Community support pays dividends for Wolf Pack | RecordCourier.com

Community support pays dividends for Wolf Pack

Joe Santoro

Sports fodder for a Friday morning . . .

Eric Musselman is a richer head basketball coach with more job security this morning because of the Nevada Wolf Pack men's basketball fans. Wolf Pack athletic director Doug Knuth said this week that he gave Musselman a new contract through the 2021-22 season despite three years remaining on Musselman's original five-year deal (through 2019-20) because of the "response of the community" to the basketball program. "This is the community stepping up," Knuth said. That's how college sports works these days. The more people that walk through the gates, the more money that goes into the head coach's pocket. Musselman, who works a crowd and an athletic department like no other coach in Pack history, thanked the community for its support and told everyone that Nevada is his home. Well, that won't be enough. If Musselman really wants to show his appreciation to the community he needs to stop looking for a new job for at least the next three or four years. That's how you pay back your support to a community that lined your pockets.

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For some reason Musselman made a specific point to publicly tell everyone this week that he will give $50,000 back to the university for each year he stays at Nevada. How nice. He now makes so much money that he can simply give back $50,000 to his employer. Why the need to tell everyone? Is that supposed to make him look less greedy? Why not just take $50,000 off your annual salary and not announce it? Here's an idea. Why not work through at least half of your original contract before accepting a huge pay raise? You know how Chris Ault used to repay his university for its generosity? He would take about half of what he could earn at another university, most of that time working two highly stressful jobs for the price of one.

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Musselman thanked the university and the fans for his new-found riches but he didn't thank the person who is most responsible. The Wolf Pack does not win the College Basketball Invitational in 2016 without Cam Oliver. The Pack likely does not win the Mountain West regular season and tournament titles in 2017 without Cam Oliver. The Pack does not win 52 of 73 games the past two years without Cam Oliver. The Pack does not average nearly 9,000 fans a game last year at Lawlor without Cam Oliver. And if those things do not happen, Musselman would still be working on his original contract right now. Oliver made Musselman — and the Wolf Pack athletic department — a lot of money. And now it is time for Oliver, who reportedly will hire an agent and give up his final two years of college eligibility, to make his own money in professional basketball.

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You can argue that Oliver is likely jumping into professional basketball a year early. You can argue that Oliver will regret giving up a season or two of college basketball where his team could have made a run in the NCAA basketball tournament. You could argue that he isn't ready for the NBA, that his game still has as many holes and flaws as amazing skills. But your arguments don't matter because nobody is offering you a chance at your dream. What if Oliver came back to the Pack this season and then blew out his knee? He's already had one serious knee injury while in high school. One wrong step on the court and his dream would vanish in a puff of silver and blue smoke. Everyone deserves the right to pursue his or her dream whenever they want to do it. Be thankful we had two years of him in a Wolf Pack uniform.

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The Wolf Pack might win as many games this season without Oliver as it would have with him. It might still win the Mountain West regular season and tournament titles and get to the NCAA tournament. But Wolf Pack basketball won't be as much fun without him. Oliver made the Wolf Pack special. He gave the entire program a swagger and an unflinching confidence. With Oliver the Pack believed it could fly. He made the Pack explosive, electric and dynamic. The Wolf Pack has never had a player quite like Oliver, with his enormous physical gifts and charisma, and it might never get one again. He could hit a 3-pointer from Fernley or swat an opponent's shot to Battle Mountain. And he could do it all with a Hollywood smile. And none of it looked like he was selfish or boastful. He was just a young man allowing all of his hard work to pay off and he was simply having fun and enjoying the moment. He is going to be missed.

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How is the Wolf Pack going to be as good this season without Oliver and departing seniors D.J. Fenner and Marcus Marshall? Those three combined to play 3,407 minutes, score 1,730 points, pull down 518 rebounds, block 105 shots, sink 359 free throws, swipe 79 steals, dish out 250 assists and drain 245 3-pointers. Oliver ignited entire arenas and his teammates. Fenner supplied a never-ending work ethic, loyalty to the team as well as intelligence and grit on the court and Marshall gave the team toughness and fearlessness and an uncanny ability to make shots you'd normally only see on YouTube. And, oh yeah, they could all put the ball in the basket from anywhere on the court. All three of them will be missed.

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Musselman's greatest strength as a coach, though, is his ability to put a roster together. He learned that skill in basketball's minor leagues at a very young age. College basketball has turned into the CBA with classrooms with the way players transfer so often these days. And Musselman has taken advantage of this new world order in college hoops as well as anyone. His second greatest strength is his ability to put his players in a position to succeed. Most coaches expect all of their teams each and every year to play the exact same way every year no matter who is on the roster. The special ones figure out what their roster does well and then they let them go out and do it. That's Musselman, one of the special ones. The Wolf Pack, with new faces like Cody and Caleb Martin, Hallice Cooke and Kendall Stephens, will play slightly differently than it did last season with Oliver, Fenner and Marshall. But that doesn't mean they will win any less frequently. There are many ways to win a basketball game. And Musselman knows them all.

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