The Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball team took one step forward and two steps back this week without even playing a game.
The Wolf Pack, which will host Iona on Sunday afternoon (1:05 p.m.) at Lawlor Events Center, learned this week that guard Marqueze Coleman and forward Ronnie Stevens will both be out for up to a month with injuries. The Pack also got some good news when the NCAA cleared junior forward A.J. West to make his Wolf Pack debut on Sunday.
The Wolf Pack, which fell to 4-7 with an 82-80 loss to Nebraska Omaha last Saturday, expects West to step right in and contribute.
“Is he a savior?” Pack coach David Carter said. “No. But he’s going to play right away and he’s going to help us and add depth to our front court where we need it the most.”
West, who has two seasons of eligibility remaining, could be more than simply another big body to add roster depth. The 6-foot-9, 230-pounder led all junior college players in the nation last year with 5.1 blocks a game for Monroe College in New Rochelle, N.Y.
The Brooklyn, N.Y., native also averaged 10.9 points while playing just 21.9 minutes a game over 29 games. He struggles from the free throw line (he shot just .504 last year) but he’s in Nevada for his defensive abilities and toughness in the paint.
“He has an ability to block shots and rebound,” Carter said. “He wants to block shots. He wants to rebound. That’s what he does best. Offensively, he’ll continue to get better.”
West had to pass his classes this semester to earn his eligibility from the NCAA.
“When I told him he was cleared to play, he was very excited, he gave me a big hug and he started to jump around,” Carter said.
West’s eligibility issues involved his time at prep schools before he played at Monroe last year. He has bounced around from three high schools, two prep schools, one junior college and two four-year schools (Duquesne and Niagara) before committing to Nevada last spring.
“We didn’t know he was going to be able to play until (Wednesday at practice),” senior guard Deonte Burton said. “When we were told he was standing there by himself with a grin from ear to ear.”
Burton is confident West will help the Wolf Pack right away.
“He’ll do all the dirty work for us,” Burton said. “He’ll rebound and block shots and play defense. He likes to do those things.”
West’s shot-blocking talents could come into play immediately. Cole Huff and Stevens currently lead the team with just six blocks each. The Pack has blocked just 29 shots all season long.
“It’s been tough competing against him in practice,” 6-11 sophomore Lucas Stivrins said of West. “He’s such a great defensive player. It’s a great thing to know you have a guy like him back there watching your back when something goes wrong.”
West, who averaged 8.9 rebounds a game last year at Monroe, has been practicing with the Wolf Pack all season.
“He has a lot of energy,” said Burton, who is averaging 23.1 points in 38.4 minutes a game. “He’s already given us energy at practice and in the locker room. Now he can do it on the court.”
Carter said West will step right into the Pack’s rotation especially with Stevens out.
“I worry about his conditioning and he’ll be rusty because he hasn’t played in a game,” Carter said. “Practice is different than playing in a game.”
Stevens, who was averaging 4.6 points and 3.3 rebounds a game in 10 games, has suffered a stress fracture in his leg. Coleman, who was averaging 8.2 points in 10 games, has been bothered by an eye injury over the past month. The injury was aggravated in a game at California on Dec. 10.
Both Stevens and Coleman, Carter said, will likely miss the Pack’s next four games. After meeting Iona on Sunday, the Pack’s next three games are against Long Beach State (Dec. 28), San Jose State (Jan. 1) and Wyoming (Jan. 4). The San Jose State and Wyoming games are the Pack’s first Mountain West contests of the year. There is also a chance Stevens and Coleman will also miss games at UNLV (Jan. 8) and Utah State (Jan. 11).
“I’ve told the guys, ‘Just hang on,’” Carter said. ‘‘‘Hang on until we get everybody back and get a full roster.’”
That might not happen all season. Chris Brown, a 6-11 junior, has not played this season because of an illness and is still out indefinitely.
“It’s been tough having guys out,” Burton said. “You lose your rhythm with guys going in and out. But we just have to keep believing in each other. If we continue to do that our confidence will come.”