitement from breaking and seeing how much fun they were having, it really put everything into perspective.”
Several kids have grown up with Zoologic, developing into talented B-boys.
Students, alongside KHZ and Super Cr3w, perform at venues such as the Great American Foodie Fest at Sunset Station and Culture Shock’s annual event, “Takin’ It to the Streets.”
Performing and competing build a palpable confidence in the diverse group. To see a 6-year-old comfortably relate with a 15-year-old is rare in the outside world, but a daily occurrence at Zoologic.
As an extension of the character and passion they’re developing in the students, Salazar, Corral and Buenaventura also help out with Be Brave, a bullying-prevention program supported by Nevada Child Seekers.
When it comes down to it, these aren’t simply pupils and instructors. They’re a crew.
“We don't really look at the kids as like, they're the students. We do, but they're really our friends. In reality, these are the guys that we break with. I have the Super Cr3w, and I break with Knucklehead Zoo. Those are my crews, but my real crew is Zoologic. The staff and all the kids. That's who I want to break with,” Salazar says.
[caption id="attachment_167523" width="630"] Photo by Andrew Sea James[/caption]
While Zoologic has already made an impact on Las Vegas and the B-boy community, its founders aren’t the types to sit pretty.
Buenaventura thinks the law might be in his future. “It's something that I've always wanted to do. It's never too late to have new goals. I love helping people,” Buenaventura says.
Salazar knows that Zoologic can become an institution in the Valley. In the last few months, the program has expanded to several dance studios and has acquired a roster of accomplished instructors, including Ben Stacks (Super Cr3w), J Funky, Rated G, Docta Trey and Leo Suede. Salazar envisions a stand-alone studio, but that’s not all.
“To me, the end result is not a studio. That's just something to [advance] what we're doing. We want to become a program that's not just in one spot, but throughout the whole city. That way, kids that live in Summerlin have a consistent place to break. Kids that live in Henderson have a consistent place to break.
“They don't have to drive all the way across town and then not be able to go because they can't get there. For us, we're just providing the outlets and giving opportunities for anyone who wants them,” Salazar says.
In just three years, UNR basketball coach Eric Musselman has impressively retooled his team. After a nine-win season in his first year at the helm, the Wolf Pack captured back-to-back Mountain West Conference titles.
After dispatching UNLV in the Mountain West Tournament last week, Musselman recalled that finding shooters was his top recruiting priority back in 2015.
“The first thing we had to do is get some shooters, no matter what. Doesn't matter if a guy can't dribble, how tall, how short, we just had to get some shooters. And obviously the focus recruiting-wise was to fill a gap that we were so horrendous at,” Musselman said.
Nevada ranked 350th out of 351 teams in three-point shooting the year before Musselman took over. Just three years later, the Wolf Pack upped their percentage from beyond the arc from 26 percent to 40 percent, ranking 20th in the country.
As coach Marvin Menzies looks to his third year at UNLV, that shooting prowess is the biggest difference between his rebuild and Musselman’s.
UNLV nearly upset top-seeded Nevada in the Mountain West Tournament. The Rebels had an eight-point lead at halftime thanks to three-point shooting. The Rebels buried 6 of 13 threes in the opening 20 minutes, including three from gunner Jovan Mooring.
But in the second half Nevada flipped the script, hitting 8 of 13 threes while UNLV knocked down just 1 of 10.
With good shooting, the Rebels nearly knocked out the best team in the Mountain West. With poor shooting, they got outscored by 13 over the course of the final 20 minutes.
UNLV, like Nevada, recently suffered a horrible season. The Rebels posted just 10 regular-season wins in 2016-17, one more than Nevada had the season prior to Musselman’s arrival. But unlike their rivals in Reno, UNLV has not embraced the three-pointer.
In conference play, UNLV ranked last, making just 29 percent of threes. For the season, just 27.7 percent of the Rebels’ shots were threes—the fewest in the Mountain West.
