Basketball: Pack coach Carter remains optimistic in wake of departures

 David Carter sounded remarkably calm and upbeat for a college basketball coach who has lost almost an entire starting lineup over the past month.

 "One good thing about all of this is that we're kind of starting over," the Nevada Wolf Pack men's basketball coach said Tuesday. "And we're going to have these players for the next two and three years. When we had our best teams here it was after those players had been here two and three years."

 Always positive. Always optimistic. Always looking at the bright side of things. That's coach Carter.

 "I think the community is going to be real excited to watch this team over the next two, three years," Carter said.

 The community better pick up a roster. Northern Nevada will barely recognize the new Wolf Pack men's basketball team when it takes the court next fall.

 Gone from last year's 21-13 team that went to the second round of the National Invitation Tournament are senior starters Brandon Fields and Joey Shaw and sixth man Ray Kraemer. Those losses were brought on by the calendar and were expected.

 The Pack, though, has also lost two underclassmen in the same year to the NBA for the first time in school history. Gone are junior point guard Armon Johnson, who announced his NBA intentions 10 days ago, and sophomore power forward Luke Babbitt, who made his announcement on Tuesday.

 "It's been a busy time," Carter said, even somehow managing a little chuckle. "But when players leave for the right reasons, like going to the NBA, I can accept that. It's when they leave for the wrong reasons, like last year, that is upsetting. That's something I don't ever want to go through again."

 A year ago, just days after Carter accepted the job as head coach, the Pack lost one player (Malik Cooke) who quit the team, one player (Ahyaro Phillips) who got kicked off the team and one player (Richie Phillips) who had to end his career because of


 Babbitt and Johnson leaving wasn't as surprising. The entire nation, after all, knew Babbitt and Johnson were considering the NBA as early as last summer.

 "We've been preparing for this," Carter said.

 What, exactly, has the Pack lost this off-season with the loss of five of their top six players? Be warned. It's not pretty.

 The Pack lost 137 of 170 starts from a year ago (81%). They lost 5,230 out of 6,810 minutes played (77 %), 2,332 points out of a team-record 2,703 (86 %), 801 of 1,263 rebounds (63 %), 219 of 222 3-pointers (99 %) and 439 out of 515 free throws (85 %).

 Starting over is one way to put it.

 "We have talented young men in place," Carter said, referring to newcomers Illwa Baldwin (6-foot-11), Jordan Finn (6-4), Olek Czyz (6-7), Jerry Evans (6-7) and Malik Story (6-5). "We're young, but we have some maturity. I think the community is going to be excited to watch this team play."

 Carter and the Wolf Pack deserve our patience. After nine consecutive winning seasons, eight consecutive postseason appearances and seven consecutive 20-win seasons, a little patience is the least we can muster up.

 But it's not going to be easy. The thought of Babbitt and Johnson joining the likes of Czyz, Evans, Hunt and Story had Pack fans drooling last month and dreaming of a return to the NCAA tournament.

 Now? Well, everything is sort of on a wait-and-see holding pattern.

 "It starts in the summer," Carter said. "And then it continues in the fall. That's when a team starts to come together on and off the court."

 It would be unreasonable to suggest that this new group of Pack players will hit the court running at the start of next season. It might take a few weeks, a couple months, an entire season.

 Only one of them (Dario Hunt) has ever started a game for the Pack. Only one (Hunt) has averaged at least 10 minutes a game for the Pack. They don't really know each other yet. They certainly don't know how they all fit together on the floor.

 Patience, Pack fans. Patience.

 The Wolf Pack, though, has lost four starters in one off-season before. The last time was just three years ago (it seems a lot longer) when Nick Fazekas, Ramon Sessions, Kyle Shiloh and Dennis Ikovlev all left after 2006-07. The 2003-04 team lost starters Kirk Snyder, Todd Okeson and Garry Hill-Thomas and reserve Sean Paul, not to mention head coach Trent Johnson. The 2007-08 team lost starters Marcellus Kemp, JaVale McGee and DeMarshay Johnson as well as reserves David Ellis, Matt LaGrone and Curry Lynch.

 The program survived. And it will survive again.

 "Teams are younger now in college basketball," Carter said. "Butler was young and they went to the Final Four. Kids are more mature now. They've all played a lot of basketball. They are not in awe of anybody anymore. You can bring in new players and continue to be successful immediately."

 Patience, Pack fans. Patience.

 Carter says he is not finished building the 2010-11 Wolf Pack. He said to expect some new faces in the coming days.

 "We still need a point guard and a forward who can score inside and out," he said. "When we've had our most success here, we've had two big men who could score inside and out. We had Nick Fazekas and Kevinn Pinkney and then we had Fazekas and Dennis Ikovlev. That is very important for how we play."

 Carter, though, wants everyone to understand that you just don't go get a high school freshman or junior college player to replace a Luke Babbitt or an Armon Johnson.

 "I never like to use the word replace," Carter said. "You don't replace a Luke Babbitt. You don't replace a Nick Fazekas or a JaVale McGee. Every player does things differently. The way I look at it, this is about giving another young man an opportunity to step up and be the face of this program."

 One thing is certain. It will definitely be a program with a lot of new faces.

 "It's going to be exciting," Carter said.


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