Isaiah "J.R." Ridersays UNLV's 'Hey Reb!' statue -- with ties to the Confederacy -- had to be removed ... telling TMZ Sports he's proud his alma mater "did the right thing."
Rider was an absolute beast at University of Nevada, Las Vegas in the early '90s... and was named an All-American in 1993. J.R. was the 5th overall pick in the NBA Draft.
We asked the former superstar hooper how he felt about UNLV yanking the popular giant bronze statue from the place it sat for years on campus.
"I'm proud. I think it's the right thing to do personally," Rider tells us, continuing ... "I think it was well done, on time, no need to delay, no need to think about it."
The former UNLV star kept it real when asked how he felt about the statue (and Runnin' Rebel mascot) when he was playing ball for the university ... saying he didn't know about all the baggage associated with the Rebel.
"Honestly, in school, I wasn't aware. I wasn't as conscious as I am now, as woke as I am now, as well-read as I am now."
But, Rider says after school he became educated on the issue ... and realized the name and statue were offensive.
"At the time at UNLV, no it didn't bother me at all. I was a 'Runnin' Rebel.' It didn't bother me at all but later in life, as I learned certain things, like the Redskins mascot, I started to have a problem with that for sure."
FYI, the "Rebel" was originally named after a Confederate general named Beauregard ... who ordered the Civil War's first gunshots, according to a Change.org petition demanding UNLV change the current mascot.
We also asked Rider what he'd say to UNLV fans who have lived-and-died with the "Runnin' Rebels" teams for years ... and are kinda bummed to see the school lose that identity.
"I would say to my people, my 'Runnin' Rebels' out there, that look, we're UNLV for life. When we talk, I always say UNLV. I never say 'Runnin' Rebel.' Not only because I don't really like it but I'm UNLV and we are UNLV for life and that doesn't change."
"We're UNLV Runnin', we're gonna drop the last part!"