King’s effort is fit for Nevada
Special to The R-C
Leland King insists he never lost confidence in his ability.
“I was kind of struggling early in the season,” the Nevada Wolf Pack junior said Wednesday after an 80-55 victory over the San Jose State Spartans at Lawlor Events Center in Reno. “But the coaches kept telling me to keep working hard and doing the things I was doing. A lot of coaches would lose confidence in you when you keep missing shots. But they just told me it would all come together sooner or later.”
That moment finally came against the Spartans. King turned in the first double-double of his brief Wolf Pack career with 13 points and a team-high 12 rebounds. The 6-foot-7 power forward set career highs in points, rebounds and minutes (25).
“Leland’s minutes were so, so vital for us tonight,” Pack coach Eric Musselman said.
King had five points and six boards in 14 first-half minutes. His jumper gave the Wolf Pack a 13-10 lead with 12:40 to go in the opening half. His final three points of the half came in the last 2:45 on a free throw for a 35-23 lead and a layup for a 40-28 lead.
King then enjoyed an efficient second half with eight points and six rebounds in just 11 minutes. His two offensive rebounds led the Pack in the second half. One of those offensive rebounds led to his first two points of the second half, a layup for a 60-40 lead with 10:26 to play.
Cameron Oliver fed King for a short jumper and a 62-43 lead with 9:19 to go and King later added another jumper in the paint for a 73-48 lead with 4:31 left.
“Leland gave us great, great minutes in our first game down in Las Vegas (King had eight points and four rebounds in an 81-72 win over Towson on Dec. 21),” Musselman said. “Leland is just so crafty as a post-up guy, establishing the deep post. Leland is going to be a key component going forward, for sure.”
Musselman said King’s performance against San Jose State is indicative of the player the Pack thought it was getting last year. King joined the Wolf Pack before the 2015-16 season but had to sit out the year as a transfer.
“We recruited him hard,” Musselman said, “because we thought he was a player.”
King played just 40 minutes total over the Pack’s first eight games, scoring 12 points and pulling down seven rebounds. He’s seen his minutes increase dramatically over the last six games, though on Wednesday he was coming off a brief five-minute performance in a 67-66 win over UC Santa Barbara in Las Vegas on Dec. 22.
“It’s different,” said King, referring to his inconsistent minutes this season. “But you can only control what you can control. I just want to keep doing everything I can do to make sure I can help the team when I’m out there.”
King might see additional minutes in the near future. Josh Hall, who has started the Pack’s last seven games, had to be removed from the game on Wednesday on a stretcher after he crashed to the floor because of hard foul near the basket by San Jose State’s Brandon Mitchell with 1:46 to play in the first half.
“We might have to juggle our lineup for Fresno State (on the road Saturday night),” Musselman said.
King, who averaged 14.6 points and 7.8 rebound in 17 games for Brown two seasons ago, didn’t surprise his teammates with his performance against San Jose State.
“Leland’s a tough dude,” forward Jordan Caroline said. “I was happy he got the double-double.”
“Nothing he did tonight surprised me,” guard Marcus Marshall said. “I played on the scout team with him last year (as the two sat out the season after transferring to Nevada). I saw what he can do. I expect that from him going forward, for sure.”
King’s previous high scoring game this season was 12 points against Bradley on Dec. 3. He scored just 13 points combined in the Pack’s last four games.
“I just let the game come to me more tonight,” King said. “I didn’t try to force anything.”