Wolf Pack looks to duplicate last year’s dream season
By Paul Andrew
Special to the Tribune
The 2003-2004 basketball season for the University of Nevada was by far the best in the school’s history. The Wolf Pack won the Western Athletic Championship, possessed the conference’s player of the year in Kirk Snyder, beat Michigan State in the opening round of the NCAA tournament, followed by a surprising upset of second-seeded Gonzaga in the second round.
Even in the Sweet 16 game, the Pack only lost to eventual tournament finalist Georgia Tech by only five points after leading at halftime. In the end, Nevada was the last college west of the Rocky Mountains still playing, while more glorified programs such as UCLA, Arizona and UNLV were home watching the tournament on TV.
Shortly after the great season ended, the reality of being a mid-major in college basketball hit Wolf Pack fans squarely in the eye. Coach Trent Johnson, who built the team from a mediocre program to a champion, left for glamour and glory to coach Stanford University. Snyder departed for the money of the NBA, where he was picked 16th overall in the draft by the Utah Jazz.
With the graduation of floor leader Todd Okeson and high-scoring Gary Hill-Thomas, those on the outside predict that Nevada will quickly descend to the WAC’s lower ranks.
For Nevada faithful, though, there is hope that incoming talent will allow the Pack to reload what was built last year and keep the team in the upper echelon of the WAC.
Mark Fox, an assistant at Nevada last year, takes over for Johnson. His familiarity with the current players and recruits will help ease the transition and keep the current system in place.
Replacing Snyder will be junior college standout Mo Charlo, a 6-foot-7 transfer from Diablo Valley College. The high-scoring Charlo, who should make the ”all-name” conference team if nothing else, shot 39 percent from 3-point range last year for Diablo Valley.
Two candidates are in line to replace Okeson: Freshman Ramon Sessions, the South Carolina 3A player of the year, brings his quickness and accurate passing to Nevada, while Lyndale Burleson, a freshman from Seattle, is also vying for the position. If that name sounds familiar to Wolf Pack fans, he is the younger brother of former Nevada football star Nate Burleson, who now starts at wide receiver for the Minnesota Vikings.
Returning on the front line will be 6-foot-11 center Nick Fazekas, who made the all-WAC newcomer teams as a freshman last season, and Kevinn Pinkney, who started last year and was a force during Nevada’s NCAA Tournament run. A pair of 7-footers, Chad Bell, a transfer from New Mexico, and David Ellis, should also contribute in the middle.
The rough early schedule doesn’t give the new players time to ease into their roles. After playing in the Jim Thorpe Classic, Nevada travels to Georgia and Kansas, which was upset by Nevada last year, before the Pack plays rival UNLV at home.
The rest of the WAC is improved and balanced, as many of the teams have viable chances of competing for the conference championship.
Though picked to finish third by WAC coaches and fourth by the media, Nevada and its new players could surprise the rest of the league if Fox can quickly blend them together as a team.
For Pack fans, a second trip to postseason would be frosting on the cake that they already enjoyed last year.
2004-05 Wolf Pack schedule
Date Opponent Time
Nov. 20 Jim Thorpe Classic Reno 3:30 p.m.
Nov. 21 Jim Thorpe Classic Reno TBA
Nov. 26 At Georgia 5:30 p.m.
Nov. 29 At Kansas (ESPN2) 6 p.m.
Dec. 4 UNLV 8:05 p.m.
Dec. 7 At Toledo 4:05 p.m.
Dec. 11 PACIFIC 7:05 p.m.
Dec. 17 Dodge Holiday Classic Reno 7:05 p.m.
Dec. 18 Dodge Holiday Classic Reno TBA
Dec. 22 At UC Davis 7:05 p.m.
Dec. 30 San Jose St 7:05 p.m.
Jan. 1 Hawaii (ESPN2) 9:05 p.m.
Jan. 6 At Louisiana Tech 4:30 p.m.
Jan. 8 At Southern Methodist 5:05 p.m.
Jan. 13 UTEP 7:05 p.m.
Jan. 15 Boise State 7:05 p.m.
Jan. 20 At Tulsa 5:05 p.m.
Jan. 22 At Rice 12:05 p.m.
Jan. 29 Fresno State 7:35 p.m.
Feb. 3 SMU 7:05 p.m.
Feb. 5 Louisiana Tech 7:05 p.m.
Feb. 10 At Boise State 6:30 p.m.
Feb. 12 At Texas-El Paso 6:05 p.m.
Feb. 16 Rice 7:05 p.m.
Feb. 19 ESPN Bracket Buster Reno TBA
Feb. 21 Tulsa 7:05 p.m.
Feb. 26 At Fresno State 7:05 p.m.
March 3 At Hawaii 10:05 p.m.
March 5 At San Jose St. 2:05 p.m.
March 8-12 WAC Tournament Reno TBA