RENO - Nobody in Northern Nevada will ever forget Nevada's march into the Sweet 16 of last season's NCAA Tournament.
However, that's exactly what first-year head coach Mark Fox wants his young team to do.
"Last year is over," said Fox, who will run his team through its first practice today at 1 p.m. at Lawlor Events Center. "They are memories that we will cherish. It's time to move forward."
Fox inherits a team that is a shadow of its former self. Two starters - 6-11 Nick Fazekas (12.6 points, 7.6 rebounds a game) and Kevinn Pinkney (9.4, 5.7) - return. Forward Jermaine Washington (4.1, 3.8) also returns as does point guard Kyle Shiloh (1.8, 1.2).
Swingman Marcelus Kemp suffered a season-ending injury early in the fall. He'll petition for a sixth year of eligibility. Seth Taylor (1.0, 0.4), who played sparingly, also returns.
Gone from the 25-9 squad are WAC Player of the Year Kirk Snyder, who left school a year early to go to the NBA, point guard Todd Okeson, Garry Hill-Thomas and Sean Paul.
The quartet has been replaced by a talented group of youngsters. Youngster is the key word here. Of the seven new players, including redshirts, only 7-foot redshirt center Chad Bell has played any four-year basketball. He transferred from the University of New
Fox is carrying four true freshmen - 6-3 guard Lyndale Burleson, 7-foot center David Ellis, 6-4 guard Kevyn Green and 6-3 guard Ramon Sessions. Virginia City's Curry Lynch is a redshirt freshman. Mo Charlo is a JC transfer with two years left.
"We have some ability," Fox said. "It's not like the cupboard is bare. It will take us until 2005, though, to be at our best. In some cases, we're three years younger at a position. We have so much to learn. I think there will be moments when we take a step forward, take another step forward and whoops, go backwards. We'll see how the young kids pick up the system.
"We probably won't score as much as we did last year. We were lethal offensively last year. We could score from anywhere. This could be a better defensive team."
Unfortunately, despite the influx of youth and the loss of battle-tested veterans, expectations remain high.
"We're still expected to go to NCAAs," Fazekas said. "We're still expected to win the WAC. That hasn't changed. Now we're trying to go to the Elite 8."
Before the Wolf Pack starts thinking post-season play, there are some huge questions to answer, especially at point guard. Shiloh, Burleson and Sessions will be battling for minutes. Shiloh seemed to hit a wall midway through the season, and as former coach Trent Johnson shortened his rotation, playing time almost evaporated for Shiloh.
"Part of Shiloh's problem was that he was behind a great player (Okeson)," Fox said. "Todd was a great college player. He was perfect for the team we had. He's got more confidence and he's shooting the ball well. He had a nice off-season. The most improved part of his game is his shooting."
Burleson proved he can score in high school, but Fox is enamored with his defense.
"He's ultra-quick," Fox said. "He's got very quick hands. He's tenacious. He's the best all-around defender (we have). Way better than Garry. Garry got to be really good at getting through screens. He's the best we've had since I've been here. He's a tremendous on-the-ball defender."
Sessions, judging by his high school numbers, seems to be a guy who can do it all. He averaged around 25 a game and had six or seven assists a contest. He could see time at both guard spots, though he'll mostly be at the point.
"He's pretty solid," Fox said. "He can shoot it, he can drive it and he finishes at the basket. He's got a well-rounded game."
Shooting guard is another spot up for grabs now that Kemp is out of the picture. The 6-foot-4 Green, the younger brother of ex-Wolf Pack star Terrance Green, is probably the purest shooter of a group that could include Taylor, Charlo and Sessions. The younger Green averaged 19 points and 10 rebounds a game for Benson Polytechnic in Portland, Oregon.
"Kevyn is a capable scoring guard," Fox said. "He can score in a couple of different ways. He won't score as much as Terrance did, but we have more guys that can score on this team. Terrance played with guys that couldn't score as well. Kevyn can slash and he can also hit the three."
