RENO — Marqueze Coleman has been anxiously awaiting Monday night for nearly eight months.
“Ever since our last game against Wyoming last year I’ve been begging our coaches to let me in the gym early,” the Nevada Wolf Pack sophomore guard said. “Last season left a bad taste in our mouths. I don’t think anybody wants to have a year like that again.”
The Wolf Pack, which will open its men’s basketball season with an exhibition against Montana Tech on Monday night ( 7 p.m.) at Lawlor Events Center, is coming off a nightmare of a season. The Wolf Pack lost 11 of its last 12 games last year on its way to a 12-19 record and a last-place finish in its first year in the Mountain West.
“I’m very anxious to see how we come out,” said head coach David Carter, who opens his fifth season as Pack head coach with a 74-58 record. “We have a lot of guys who haven’t played Division I basketball yet and it is a big step.”
Carter, though, does have three players with a combined six seasons of Division I basketball experience. And those three — guards Deonte Burton, Michael Perez and Coleman — will be counted on to carry this team.
“Guard is the strength of this team,” Coleman said. “We are really deep.”
The Burton-Coleman-Perez guard trio will control the basketball and set the tone this year for the Pack.
“We’re all interchangeable,” Burton said. “All of us can play the point or slide over to the wing.”
Perez and Coleman should give the Pack its most insurance at point guard since Burton became the starter in 2010-11.
“We’re going to play three guards (at the same time) a lot,” said Burton, who averaged 16.3 points and 3.6 assists last year as a junior. “It’s going to help us press on defense and play a lot faster.”
Burton, who will be the Pack’s first starting senior point guard since Todd Okeson in 2003-04, has averaged 14.9 points, 3.8 assists and 1.2 steals over his 98-game Wolf Pack career. The Pack has a 53-45 record with him at the point the past three years but has yet to go to the NCAA Tournament.
“We have to win,” the 6-foot-1 guard said. “If we don’t win, none of the individual stuff matters. Winning is all I worry about.”
Burton sees a scrappier, more intense and passionate Wolf Pack team this season.
“Defensive pressure is the key,” he said. “We kind of lacked that last year. I see a change in that this year and that will be big for us.”
Coleman averaged 4.5 points last year as a freshman in just 14 minutes a game. The 6-3 guard, though, got his first two starts in the season’s final two games and averaged 13 points in 34 minutes a game.
“I worked on my shot a lot,” Coleman said. “I probably shot 600-800 shots a day this off-season. I had to do it. I have to prove this year that I can knocked down that outside shot. I was 1-for-10 on 3-pointers last year. I’ll never shoot that terrible again.”
Perez could be the Pack’s biggest addition this year. The 6-3 shooting guard spent all of last year at Nevada as a red-shirt after transferring from UTEP.
“It was a long year,” Perez said. “But it was big for me to be able to be here and learn. It was a blessing in disguise because I was able to learn the system and learn about what the coaches expect and get to know everybody. Last year was great for me.”
Perez started 27 games as a sophomore in 2011-12 for UTEP and averaged 11.0 points, 2.6 rebounds and 1.9 assists in just under 31 minutes a game. The Tucson native had 25 points against Clemson, 19 against New Mexico State, 18 against Oregon and 17 against UNLV as the Miners finished 15-17.
“His ability to shoot the ball is going to help us,” Carter said. “He’s very patient and his shot selection is very good and he is able to stretch the defense.”
Perez, who never scored fewer than 20 points a game as a senior at Pueblo High in Tucson, is being billed as a more versatile and consistent version of former Pack shooting guard Malik Story. Story led the Pack in scoring last year at 16.7 points a game and made 83-of-232 (.358) 3-pointers.
“He (Perez) can play (point guard, shooting guard or small forward),” Carter said. “His ball-handling skills are very good.”
Perez’s presence on the floor will allow Burton to branch out from his point guard responsibilities more often.
“It’s just an exhibition but we’re going to treat it like a regular game,” Burton said.
The Wolf Pack is not charging admission for the exhibition game. It will be open seasting.