RENO - You have to wonder how much more adversity the University of Nevada women's basketball can handle.
Since the end of a disappointing 3-26 season last March, the following has happened:
• Starting point guard Jocelyn Mancebo was lost to the team when it was discovered that a brain tumor that was diagnosed when she was in high school had gotten larger and was moving.
• Sophomore transfer Angelita Hutton, who was expected to help out at point guard, tore her anterior cruciate ligament and was lost for the season.
• Freshman Jourdan Willard tore her ACL during the first week of practice and also is out for the season.
• Mike Gervasoni, assistant coach and husband of head coach Kim Gervasoni, died in an auto accident less than two weeks ago.
It has been a tough start to a team that struggled so much last year. Injuries and discipline problems cut the Wolf Pack roster from 14 to eight. The scrappy team played hard, but just got outmanned, and Kim Gervasoni suffered through her first losing season as a head coach.
Kim Gervasoni announced to her team after Saturday's scrimmage that she was back, just one day after the memorial service for her husband. It didn't surprise Kevin Chaney, Nevada's assistant coach, who has worked with her for several years.
"I've heard her say over and over that basketball is her life," Chaney said. "We have to rally behind this adversity. We're still deep, we're just not as strong as we were (before the injuries). We're still ready to compete."
Only time will tell how much this preseason adversity will affect Nevada, which opens its season Saturday at 3 p.m. against the Bay Area Pro-Am squad.
One thing is quickly evident after watching the Wolf Pack practice. They are bigger and more athletic than they were a year ago when they essentially played four guards and a forward.
Gervasoni brought in the 5-9 sophomore Hutton, Willard, 6-foot freshman forward Cherlanda Franklin, 6-2 freshman center Natasha Lobendahn, 6-1 freshman forward Meghan McGuire and 6-2 freshman center Andrea Sitton. McGuire is the biggest offensive threat of the newcomers, and the most likely new player to crack the starting lineup. Willard also was expected to contribute significant minutes at shooting guard. She was a four-year letterman at El Camino High in Sacramento, Calif.
"Jourdan really worked hard over the summer," Chaney said. "She was in the best shape of her life."
April Bankston (10.4 points, 5.3 rebounds per game) leads the list of returnees, and she ís joined by Talisha Anderson (7.7, 2.7), Traci Graham (8.1, 3.4), Jessica Preslar (5.9, 4.5), Kate Saltmarsh (4.2, 2.4) and Amber Young (5.7, 5.2). Jasmine Martin and Heather Massey, both guards, are coming off redshirt seasons.
"We're very versatile," Gervasoni said at the recent Western Athletic Conference media gathering. "We have a lot of players that can play different positions. I like the work ethic of this group. They're ready for the challenge.
"I thought we built a strong foundation. We cleaned house, and the eight that were left worked hard. We have tremendous team chemistry. We improved throughout the year. Our goal is to get better and better every year and compete in our conference. A lot depends on how new kids come in and adapt.''
Gervasoni said she recruited players that came from successful high school programs, and she hopes the newcomers bring that mentality to the Wolf Pack.
With Mancebo's departure, Graham remains at the top of the ladder at point guard, and she will be backed up by Massey, who is unproven. Anderson, Martin, Saltmarsh and Young figure to battle for playing time at shooting guard, though Saltmarsh and Young could move to small forward along with McGuire.
The power forward and center slots will be occupied by Bankston, Franklin, Preslar, Sitton and Lobendahn.
Bankston has started all but one game the past two years. She had two double double efforts last season.
It's a group that isn't strong physically, but is very athletic and plays with a lot of energy.
The group faces a tough schedule, including Cal-State Fullerton, BYU, San Diego State, UNLV and Santa Clara, not to mention WAC foes Louisiana Tech, Rice, Tulsa and SMU.
It's a lot for a young group (Young, Bankston and Anderson are only seniors) to handle, but Gervasoni is hoping improved athleticism will pay some dividends.
Darrell Moody can be reached at email@example.com, or by calling (775) 881-1281.