Ignoring the three is something Menzies teams have always done. In his 11 years as head coach at New Mexico State and UNLV, just one of his teams ranked in the top 200 nationally in three-point rate.
Menzies loves his post players. Brandon McCoy and Shakur Juiston dominated the offense this season and were the team’s top two scorers. But more teams are moving to a three-point-based offense, and post-play is becoming extinct. Teams took more threes than ever this year and made them at the highest rate in the last decade. The game has evolved past the low-post game, but Menzies is still trying to win that way.
This season’s roster did not lend itself to great three-point shooting. UNLV had just one player with at least 30 three-point attempts shoot above the national average of 35 percent. Implementing a three-point-based offense would have likely made UNLV worse, but it highlights what Menzies has to prioritize in recruiting: shooting.
Another distinct advantage Nevada held over UNLV this season was length. The Rebels had a massive frontcourt with the seven-footer McCoy and 6-foot-9 Juiston inside. But UNLV’s backcourt was small.
Jordan Johnson measured in at 5-foot-10, Mooring was listed at 6-foot-2. Nevada didn’t use a player shorter than 6-foot-4 this season.
Mooring made 3 of his 5 three-pointers in the first half against Nevada. But he was 0 of 4 in the second half and did not score. The reason: Musselman had the lengthy Cody Martin defend Mooring.
“We put Cody Martin on him,” Musselman said. “We wanted to try to get him to shoot over an extended hand of a 6-foot-7 player.”
UNLV needs more length on the perimeter. Johnson and Mooring were effectively useless while defending taller players. That shortcoming was one of the reasons that UNLV finished ninth in the conference in defensive efficiency.
Looking ahead, UNLV has added a little bit more length on the perimeter. Bryce Hamilton and Trey Woodbury, both 6-foot-4 guards, are signed with UNLV for next season. But those two freshmen will have to unseat Noah Robotham (6-foot-1) and Amauri Hardy (6-foot-2) for starting spots. UNLV could be overmatched once again in perimeter size next year.
Menzies has brought UNLV back from a disastrous coaching search and a 10-win season. He has brought talent to UNLV. But now he has to adjust to the changes in college basketball to keep up with the best in the Mountain West.
So here we are. After one of the most unpredictable college basketball seasons in recent memory—a season in which no team asserted itself as the odds-on favorite to win it all—the field of 68 teams is set for what is sure to be an equally unpredictable NCAA tournament. Of course, in sports betting circles, “unpredictable” is the dirtiest of words.
Sure, wagering on the Big Dance is always something of a crapshoot, but with so much parity, handicapping this year’s tournament has been particularly difficult—especially for the casual bettor. Bottom line: As you prepare to settle in for the opening-round madness in which 32 games will be played over 36 hours on Thursday and Friday, you want some solid wagering advice. Good news: You’ve come to the right place. OK, well, at least the place where the advice is 100 percent free!
Here then are my five best bets for the opening round of action—and we start with the first two games out of the chute.
[caption id="attachment_167476" width="630"] March 7, 2018; Kansas City, Missouri; Oklahoma guard Trae Young controls the ball against Oklahoma State guard Tavarius Shine during the first half of the first round of the Big 12 Tournament at the Sprint Center. Photo by Amy Kontras, USA TODAY Sports[/caption]
OKLAHOMA +2 vs. Rhode Island (9:15 a.m. Thursday)
Let me start by acknowledging that I agree with the majority of people living outside Norman, Oklahoma, who were outraged that the Sooners received an at-large bid to the Big Dance. When your record since mid-January is 4-11 (including 0-8 away from home), you don’t even deserve an invite to the NIT.
But the selection committee wanted Oklahoma superstar freshman Trae Young in this tournament—and based on this matchup, that committee clearly wanted Young to stick around for more than one game. Because while there’s no denying the Sooners are limping into this tournament, there’s also no denying they are vastly more talented and battle-tested than Rhode Island, which somehow got a seven-seed despite splitting its final eight games—and that was in a conference (Atlantic 10) that, quality-wise, is several notches below Oklahoma’s (Big 12).
