SALT LAKE CITY - When Nick Fazekas came to Nevada as a rail-tin freshman from Colorado, he wanted to make a difference. When people thought about Nevada, he wanted them to think about basketball and not casinos.
In his three years, Fazekas has helped the Wolf Pack compile a 77-21 record and make three straight NCAA appearances. Without question his silhouette should be part of the Reno skyline right alongside the gaming establishments.
Fazekas, who leads No. 20 Nevada against Montana Thursday at noon (CBS) in a first-round NCAA Tournament game, has continually stressed throughout his career that team goals are first and foremost, but he's racked up some pretty nice honors, too.
Consider the following:
- He's been named the Western Athletic Conference Player of the year two straight seasons, averaging over 20 points a game each season.
- He was selected to the USA Basketball's Under-21 squad where he played for St. Joseph's coach Phil Martelli. He got some great experience last summer, bumping heads against some of the best big men in the country.
- He has zoomed up the all-time scoring list this year, going from No. 13 to No. 2, (1,788 career points), passing impressive players like ex-teammate Kirk Snyder, Terrance Green and Alex Boyd in the process. Currently, he's 90 points away from being the school's all-time leading scorer, trailing Edgar Jones.
- He his two blocks away from passing the legendary Jones in career blocked shots, and that could come in Thursday's game.
- Also, he's in the top five in career rebounding, field goals made and free throws made.
Not bad for a guy who was bypassed by many schools because of his slender build and awkward running style. No doubt some of those schools are kicking themselves now.
"He's a better player, than he was a year ago," Nevada coach Mark Fox said. "He makes people around him better. He plays well in big games."
"He's a special player. Every player has weaknesses, but he doesn't have very many. He's been a great player for us."
Fazekas scored 35 points and grabbed eight rebounds in a 72-70 upset of Kansas. He scored 23 and grabbed 10 in a big 65-53 road win at Louisiana Tech and then scored 23 and grabbed 16 rebounds in the 75-57 win over Utah State, which avenged an earlier loss to the Aggies.
You can't blame Fox for getting a little misty eyed when he talks about Fazekas. Fox was the main recruiter of Fazekas out of Ralston Valley High School. Fox saw the smooth shooting touch and the mental toughness that many didn't see at first glance.
New Mexico State's first-year coach Reggie Theus, himself a former NBA star, agrees with Fox.
"He's a pro," Theus said before one of the NMSU-Nevada games this year. "He's got the full package. There's very little he can't do. Great players find a way to get it done. He's going to score his points and get his rebounds."
Fazekas has improved quite a bit since coming to Nevada. He's gone from a role player his freshman season to the team's big gun the past two seasons.
"I don't have to put up the same numbers," he said earlier this year. "I want to be the go-to guy, though. I want to be the guy that puts us over the top."
His numbers are better, just as Fox predicted they would be at this year's WAC Media Day. Fazekas has improved both his scoring average (20.7 to 21.8), rebound average (9.4 to 10.1) and assist average (less than 1 per game to more than 2 per game).
He is the guy that makes Nevada go. Because teams concentrate so much on him, it's opened up things for shooters like Kyle Shiloh, Mo Charlo and Marcelus Kemp. And the guy who helps get them the ball is Fazekas, who has doubled his assist total of last year (from 30 to 62).
Conversely, those outside shooters make it tough to sag in on Fazekas each and every possession. Either way, they complement each other, and make Nevada a difficult guard.
Fazekas' forte is offense, and that's what will get him to the next level. He can score on putbacks, in transition, from 3-point range and he can put the ball on the floor. His soft hands make him a great shooter.
His 3-point shooting percentage has dropped a bit in the last year. No matter. That's just a small part of his arsenal. His bread-and-butter is in the paint, and he's shown to be unstoppable most of the time.
His biggest improvement at that end of the floor is his ability to let the game come to him. He's taking more and more shots within the offense. His forced shots have been fewer and fewer over the years.
He said he learned a lot from last year's NCAA Tournament. He admitted that he tried to score too much and didn't play well against Texas and Illinois.
"Coaches certainly help me with that," Fazekas said. "I know offensively what's a good shot and what's a bad shot."
"He got a double-double against Texas," Fox said. "I want Nick to always to be aggressive. That's just Nick being hard on himself."
One thing that has changed is his defense. It's probably not where he or Fox want it to be, but it is better. As a freshman, he would let people always catch the ball on the low block.
That isn't the case, anymore. Sure he still tries to block shots, but he also tries to steal passes; tries to get his hands on as many balls as possible. Again, that's maturity. As a freshman, he found out that he couldn't block every shot, and he had to do different things to defend opponents.
PRO TALKS AREN'T WELCOME
There was a lot of talk late last season that Fazekas might declare for the NBA draft, but a sub-par NCAA Tournament took care of that.
This year the talk has been going on all year. Fazekas is tired of it, and so is Fox for that matter. Obviously Fox wants Fazekas to be able to focus on the task at hand, and that's winning some games in the NCAA Tournament.
"Nick will certainly explore his future with my full support," Fox said recently. "After the season ends, I'll sit down with Nick and his parents, and evaluate what he wants to do."
Fox has praised Fazekas' daily work ethic, and his ability to keep his mind on the present and not the future.
What does the future hold for Fazekas?
The scouts believe that Fazekas will go somewhere between 15 and 25. None see him as a lottery pick. In fact, there were 16 scouts in attendance the night that Fazekas went up against Louisiana Tech's Paul Millsap, and three of them were from the Indiana Pacers.
Kevin Mackey, one of Indiana's scouts, reportedly told reporters that Larry Bird likes Fazekas.
Many of those same scouts have also said that he should go back to Nevada and bulk up a little bit.
Even former teammate Kirk Snyder said Fazekas should stay, and that he (Snyder) made a mistake going out after his junior year.
"I told him that the NBA will always be there," Snyder said.
And, it will.
With a recent NBA rule change, high school players are no longer eligible for the draft until after one year of college, so that changes things a bit. According to NBA scouts, there aren't a lot of foreign players expected to be drafted high this year.
San Jose State coach George Nessman, who got his first look at Fazekas this year, said it will be a difficult decision.
"You have to look at the variables of who is going to be in the draft," Nessman said. "That's part of the process. I'm sure Nick, coach Fox and Nick's parents will look at all of that.
"By staying, he could raise his stock incredibly. He could get hurt. He could stay and get bigger and stronger. He could do that in the NBA, too."
Nessman correctly pointed out that there is a big difference in money between being chosen 15th and 25th. The only thing a first-round pick is assured of is a guaranteed two-year contract with a club option for a third year.
In talking with other WAC coaches, they all say that Fazekas needs to put on more weight; get stronger.
"He needs to get bigger and get more stamina," ex-Idaho coach Leonard Perry said. "He is going to be playing against guys just as tall and much stronger. He's got to be able to hold his own.
"He is certainly a talent. His length is something that you can't coach, and his skill level is very, very good. That's a guy who can get into that (NBA) league."
If you're a Nevada fan, that's no surprise. They've seen it for three years, and hope to see it one more.
Contact Darrell Moody at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling (775) 881-1281
Fazekas By The Numbers
2 Number of blocks Fazekas needs to overtake Edgar Jones (1975-79), who had 142 in his career
4 Number of 30-point games Fazekas has had this season
17 Number of double-doubles Fazekas has had in his Nevada career
23 Number of 20-point plus games this season
1,788 Number of points Fazekas has scored in his career this year
The Fazekas File
Position - Forward
Height - 6-11
Weight - 230
Year in school - Junior
Major -General Studies
Points per game - 21.8
Rebounds per game - 10.1