Nevada coach shoots for top |

Nevada coach shoots for top

University of Nevada men's basketball coach Eric Musselman listens to and addresses the audience Friday at the sixth annual Jethro's Charity King Crab Feed & Steak Cookout.
Dave Price |

University of Nevada men’s basketball coach Eric Musselman was clear in his message on Friday night to fans gathered at the sixth annual Jethro’s Charity King Crab Feed & Steak Cookout.

That is, Musselman explained that first-place is the only place to be.

“Second-place, third-place, fourth-place … that’s not what we’re here to try and do,” Musselman told an audience of 473. “We’re going to try to recruit players to win and try to make NCAA tournaments.”

Musselman, 50, who previously served as head coach of the NBA Golden State Warriors (2002-04) and Sacramento Kings (2006-07), was hired by Nevada on March 26 after spending the 2014-15 season as associate head coach at LSU. His father, Bill Musselman, was also an NBA head coach for the Cleveland Cavaliers (1980-82) and Minnesota Timberwolves (1989-91) as well as the University of Minnesota (1970-71) and the University of South Alabama (1995-97).

Oh, and by the way, father and son share the distinction of having worked as head coach for the Reno Bighorns — Bill Musselman with the Bighorns of the Western Basketball League during its one season as a NBA development league in 1978-79, Eric with the current NBA Development League Bighorns in 2010-11.

Does that mean the third time is going to be a real charm? Don’t bet against Musselman, who has hit the ground running in preparation for his first season at the helm for the Wolf Pack.

“For the first 90 days we’ve had great success,” he said. “We’re behind on the 2016 class because a lot of those players had been recruited for the past 12 months prior to when we got the job, but we’ve made great headway.

“We have to find players that want to be in a rebuilding mode or they want to be a guy that plays right away. So some of the things we’re selling are, ‘Come on in on this ground level; we’re going to win, we’re going to make the NCAA Tournament and you’re going to be part of something new and fresh.”

The Wolf Pack attracted two prize freshmen: Lindsay Drew, a 6-foot-4 point guard, who was Los Angeles City Player of the Year last season for Fairfax High School, and the son of former NBA coach Larry Drew, as well as Cameron Oliver, who sat out last season after graduating from Grant High in Sacramento. Drew originally committed to Arizona State and Oliver to Oregon State, however, both re-committed after those schools changed coaches.

Those transfers include 6-3 guard Marcus Marshall, who averaged 19.5 points for Missouri State and was named Missouri Valley Conference Freshman of the Year last season; 6-7 forward Leland King from Brown University and 6-7 Jordan Caroline from Southern Illinois, an all-Missouri Valley Conference Freshman team selection last season.

“They are three of our better players from a talent standpoint. The bad news is, anytime you transfer at the collegiate level, you have to sit out one season,” Musselman said of the transfers. “So those guys will be working on their player development and they’ll be part of our practice squad and every time we get ready to play an upcoming opponent. When you have a really good practice squad like we feel we’re going to have, it will do nothing but benefit our team as we get ready for conference play in the very difficult Mountain West.”

Musselman noted that the Wolf Pack will face a nonconference schedule that includes games at Oregon State on Dec. 5 and Wichita State on Dec. 22.

“We feel like we have a really good nonconference schedule,” Musselman said. “Having said that, we’re going to go into places like Wichita State and Corvallis and we’re going to go into expecting to win those games.”

At the end of a question-and-answer session with the audience, Musselman was asked about his plan and vision for the program in three or four years.

“The plan and vision in our opinion is to have a blueprint; for our fans to say, ‘Man, do the Wolf Pack play hard, they play with great passion, with great energy, with great enthusiasm,’” Musselman said. “I think if we can develop that type of mentality in year one, then in year two we want to be playing for a conference championship. We want to win conference championships, and that’s why we came to the University of Nevada.”