Nevada basketball enters Musselman era after rigorous summer
The Eric Musselman era hasn’t exactly been a whole lot of fun for the Nevada Wolf Pack players so far.
“We were up at 6 a.m. this summer doing a lot of running,” junior guard D.J. Fenner said. “We just ran non-stop. Some dudes threw up. It’s been one of those summers.”
It was Musselman’s version of basketball boot camp.
“It was such a grind this summer, between the weights, the conditioning,” senior center Lucas Stivrins said. “It was all a grind.”
Musselman’s rigorous training camp seemed to mold a new team.
“I think we’re much closer as a team,” Fenner said. “We’ve been around each other a lot more than ever before. We like each other more than last year.”
The new-look Wolf Pack makes its regular season debut in on Friday, Nov. 13, against Coastal Carolina in the Outrigger Resorts Rainbow Classic in Honolulu. Nevada hosted exhibitions against Div. II opponents Dominican University and Alaska-Fairbanks and its home opener at Lawlor Events Center is scheduled for Nov. 25 against Portland State.
“I’m ready,” Stivrins said. “I’ve been ready since March of last year.”
The Wolf Pack lost 14 of its last 17 games and finished 9-22 a year ago, causing head coach David Carter to lose his job after six seasons. Musselman, a long-time coach in professional basketball in the NBA, CBA, NBA Developmental League and USBL, took over in March and along with assistants Doug Stewart, Jermaine Kimbrough and Jay Morris, quickly changed the culture.
Eight of Carter’s players — Fenner, Stivrins, Marqueze Coleman, Elijah Foster, Tyron Criswell, Eric Cooper, Kaileb Rodriguez and A.J. West — are currently on this year’s roster. Newcomers Cameron Oliver, Juwan Anderson, Justin Botteri, Lindsey Drew and David Cunningham will join them.
“They’ve been phenomenal,” Musselman said. “The biggest thing I’ve liked is their willingness to be coached. That’s been the number one attribute that has been a surprise to us. This is definitely a culture change to these guys and they’ve all responded well.”
When Eric Musselman talks, players listen.
“He makes us want to buy in,” Fenner said. “We understand where he’s been. We understand he’s coached at a level we want to play at.”
Musselman, who coached the D-League’s Reno Bighorns in 2010-11, takes over a team that lost eight games in a row last year from Nov. 21 through Dec. 18 and seven in a row from Jan. 10 through Feb. 4. The Wolf Pack scored fewer than 60 points in a game 13 times and lost all 13 of those games. The Pack was last in the 11-team Mountain West in 3-point shooting (.266) and was 10th in scoring (60.5) and points allowed (66.5).
West, Coleman, Cooper, Criswell and Fenner are expected to play significant minutes this year as are newcomers Drew (a 6-4 freshman guard), Oliver (a 6-8 freshman forward) and Anderson (a 6-foot freshman guard). Oliver is a former Oregon State recruit (he sat out last year) from Sacramento. Anderson is from Oakland and spent last season at Suffield Academy in Connecticut. Drew, the son of former NBA player Larry Drew, is a former Arizona State commit from Fairfax High in Los Angeles and chose the Pack this spring over an offer from USC.
Expect the Wolf Pack to be a work in progress this season as the new faces get used to the old faces and everyone adapts to Musselman and his staff. After the two exhibition games the Wolf Pack will open the season for real with three games against Coastal Carolina, Montana State and Hawaii in the Outrigger Resorts Rainbow Classic in Honolulu Nov. 13-17.
The Wolf Pack was picked by the Mountain West media to finish ninth in the 11-team Mountain West, ahead of only Air Force and San Jose State. No Pack player was named to the Pre-season All -Conference team.
“Yes, there’s a chip on our shoulder,” Fenner said. “But, at the same time, we just want to start fresh. We just want to start new. We know we don’t have the accolades or the record to show that Nevada is a team to be reckoned with at this moment in time.”
Musselman, the first Pack head coach since Pat Foster in 1999 that isn’t from the Trent Johnson coaching tree, reminds everyone that his job has only just begun.
“We’ve made strides but we also feel there’s a long way to go,” he said. “We have a lot of teaching to do.”
San Diego State was picked by the media as the overwhelming favorite to win the league.
“The Mountain West is really difficult,” Musselman said. “We have our work cut out for us. We’re going to do everything we can to mentally and physically prepare for what will be a difficult season.”
No matter what happens, Musselman hopes it happens quickly. All of the off-season conditioning, he said, was done with the purpose of speeding up the Pack’s style of play.
“We want to be a running team,” he said. “But are we in good enough physical condition? To play the style we want both offensively and defensively, we’re not there yet.”