Before halftime of Wednesday’s Nevada-UNLV basketball game, former Wolf Pack great Nick Fazekas said he was a little nervous about walking out on the floor with his young son and family.
Those feelings quickly dissipated when the announcer introduced the gentle giant who played for Nevada from 2003-2007
Without cue, more than 11,000 fans shouted in unison — Nick FA-ZEEK-US, Nick FA-ZEEK-US, Nick FA-ZEEK-US — as the hometown chant reverberated throughout Lawlor Events Center.
In the storied history of Wolf Pack basketball, only one number had been retired, that of No. 12 Edgar Jones, who rocked the Centennial Coliseum during the mid-to-late 1970s when Lawlor was just a piece of dirt at the north end of the student parking lot.
Wednesday was just a nice touch for all Wolf Pack fans and the entire Northern Nevada community — to say thank you.
Next to slammin’ Edgar Jones’ number hangs Fazekas familiar No. 22, the same number he currently wears for the Kawasaki Brave Thunders.
“No one can put it in terms of how I feel tonight,” Fazekas said before the short halftime ceremony. “It’s been a longtime since I was here. Just being here is more special than any other night as far as playing.”
It was a return to a storied time in Nevada basketball with the press conference in the media room, television cameras rolling, still cameras flashing and reporters scribbling. Fazekas appeared relaxed, smiling, still philosophical but with a strong touch of light-heartedness.
It was a reminder of an era in which former Nevada Appeal sports writer Darrell Moody and me witnessed Northern Nevada basketball history in the making, and my two sons took hundreds of photos for our respective publications.
With his busy schedule first in the NBA, and then overseas in Europe and now in Japan where’s he played since 2012, Fazekas hasn’t been back to Reno for almost a decade when he suited up a uniform to play for the D-League Reno Bighorns.
“I didn’t have a whole lot of time to get back.”
Arriving at the Reno-Tahoe International Airport, though, he said the city hasn’t change, but the University of Nevada campus has with its newer buildings.
Understandable considering Fazekas’ focus on his post-Nevada basketball career.
Hearing the crowd’s chant of Nick FA-ZEEK-US has taken many of us back to a great time in Nevada hoops, much like today’s new faces of the Martin twins and Jordan Caroline. Since the time when Fazekas first put on a Wolf Pack uniform and took his first shot in 2003, Nevada began a unprecedent run of victories and accomplishments.
First under coach Trent Johnson for one season and then Mark Fox for the next three, the Pack won four consecutive Western Athletic Conference titles and advanced to the NCAA tournament, also four straight times. In 2004, the Pack advanced to the Sweet 16 after defeating highly touted Michigan State and then Gonzaga.
“Looking back at the 03-04 team, we couldn’t win on the road,” Fazekas recalled. “We were dominant at home but couldn’t win on the road. But we got the right draw to get to the Sweet 16. But I think of the 05-06 team which I think was better. We had more depth, were a little older, but we ran into a Montana team that was hotter.”
Nevada not only won the regular season title but also captured the WAC tournament that was played at Lawlor Events Center. Those following the Pack will never forget the exciting 70-63 overtime win over Utah State, which developed into one of Nevada’s fiercest rivals in the WAC. Early in the season Nevada shocked Kansas on the road in a 2-point win.
Nevada was ranked No. 20 in the nation, but then Montana upset the Pack in the first round of the NCAA tournament at Salt Lake City, 87-79.
The 06-07 team played just as good if not better, running through a 27-5 season, which included a win on the road against Gonzaga, and ranked as high as No. 10 in the AP Poll. But Nevada struggled in its last three games, dropping a 79-77 game to Utah State in the WAC championship and going 1-1 in the NCAA tournament, ending its season with a loss to the University of Memphis.
Fazekas became the Pack’s leading scorer in mid-November, surpassing Jones’ 27-year record of 1,877 points. At 17:51 of the second half against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Fazekas tipped in a missed Ramon Sessions’ layup before 7,435 fans. Fazekas added to his total, ending his career with 2,464 points, 19 blocked shots (Nevada all-time record), 901 field goals (Nevada all-time record) and 546 made free throws.
In his four years at Nevada, which captured four consecutive WAC regular-season titles and made four straight NCAA tournament appearances, the WAC named the Nevada center a three-time player of the year and an all-WAC selection. Added to his resume was being named a three-time All-American.
Yet, Wednesday night will have the longest-lasting impression on Fazekas, who signed out of Ralston Valley High School in Arvada, Colo., and was known as “Mr. Basketball-Colorado.”
Although the Nevada records, wins and NCAA tournament appearances have been a special part of Fazekas’ career, now it will be the retiring of No. 22
“I didn’t think I would ever have my number retired,” Fazekas said, his face growing a little more serious.
First was his induction in 2017 into the Nevada Athletics Hall of Fame, which he couldn’t attend because of his schedule. Yet, in his video comments played at the banquet, the crowd roared its approval for his selection.
“This is a magnitude much, much bigger,” Fazekas said of his number being retired and hanging from the Lawlor rafters. “I was fortunate enough to work my schedule to be here. I wouldn’t want to miss this. I am really happy to do this while I’m still playing.”
Not to mention, the ceremony took on a more special meaning for St. Nick.
Nevada was thrashing cross-state rival UNLV at halftime.
“It’s always fun to beat up on UNLV,” he said, his smile returning.
Wolf Pack fans had a chance to reunite with one of the best — if not best Wolf Pack basketball player in history — and will remember that special night.
“It’s nice to be the guy who made the tradition,” Fazekas said “Having your number retired is unprecedented. It’s just something not every guy gets to do.”
Steve Ranson is Editor Emeritus of the LVN and was sports editor when Nick Fazekas pounded the court for the Wolf Pack.