Musselman, Pack not looking back
Coming off a season when the Nevada Wolf Pack won the Mountain West Conference Tournament and advanced to the NCAA Tournament, coach Eric Musselman is understandably optimistic these days.
Musselman threw in a measure of caution, however, when he spoke last Wednesday night during a Nevada Coaches’ Caravan appearance at the Carson Valley Inn.
“We’ve lost three really talented players,” Musselman told an audience in the CVI’s Sierra Room. “But our optimism, internally and externally, is we feel we can have an even better team this year than we had last year.”
Four transfers are eligible after sitting out last year: Caleb and Cody Martin, 6-foot-7 twins from North Carolina State, 6-7 Kendall Stephens comes in after three years at Purdue — “An unbelievable 3-point shooter,” Musselman said — and 6-3 Hallice Cooke, who played at Iowa State (2015-16) and Oregon State (2013-14). Cooke has received medical clearance to play after being diagnosed with a heart condition in 2016.
“We feel we have four guys who are going to be able to step right in,” Musselman said.
Discussion of the three departures starts with Cameron Oliver, who has entered the NBA draft after two seasons at Nevada. The other two are seniors Marcus Marshall and D.J. Fenner.
“We wish Cameron nothing but the best of luck,” Musselman said. “Today, he was in Boston for a try-out with the Celtics. He will eventually get to 22 of the 30 NBA teams for a try-out, so he’s basically on a plane every day.”
The coach went on to point out that on the last weekend of April, Oliver was in Reno to attend a class.
“So he’s doing all this NBA stuff, he knows he’s not coming back to play for us next year and here he was back for a weekend class to try to continue his education,” Musselman said. “We’re going to stick with him and hopefully he will get a degree.”
One audience member asked about Musselman’s “long-term plan” in regard to bringing in transfers and high school seniors.
Musselman pointed out that three of his four freshmen recruits over the past two years have been successful at Nevada — Lindsey Drew, Josh Hall and Oliver — and the fourth, Devearl Ramsey, transferred to U.C. Santa Barbara. Drew has been a starter the last two years.
“What we’re trying to do is get a blend of both,” he said. “The world that I grew up in is not the world of college athletics anymore. There’s going to be 800 Division I basketball players who transfer. That’s the world we live in, it doesn’t matter whether I like it or you like it. Kansas, the Jayhawks, have six transfers this year, out of 13 scholarship players. I bring that up because arguably, Kentucky and Kansas, would be the two easiest places, basketball-wise, to recruit incoming freshmen. So when Bill Self has six transfers in one year, it tells you what the landscape of college athletics is.”
Musselman explained that during his time as an assistant coach, two years at Arizona State (2012-14) and one year LSU (2014-15), he studied successful Division I programs and came to a couple of conclusions. First, there is no room for error when bringing in 13 scholarship players. Second, the importance of creating good chemistry on the team.
“What we’ve done, and probably the reason we’ve won a lot of games in two years, is because our locker room is really happy,” he said. “When I walk in after a game and address the team, whether it’s a win or a loss, I see these guys really invested and nobody’s hanging their head or pouting because of minutes (played). It adds to your chemistry.”
He admitted there was an element of risk depth-wise to go through this past season largely with a rotation of seven players, however, the plan is to have at least nine for the coming season.
Musselman also pointed out how two walk-on players, John Carlson and Charlie Tooley, came off the bench in the second half and brought energy to the floor that contributed to the Wolf Pack’s amazing come-from-behind 105-104 overtime victory at New Mexico. Tooley connected on a key 3-pointer, the first points he had scored at Nevada, with 1:03 to play in regulation.
There is no forgetting that win at New Mexico on Jan. 7 when the Wolf Pack trailed 74-49 with 11 minutes to go, 87-68 with 4:27 to go and 90-79 with one minute to go. The Wolf Pack sank seven straight 3-pointers in the final 1:48 of regulation. Jordan Caroline scored 45 points, including the game-winning 3-pointer with two seconds left in overtime, and Marcus Marshall scored 26 points, including three 3s in the final minute of regulation.
Musselman said the “most amazing” part about that game, though, was having two key players foul out and then come back from a five-point deficit in overtime.
“To be down five, guys were fouling out and we were really exhausted, that to me was even bigger than the 27-point differential,” he said. “That was one of the neatest games I’ve ever been part of. I told the guys after the game that no matter what walk of life they were in, you can never say that it’s over. The only thing you can control is your effort. I will carry that with me for the rest of my life because it’s the greatest comeback that I’ve ever seen or been a part of … all of our guys, I know it will have an impact on the rest of their lives as well.”