Charlo and Washington, whose free-throw shooting down the stretch beat UTEP in the WAC tournament finals, figure to battle for playing time at the small forward/big guard spot vacated by Snyder, who was drafted 16th overall by the Utah Jazz.
Charlo was the first player in Diablo Valley College (Pleasant Hill, Calif.) history to be named all-state two consecutive years. The 6-7 Charlo averaged 18.1 points and 7.4 rebounds per game last season. Also, he knocked down 39 percent of his three-point attempts last season.
"He's a good player; very athletic," Fazekas said. "He's got a lot of athleticism and experience, and he looks ready to come in and contribute real quickly."
The Pack could benefit from somebody who could put up Snyder-like numbers this year. Fox already says that he doesn't think the team will score as many points as it did last season.
"Mo is really talented," Fox said. "The transition is going to be difficult. It's a big jump from high school to junior college. It's a different level.
"He is better facing the basket than I thought he would be. I didn't get a chance to see that as much (last year). He's not going to be Kirk Snyder. Those are big shoes to fill. Mo will be a good player."
Washington doesn't have the outside shooting skills of Charlo, but he was the team's best offensive rebounder. He was second on the team in field goal percentage (52.7). Two of his double-digit scoring games came in the WAC tournament.
"Jermaine is in much better shape this year than when he started last year," Fox said. "We need him to be playing like a senior this year."
The frontcourt is the team's strength offensively with Fazekas and Pinkney being joined by Bell, who led the Mountain West Conference in blocked shots as a freshman. Ellis will battle for time at center, too.
Fazekas opened the eyes of many observers with his standout play last season. He was selected to the WAC's all-newcomer squad. He set a freshman scoring record with 429 points and led the team with a 52.8 mark from the field. A solid three-point shooter, Fazekas scored 25 in a 79-64 road win at Louisiana Tech, and he poured in 32 in a huge 92-63 home win over UTEP.
"He's stronger (gained 10 pounds) and more ready to play this season," Fox said. "Nick probably played a little better than I thought he was. He had 30-something in a conference game. You don't think a freshman is going to do that. All of a sudden, he's playing like a sophomore. I thought he was very good."
Fazekas' extra weight should help on the defensive end of the floor where he tended to get muscled a bit by some of the bigger post players in the WAC.
"Nick is so long," Fox said. "People may have pushed him back, but you still have to score over him. He's not a bad defender. He knows he has to get better."
Fazekas will be expected to average more than 12 points a game, and there's no doubt he can do that.
The Wolf Pack will need Pinkney to play like he did in the post-season when he averaged 13.7 points and shot 69 percent from the floor in Nevada's three NCAA games.
"We need him to play big," Fazekas said. "I know he's going to do it. He's been waiting three years and it's finally his turn to shine. He'll play well and carry some of that over to this year."
Fox is counting on Bell for his defense, rebounding and shot-blocking more than anything else. He averaged 3.1 points, 2.1 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game as a freshman at UNM. He averaged 1.5 points and 1.6 rebounds his sophomore year before bolting for greener pastures.
"The system he was in wasn't conducive to him putting up big numbers," Fox said. "He could start for us. He's a good defensive player."
Ellis averaged around 15 points a game in high school, and like Fazekas, he can knock down the outside shot.
Fox wants him to get stronger, and its likely he could play as much as 8-10 minutes a game at one of the inside spots.
Contact Darrell Moody at email@example.com or 881-1281.
Name Yr. Pos.
Lyndale Burleson Fr. G
Mo Charlo Jr. F-G
Kevyn Green Fr. G
Kyle Shiloh So. G
Marcelus Kemp Jr. F-G
Seth Taylor So. G
Ramon Sessions Fr. G
Kevinn Pinkney Sr. F
Nick Fazekas So. F-C
David Ellis Fr. C
Jermaine Washington Sr. F
Chad Bell Jr. C
Curry Lynch Fr. G
Head coach - Mark Fox Assistants - David Carter, Josh
Newman and Dedrique Taylor