Sports Fodder

Joe Santoro: Nevada Wolf Pack basketball schedule about wins and ticket sales

Joe Santoro

Joe Santoro

The Nevada Wolf Pack must believe we are so desperate to watch live college basketball this season that we will pay to watch almost anything.
The Pack announced its upcoming non-conference home schedule this past week and, well, the opposing teams are about as exciting as an empty Lawlor Events Center during a pandemic. Eastern Washington, San Diego, Minnesota-Duluth, Loyola Marymount, Pepperdine and Grand Canyon.
Eastern Washington and Grand Canyon did go to the NCAA Tournament last year but, you know, somebody from the Big Sky and WAC has to get an invite. Marymount, Pepperdine and San Diego were created simply so Gonzaga has somebody to beat in the WCC every year. Minnesota-Duluth is a Division II school best known for its hockey program.
It’s the type of non-conference home schedule that should give the Pack a healthy dose of meaningless victories and confidence heading into the Mountain West season. But it won’t do much at season’s end to convince the selection committee to give Nevada an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. It is, without question, a sleepy, come-watch-the-Pack-hit-threes-and-dunk type of non-league home schedule.
The talented Wolf Pack, led by veterans Grant Sherfield, Desmond Cambridge, Tre Coleman, KJ Hymes and Warren Washington back from last year’s 16-10 team, can handle a whole lot more. And Pack fans also deserve more than WCC also-rans, a hockey school, and a Big Sky and WAC school. But this year is all about selling tickets and winning games sells tickets. Just watch out for those Minnesota-Duluth hip checks.
The most celebrated professional athlete to come out of the University of Nevada is, without question, Marion Motley. The former Wolf Pack running back in the 1940s, is a Pro Football Hall of Famer. He also helped break the NFL’s color barrier in 1946, won five pro championships, has the NFL career record for running backs at 5.7 yards per carry and is arguably the best fullback in the sport’s history. When it comes to listing the greatest pro athletes with a Wolf Pack pedigree there is Motley and then there is everybody else.
Well, one of the best among “everybody else” is JaVale McGee, who must be considered the most accomplished pro basketball player in Pack history. McGee has so far lasted 13 seasons in the NBA and has played 747 games, starting 319, and averaging 7.8 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.5 blocks. And he’s done all that on just 17 minutes a game. His .571 career field goal percentage is one of the Top 15 in NBA history. McGee has also won three NBA championships with the Golden State Warriors (2017, 2018) and Los Angeles Lakers (2020). His teams had won 12 consecutive NBA playoff series in a row until his Denver Nuggets lost to the Phoenix Suns this year.
McGee won’t ever get in the Hall of Fame, but he is one of the most accomplished pro athletes to ever come out of Nevada. He now has a chance to add arguably the greatest accomplishment to his resume with an Olympic gold medal in Tokyo this summer playing for the United States. He had nine points, two rebounds, two steals and a block in 12 minutes in Wednesday’s 120-66 pounding of Iran. The self-proclaimed Big Daddy Wookie, who played at Nevada for two seasons in 2006-07 and 2007-08 for coach Mark Fox, is still just 33 years old and keeps getting better.
Winning an Olympic gold medal will certainly be important in the McGee family. JaVale’s mother, Pam McGee, won a gold medal in the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics with the U.S. women’s basketball team. Momma McGee is in the women’s basketball Hall of Fame, won two national titles at USC and was the driving force behind making JaVale a NBA player.
“He used to ask me, ‘Why can’t you just be a mom?’” Pam McGee told the Orange County Register recently. “I would say, ‘How can I just be something when no one has ever done what we’ve done before?’ We’re setting the blueprint for the other people who come behind us.”
Pam and JaVale could become the first mother-son combo to ever win an Olympic basketball gold medal.
Raise your hand if you are tired of watching NBA players in the Olympics.
My hand has been up since 1992, the first time we had to buy into the Dream Team hype. What is the point? NBA players trying to win a gold medal is like watching the 1927 Yankees try to win a Little League championship at Williamsport. It’s meaningless when they win and embarrassing when they lose.
United States Olympic basketball should be for college athletes. We understand that college athletes are not amateurs anymore. The Name-Image-Likeness fiasco has ruined that for everyone. But what, exactly, is so appealing about watching NBA millionaires like Kevin Durant, Damian Lillard, Devin Booker, Zach LaVine, and Jrue Holiday try to win a medal? It’s difficult to watch some of those guys play in the NBA, let alone watching them obliterate Iran with one arm tied behind their back. We are not watching Dream Teams anymore. We’re just watching the leftover guys whose agents feel it would be beneficial to drape a United States flag over their shoulders. If they truly cared about winning a gold medal, they wouldn’t lose to Evan Fournier and France.
What has happened to the NBA? There is no dominant team in the league. The players play at three-quarters speed and intensity. And they can’t even get 12-15 NBA players together to go out and dominate the Olympics anymore.
The United States will still likely win the gold medal in Tokyo but the loss to France earlier this week, ending a 25-game U.S. Olympic winning streak, was an eye-opener. We all saw it coming.
Has the rest of the world caught up with the NBA? Of course not. It’s just that the NBA players put little or no effort into winning a gold medal. Heck, they barely put any effort into winning a NBA title anymore. If you are the Phoenix Suns with a 2-0 lead in the NBA Finals, how do you lose four in a row to a mediocre team whose star can’t shoot from farther out than his wingspan?
This is what happens when you allow the players to run the league. Winning is not the ultimate goal anymore. The goal is money, fame and making more money and getting more fame, for as long as possible. It’s becoming more and more difficult to understand why we should even pay attention to it anymore.
Oklahoma and Texas, which apparently want to leave the Big 12 and join the SEC, are about to shake up college sports. The move of the two Power Five giants could send a tidal wave through college sports. Will that tidal wave reach even the Mountain West? It’s possible but a lot of things have to happen for Mountain West schools to join the money grab.
Nobody really wants Mountain West schools other than to fill the bottom rungs of their conference ladder. They would be newspaper on the bottom of the Pac-12 birdcage. Oklahoma and Texas jumping to the SEC, though, will be just the start of the movement. The SEC will then become a 16-team super conference, sort of a mini NFL and NBA.
Who else could move in the coming years? How about Utah, which clearly does not fit in the Pac-12. The Utes would look right at home in the Big 12. Nebraska, which certainly does not fit in the Big Ten, would become the signature program of the Big 12. What about Colorado, another Pac-12 team that looks out of place. They sure would be welcome in the Big 12. Even the SEC has teams like Texas A&M and Missouri who might be looking to relocate once again. The possibilities are endless.
Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Phil Jackson had a wonderful Last Dance season with the Chicago Bulls in 1997-98. The Bulls capped off their NBA dynasty with their sixth title and everyone involved cemented themselves in Bulls fans’ hearts forever.
That might not be the case with Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers if this indeed becomes the NFL’s Green and Gold version of the Last Dance. If this Packers’ season deteriorates, Rodgers might be booed out of Wisconsin for sabotaging the franchise. The Packers and Rodgers had a good thing going before poor Aaron got his feelings hurt and pouted this spring and summer. The mean old Packers, apparently, didn’t consult with Rodgers when it came time to build the roster.
The Packers, though, might just cave in now and give Rodgers everything he wants. They just brought back aging wide receiver Randall Cobb, just to make Rodgers happy. The Packers just might make him the general manager, give him Milwaukee Brewers season tickets, day boat rides on Lake Michigan and all the cheese he can eat. Without Rodgers the Packers are a Canadian Football League team.


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