As UNLV fans well know, Sooners coach Lon Kruger is one of the best in the business come March (he led Oklahoma to the Final Four last year), and I fully expect Kruger to have his team—particularly Young—properly motivated to prove the naysayers wrong.
WRIGHT STATE +13 vs. Tennessee (9:40 a.m. Thursday)
I’m not going to claim to know a whole lot about Wright State. But one thing I do know is the Raiders are not coached by Rick Barnes. You know who is coached by Rick Barnes? Tennessee. Here’s why that matters: During his 17 seasons coaching at Texas, Barnes made the NCAA tournament 16 times. You know how many times he made it out of the opening weekend? Five. You know how many times he went one-and-done? Six.
What’s more, in his last eight NCAA tournament games with the Longhorns, Barnes covered the point spread … not a single time. In fact, you have to go back to March 2009 for the last time Barnes cashed a Big Dance ticket or won a tourney game by double digits. As for Wright State, it has won and covered four straight games and is 5-2 against the spread as an underdog, including 2-0 ATS as a double-digit dog.
LOYOLA-CHICAGO +2 vs. Miami (12:10 p.m. Thursday)
There’s a reason this matchup between a No. 6 seed and a No. 11 seed is a near pick-em. And that reason is Loyola Chicago is a dangerous mid-major. The Ramblers went 28-5 this season (19-9-1 ATS), including a convincing win at Florida (which, like Miami, is a sixth seed in this tournament).
Loyola-Chicago is solid at both ends of the court thanks to a roster loaded with players who could very easily be starring for more high-profile schools. This includes six players who average double figures in scoring, five of whom shoot at least 52 percent from the field. Coming from the ACC, Miami definitely has faced more challenging competition, but the Hurricanes were inconsistent all season long. More importantly, they were a horrible bet down the stretch, going 3-10 ATS (1-6 ATS as a favorite).
[caption id="attachment_167479" width="630"] March 10, 2018; Anaheim, California; Cal State Fullerton guard Khalil Ahmad (14) leads teammates onto the court as time runs out in the Titans' 77-55 win over UC Irvine in the Big West Conference Tournament final at the Honda Center. Photo by Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY Sports[/caption]
CAL STATE FULLERTON +20.5 vs. Purdue (9:40 a.m. Friday)
Of the 68 teams in this tournament, none sent bettors to the poorhouse more frequently over the past two months than Purdue. Despite their gaudy 28-6 record, the Boilermakers have cashed just once in their last 13 games. During this stretch, Purdue was favored 12 times, and went 1-6 ATS as a double-digit chalk.
Conversely, Cal State Fullerton had the 12th-best point-spread record in the nation (18-9 ATS), covering in eight of its last 10 contests. Furthermore, the Titans are 11-3 ATS as an underdog, including four consecutive outright wins as a pup. No, they won’t pull off the outright shocker here, but they’ll keep it within 15 points against an opponent that very well could be rusty, as Purdue has been idle since March 4. Which brings me to …
BUCKNELL +8 (first half) vs. Michigan State (4:10 p.m. Friday)
Michigan State has as much talent as any team in the field, not to mention a Hall of Fame coach in Tom Izzo. So it wouldn’t shock me in the least to see the Spartans cutting down the nets in San Antonio when all is said and done. But it also wouldn’t shock me to see them come out sluggish against a dangerous Bucknell squad.
For starters, this will be Michigan State’s first game since losing to Michigan in the Big Ten tournament semifinals on March 3—a 13-day break isn’t something any healthy team wants at this point in the season. Furthermore, the Spartans have frequently gotten off to slow starts, including facing halftime deficits of 37-24 against Maryland and 49-27 against Northwestern—neither of which were threats to make this tournament.
