Basketball: Carter, Pack ready for Year 2
David Carter admits that his first season as the Nevada Wolf Pack’s men’s basketball head coach was, at times, a difficult one.
“We didn’t have any depth,” said Carter as the team met the media on Tuesday at Lawlor Events Center for the first time this season. “When you are coaching only six and seven players every game, that’s pretty hard.”
This year, Carter said, will be much different.
The Pack, which opens practice on Oct. 15 in preparation for its season-opening exhibition against Seattle Pacific on Nov. 6 at Lawlor Events Center, returns just one starter (Dario Hunt) and five reserve players off of last year’s 21-13 team.
“Everybody is starting from the same point,” said Malik Story, one of 10 players on this year’s roster that did not play a single second a year ago for the Wolf Pack. “That is exciting for everyone.”
Gone from last year’s team are starters Luke Babbitt, Armon Johnson, Brandon Fields and Joey Shaw as well as sixth man Ray Kraemer. The Pack now has to replace 87 percent of the points scored, 82 percent of the steals, 91 percent of the assists, 74 percent of the rebounds, 87 percent of the successful free throws and 79 percent of the minutes played from last year’s team.
Only two players — Hunt and backup Marko Cukic — return from last year’s team that played any sort of meaningful or significant minutes a year ago.
“It’s going to look a lot different this year,” said junior center Keith Olson, who returns after playing just 91 minutes a year ago. “Those guys (Babbitt and Johnson) will be missed. But we have a lot of guys who can step up.
“It’s exciting to have that competition because it raises everybody’s level of play.”
The only player right now who appears to be a sure starter is Hunt. The 6-foot-8 junior averaged 6.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.9 blocks a game last year. Every other role on the team, however, is up in the air right now.
“Nobody really knows yet what their role is going to be,” said Olek Czyz, the former Reno High standout who will make his Wolf Pack debut this year after transferring last winter from Duke. “It really is an open battle.”
Carter expects to have a lot more choices sitting on his bench this season.
“The hardest thing is going to be trying to build some chemistry and making sure everyone settles into their roles,” Carter said.
Carter changed his starting lineup just once last year. His only change came on senior night when he inserted Kraemer, a senior playing his final game at Lawlor Events Center, into the starting five (for Hunt).
“Last year everything was kind of established as far as everyone’s role right from the start,” Carter said. “That made it easier because everybody knew what was expected of them. But this year everything is new. Everyone has a chance to play but they have to earn it.”
The 6-7 Czyz, a junior, and the 6-5 Story, a redshirt sophomore who played at Indiana University, might also have an inside track at a starting role just because they have experience at the Division I level. Illiwa Baldwin, a 6-11 junior center from Kankakee (Ill.) Community College also has extensive college experience.
“This is nothing new to me,” said Story. “When I went to Indiana, they just blew up the team and everybody was kind of starting over from the same spot. It was open competition there, too, just like here. So I’m used to this.”
Carter said he would like to establish a starting five, like last year, and stick with it. But, he added, unlike last year, there will be plenty of minutes for the players on the bench.
“I don’t like to shuffle the lineup that much,” Carter said. “I like to have a set lineup with set roles for everybody. If you start shuffling the lineup the players will start to wonder if the coaches have confidence in them. The last thing you want to do as a coach is start to mess with your players’ confidence.”
Carter also knows it might take a while to transform this bunch of new faces into a winning team.
“There will be some growing pains,” Carter said. “But they will grow up and they will grow up fast.”