Pack’s Off-season is give and take | NevadaAppeal.com

Pack’s Off-season is give and take

Joe Santoro
LVN News service

Sports fodder for a Friday morning . . .

It has not been the best of off-seasons for the Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball program thus far. Just a month after the College Basketball Invitational celebration, the Pack has lost two assistant coaches, hired an assistant who is being investigated for sexual assault, had one player jump into the NBA draft process and another leave the program. All of the promising momentum from the 2015-16 season has slowed quite a bit. Momentum, though, is a word that doesn’t really exist in the Wolf Pack world. It’s just sort of vague concept that never turns into reality. The 2010 football team went 13-1. The next year the team was 1-3 before it played its first home game. The baseball team last year went 41-15, then lost its head coach, a handful of players transferred and now the team is 15-18 and trying to keep its head above water. Even the basketball NCAA tournament years were, in the end, disappoinfing. The team went to the Sweet 16 in 2004 and never got that far again. There are countless other examples throughout Pack history of momentum lasting only as long as it took for the balloons and confetti to hit the floor. The future still looks bright for Pack basketball but it shouldn’t be taken for granted.

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Cameron Oliver testing the NBA draft waters isn’t all that shocking. And it doesn’t really mean anything if he withdraws his name before the May 25 deadline. But all it takes is for one NBA team to hint to Oliver that they will take him in the first round this summer and he’ll be lost to Nevada forever. It is a bit disconcerting that his immediate focus after his solid freshman year was all about the NBA when it should have been about getting back in the gym and weight room and making himself better for his sophomore year. The NBA process will help Oliver learn what he needs to do to realize his NBA dream. It won’t necessarily make him a better player for the Wolf Pack.

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Eric Cooper leaving the Wolf Pack is even less shocking than Oliver seeing dollar signs in his dreams. Cooper, who basically plays between the 3-point circles, isn’t really an Eric Musselman type of player (tough, gritty, fearless, intense). He was never going to be anything more than a streaky 3-point shooter under Musselman. It was also obvious that Cooper, a junior next year, wasn’t going to play all that much moving forward given the talent influx that is going to happen this off-season. Make no mistake, Cooper is a talented player and could blossom in another system. And for a bad 3-point shooting team to lose its best 3-pont shooter, well, that can’t be all that great. Cooper also showed flashes last year that he could be more than just a 3-point shooter. But those moments were few and far between and certainly not enough for Musselman’s liking.

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By far the most disturbing development this off-season surrounding the Pack basketball program was Musselman’s hiring of assistant coach Yann Hufnagel. Hufnagel is being investigated for sexually harassing a female reporter while he was an assistant at Cal. Cal told him he was no longer needed. The issue is not whether or not Hufnagel is guilty or innocent. The issue is why would Musselman knowingly involve the Nevada Wolf Pack athletic program with such an incident. There are hundreds of assistant coaches out there who could have filled that job just as well as the 33-year-old Hufnagel, hundreds of assistants who were not involved in a sexual harassment investigation. It is silly, careless and needless to deliberately connect the university to such an incident. There is no way athletic director Doug Knuth should have approved the hiring. It is just not worth it. But the Pack is in a let-Musselman-do-anything-he-wants-to-do mode right now. He is King Wolf Pack, ruler of all that is silver and blue. When the Pack gets to the NCAA tournament next year the university will likely sell half the buildings on campus to somehow find a way to afford to buy Musselman home games. That mindset is always dangerous. Sometimes coaches, even brilliant coaches like Musselman, have to be protected from themselves for the overall good of the athletic program.

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Assistant coaches under Musselman are disposable parts. Two (Jay Morris and Jermaine Kimbrough) left Musselman after just one season. Musselman is not an easy guy to assist. He’s not an easy guy to play for. He will be come even less easy to coach under and play for as the stakes get higher and more intense. Look in the coaching dictionary under Musselman and there is a picture of a mushroom cloud, thanks to papa Bill and son Eric. Turnover among the players and the assistants will likely never come to a halt under Musselman. But he’s going to win. And win big. Musselman, it seems, is not a guy who cares all that much about turnover. It’s likely he forces all of it and makes it happen. Nothing that happens under Musselman is a surprise to Musselman. He is constantly molding, shaping and guiding those around him. Turnover is just part of the cleansing process.

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This might be the most boring NBA playoffs in the history of the league. There is no drama, very little intensity and no real surprises. The Golden State Warriors, who could breeze through the playoffs without a loss if they so choose, don’t even need their best player (Stephen Curry) to beat the Houston Rockets in the first round. They might not need Curry to win a title. We are witnessing the greatest single-season performance by any team in NBA history. So, come to think of it, maybe it’s not as boring as it seems. Enjoy the greatness. It’s as close to perfection as we’re likely ever going to see in NBA history.

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Jared Goff and Carson Wentz are being treated by the NFL as if they are Jim Plunkett and Archie Manning. The St. Louis Rams traded up to the No 1 pick and the Philadelphia Eagles traded for the No. 2 pick (they both vastly overpaid) and Goff and Wentz seem to be their targets. Since 1967 just six quarterback duos have been taken with the top two picks in the same draft: Plunkett and Manning in 1971, Drew Bledsoe and Rick Mirer in 1993, Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf in 1998, Tim Couch and Donovan McNabb in 1999, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin in 2012 and Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota last year. Wentz and Goff, it seems, have a Bledsoe-Mirer feel to them but anything can happen with a quarterback in the first round as evidenced by Griffin, Leaf, Couch and Mirer, all big-time busts (Griffin is also nearing an invitation to that club).