Granted, Michigan State stormed back to win both those games, and they may very well roll past Bucknell in this one. But I don’t expect it to be easy, especially early on, as the Bison are 18-1 since January 5, with the lone loss coming in overtime. (By the way, it was just two years ago that Michigan State was on the wrong end of one of the biggest opening-round upsets in history, losing to 15th-seeded Middle Tennessee State.)
As coach Marvin Menzies contemplates another round of rebuilding this offseason, he knows UNLV may lose three of the top four scorers from this year’s team. Senior guards Jovan Mooring and Jordan Johnson will depart, and there’s a strong possibility that freshman Brandon McCoy will leave early for the NBA Draft.
But Menzies has some key pieces in place for next season.
Shakur Juiston has proven to be a steady, efficient scorer for the Rebels. If McCoy does leave, Juiston will have no problem filling the role of go-to frontcourt scorer.
“He’s a tough kid mentally,” Menzies says. “He’s driven. He plays with a purpose. He doesn’t have any fear.”
Juiston has been one of the most efficient players in the Mountain West. His 63.9 field goal percentage was the best in the conference. He is nearly unstoppable when he gets the ball within 12 feet from the basket.
Juiston has benefited from his frontcourt partner’s presence. Stopping McCoy is most opponents’ top priority. While his efficiency may drop from increased attention next season, Juiston should still put up monster numbers for the Rebels.
His scoring prowess is not Juiston’s only attribute. When UNLV needed one stop on Boise State to force overtime on February 3, Menzies chose Juiston to defend Mountain West Player of the Year candidate Chandler Hutchison. Juiston forced a missed shot to get the Rebels into overtime.
He also is the Rebels’ best rebounder, averaging 10 boards per game. Juiston is as close to a complete player as UNLV will have next season. He will be a senior by then and will likely be the No. 1 scoring option for the Rebels.
Alongside Juiston is Tervell Beck, a freshman forward who was inserted into the starting lineup midway through the season. Beck is more naturally fitted to play in the post, but Menzies has used him as the small forward in the starting lineup.
For the 2018–2019 season, Beck has a good shot to start with Juiston in the frontcourt, which would give the Rebels an extremely efficient pairing.
Beck brings some of the same qualities as Juiston on the offensive end. Both play below the rim, but rarely miss. Beck’s 62 percent shooting on two-pointers was second only to Juiston.
Beck will have to improve defensively, where he has been too slow to guard perimeter players, and on the glass, where he gathered just the sixth most rebounds on the team. But his offensive upside makes Beck an intriguing option for the next three years.
“He’ll have a great career,” Menzies says. “He’s a humble, hungry, great kid. After four years of wearing the scarlet and gray, he’ll be a lot of people’s favorite.”
The player with most star potential is Amauri Hardy. The freshman guard has been playing behind Johnson and Mooring all season, but he has shown flashes that could make him a standout in the Mountain West.
In preparation for next season, Menzies has let Hardy play some point guard, even when starter Johnson is on the floor.
“I wanted to start to give him that feel and that opportunity. He’s had good possessions and bad possessions. He needs the experience,” Menzies says.
Hardy is at his best when driving to the basket. He has the ability to take defenders one-on-one off the bounce and finish at the rim. He shot a solid 59.5 percent when at the rim and might have a good enough midrange game to make the inefficient long two-point jumper an acceptable shot.
But what UNLV will need to see from Hardy is the ability to command an offense from the point guard spot. He hasn’t gotten many chances this season, and Akron transfer Noah Robotham (a Bishop Gorman High School graduate) may take the point guard spot for just next season, but Hardy showed moments of excellence on pick and rolls.
His ability to read defenses off-ball screens will be a critical component of UNLV’s offense over the next few seasons.
Add in UNLV’s recruiting class, which includes two four-star guards in Trey Woodbury and Bryce Hamilton, and Menzies has set the foundation for the Runnin’ Rebel rebuild. Now it is up to Menzies to develop the core into a winning program.