Babbitt and Nevada now a match | NevadaAppeal.com

Babbitt and Nevada now a match

RENO ” It was the middle of June in 2007. While most of his Galena High buddies were enjoying the start of their summer vacations, Luke Babbitt was wrestling with what might prove to be a career-altering decision regarding his basketball future.

The 6-foot-9 Babbitt, who had watched Ohio State and Texas play football on his recruiting trip to Columbus, had given the Buckeyes a verbal commitment shortly after he led Galena to the state championship in Las Vegas several months earlier.

As time passed, however, he was starting to waver. He made a call to Nevada coach Mark Fox and asked to talk to him; asked if Nevada still had a place for him. Of course Fox said yes, and Nevada had stolen probably its most-famous recruit ever right out of the hands of a Big Ten school.

“I thought about it a lot,” Babbitt said at Nevada’s recent Media Day. “I’m 100 percent positive I made the right decision. I haven’t thought about it since then. I got caught up in the hoopla.

“It was a combination of things. Coach Fox and the entire coaching staff are great. They have a lot of good players. I’ve been coming to their games for years. It’s a really good team and getting better. I’m excited to keep the tradition going. It came down to me wanting to stay home and play.”

Fox said that he had congratulated Babbitt when the Galena star opted for Ohio State.

“I didn’t talk to him again until he called and said he wanted to talk to me,” Fox said.

Northern Nevada fans were ecstatic with his decision. The hometown hero was staying put, and already they are anointing him and predicting great things for him and Nevada. That’s dangerous to say the least. There is a big difference between high school and college basketball, and many people forget that.

“It can be difficult sometimes,” Fox admitted. “The great high school player plays college in the same community he grew up in. There are so many pressures that come along with that.

“A local kid’s decision is much like ours. If we can find players from our backyard good enough to win then that is who we recruit. Likewise if a local kid can find a program good enough to serve his dreams, then that is where he should go. I am not sure any disadvantages come with it. I think there are tons of advantages, including being able to stay close to his family and friends. He also gets to wear the uniform that he rooted for when he was young. Either way, we are darn glad to have him.”

If Babbitt needs to talk to somebody about the pressures of playing for your hometown team, he can talk to long-time friend and former rival Armon Johnson, who went to Hug High School and starts at point guard for the Pack.

“It was fun,” Johnson said. “Everybody was always giving me feedback. They would let me know about it whether I was playing good or bad.”

Babbitt, who was voted the conference preseason Freshman of the Year, doesn’t seem fazed by the attention and hoopla that his decision generated.

“I don’t even worry about that stuff,” said Babbitt, who will see his first collegiate action on Saturday when Nevada goes against Saint Mary’s College in a closed-door scrimmage per NCAA rules. “I’m just focusing on things I need to work on and what I want to accomplish while I’m here.

“All I care about is wins and losses and taking things one day at a time.”

And, according to Louisiana Tech assistant Aubrey McCreary, who worked with Babbitt before leaving Reno for Ruston, the focus that Babbitt has is amazing.

“His biggest thing is how he focuses on the here and now,” McCreary told the Appeal last year. “He doesn’t allow distractions.”

Babbitt, who averaged 31 points a game last season, was just the second player in Northern Nevada history to play in the McDonald’s All-American game, following in the footsteps of ex-Reno star David Padgett, who was recently released by the Miami Heat.

Babbitt’s offensive versatility has people excited. He can dribble, pass and shoot. Maybe the only position he couldn’t play at the college level is point guard.

“He’s the total package,” Galena coach Tom Maurer told the Appeal last spring. “He’s a nightmare for the other team, and he can create a real mismatch out there. He brings the total package ” great ballhandling and tremendous work ethic.”

“He’ll play a lot of different places on the floor,” Fox said. “He has a very diversified offensive game. I can use him a lot of different ways.”

Babbitt doesn’t care where he plays, he just wants to play. He may have to play more inside than Fox first envisioned with the absence of JaVale McGee, who left after two seasons with Nevada and was the 18th overall pick in last year’s NBA Draft.

“I feel comfortable inside or outside,” said Babbitt, who has 3-point range. “I’ll do whatever coach (Fox) feels is best for the team.”

Nevada is small with Babbitt at 6-9 and freshmen Ahyaro Phillips and Dario Hunt each at 6-8. Richie Phillips is the next-biggest at 6-7.

“I don’t think it makes too much difference,” Babbitt said. “The best teams in the nation don’t always have dominant big men. We work hard at rebounding the ball.”

Fox also pointed out that despite having 7-foot David Ellis, the 7-foot McGee and 6-9 Demarshay Johnson the Pack was an average rebounding team.

When people at Nevada or opposing coaches talk about Babbitt, there is always a remark about his basketball IQ. Many said the same thing about Nick Fazekas after a couple of years at Nevada. Fox said that Babbitt is ahead of Fazekas in some areas.

“It comes from playing basketball at an extremely high level; playing for different coaches and learning the game at a young age,” Fox said.

Babbitt is excited about teaming up with Johnson after butting heads with him the last few years. The duo will go down as arguably the two best high school players ever in Northern Nevada and maybe the entire state.

Will Fox take advantage of their talents?

“No question,” Fox said. “I’d be crazy not to take advantage of that relationship.”

Johnson has already put his stamp on this team, and it may not take Babbitt long to follow suit.

– Contact Darrell Moody at dmoody@nevadaappeal.com, or by calling (775) 881-1281

THE BABBITT FILE

Year in school: Freshman

Height/weight: 6-9/225

Position: Forward

High school: Galena High School