Carter trying to put the the puzzle together |

Carter trying to put the the puzzle together

For the Nevada Appeal

This season’s secret word, as far as the Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball team is concerned, is patience.

Actually, it’s not much of a secret.

“We have a young team,” Pack head coach David Carter said. “It’s a long year, a long season. We understand this team is going to make mistakes because it is so young. We just have to have a lot of patience.”

The Wolf Pack, which opened its season Saturday with a 84-81 exhibition loss against Seattle Pacific, is definitely a little wet behind the ears. The Pack returns just one starter (center Dario Hunt) from last year’s 21-13 team and he only played an average of 27 minutes a game.

“We have a lot of guys who don’t understand what they are about to embark on,” said Carter, who had two future NBA players (Luke Babbitt and Armon Johnson) on his first Pack team as head coach last year. “There are a lot of unknowns. It’s going to be challenging, losing two guys (Babbitt and Johnson) of that caliber. But I’m excited about this group and when it’s all said and done I think we’ll have a pretty good year.”

Babbitt was the Western Athletic Conference’s Player of the Year last year after averaging 21.9 points and 8.9 rebounds. Johnson, who is now Babbitt’s teammate with the Portland Trail Blazers, averaged 15.7 points and 5.6 assists. Also gone are starters Brandon Fields (14.5 points) and Joey Shaw (10.4 points) and sixth man Ray Kraemer (6.1 points).

“It’s been interesting,” said Carter of the Pack’s workouts and practices since the end of last season.

The biggest difference from a year ago?

“Longer practices,” Carter said. “We really have to pay attention to detail with this group. Their youth always comes out. We’re always reminded everyday that it’s a young group.”

That, Carter added, will also be the case during the games.

“They will make mistakes,” Carter said. “But as long as they play hard and keep improving every game, that’s what matters.”

Among the nine newcomers who could end up seeing considerable minutes this year are guards Deonte Burton (6-foot-1 freshman) and Jordan Finn (6-4 freshman), centers Devonte Elliott (6-10 freshman) and Illiwa Baldwin (6-11 junior) and forwards Malik Story (6-5 sophomore) and Jerry Evans (6-8 freshman).

But, as Carter said, there are a lot of unknowns right now. So don’t count out newcomers like freshman Kevin Panzer (a Babbitt look-alike at 6-9), freshman Jordan Burris (6-7) and junior Derrell Conner (6-foot).

The Pack also returns sophomores Marko Cukic, Patrick Nyeko and Keith Fuetsch, junior Keith Olson and senior Adam Carp. Another newcomer, junior transfer Olek Czyz, is expected to join the team in the middle of December when he becomes eligible. Czyz, who won two Nevada state titles at Lawlor Events Center while playing for Reno High School, transferred to Nevada last December from Duke.

“We might not get our regular rotation until the middle of December,” Carter said. “It might not be until January. There is going to be competition at every position.”

A look at the other eight WAC teams . . .

UTAH STATE: The Aggies are the clear favorite to win the conference, returning four starters. Among the returning players is 6-8 senior Tai Wesley, who averaged 13.7 points and 6.6 rebounds a year ago.

The one starter (point guard Jared Quayle) that needs to be replaced, though, was probably the Aggies’ best all-around player. Quayle averaged 12.4 points, 6.2 rebounds and 4.1 assists for coach Stew Morrill’s 27-8 team.

“He was a very key guy for us,” said Morrill, who has won 512 games in his 24-year career. “But everybody has to adjust to that.”

The Aggies, though, have to do less adjusting than any other team in the conference with veterans like Wesley, Brady Jardine (6.0 points), Nate Bendall (10.3), Matt Formisano (2.3), Brian Green (7.6 points), Tyler Newbold (8.0) and Pooh Williams (8.7) back this year.

“Tai is motivated to have his best year ever,” Morrill said.

NEW MEXICO STATE: Coach Marvin Menzies’ team shocked the conference by winning the post-season tournament at Lawlor, beating the Wolf Pack and Utah State along the way. That team, which finished 22-12 and led the WAC with 774 3-point attempts, was led by guards Jahmar Young (20.3 points) and Jonathan Gibson (17.5).

Young and Gibson, though, are no longer with the program.

“We’ll have a different look, losing those two big guns,” Menzies said. “Those guys could make a shot to win a game but they also could get a little carried away at times, too. We’ll have a lot of guys this year who can make a shot to win a game.”

The Aggies return 6-8 Troy Gillenwater (14.6 points, 6.8 rebounds), 6-6 Wendell McKines (10.7 points, 9.8 rebounds), 6-11 Hamidu Rahman (10.3 points, 8.0 rebounds), 6-5 Gordo Castillo (44 3-pointers) and 6-1 Hernst LaRoche (6.3 points). McKines, though, is currently out with a broken foot.

LOUISIANA TECH: The Bulldogs also lost a lot of scoring and talent as guards Kyle Gibson (18.4 points) and Jamel Guyton (12.0) and center Magnum Rolle (13.8 points, 8.4 rebounds) are gone.

“We definitely have some big shoes to fill,” said coach Kerry Rupp, whose Bulldogs finished 24-11 a year ago.

Rupp, though, returns the 6-7 Olu Ashaolu (10.7 points, 8.1 rebounds) and guard DeAndre Brown (10.6 points, 3.4 assists).

“Olu has been a very good player for us,” Rupp said. “He’s our hardest worker in the off-season and he’s ready to take his game now to a level where I call him a mismatch guy, able to play inside or outside.”

FRESNO STATE: The Bulldogs return sophomore Greg Smith, last year’s WAC Freshman of the Year. The 6-10 Smith averaged 11.5 points and 5.8 rebounds.

“We’re looking forward to him having a very good year,” Fresno coach Steve Cleveland said. “We’ll need to get him the ball.”

The Bulldogs finished 15-18 a year ago, led by forward Paul George (16.8 points, 7.2 rebounds), who is now in the NBA with the Indiana Pacers. Also gone is center Sylvester Seay (14.2 points, 6.1 rebounds) and guard Mike Ladd (10.3 points).

“Those are big losses,” Cleveland said. “We lost our top three scorers. But we’ll have much more depth this year.”

The Bulldogs suffered from the same problem as the Wolf Pack did last season.

“When you don’t have a bench, it’s hard to hold people accountable,” Cleveland said. “You tend to not get the best out of people. That’s what happens when the guys on your bench are walk-ons. We’ll have depth this year.”

SAN JOSE STATE: The Spartans, led by WAC leading scorer Adrian Oliver (22.5 points), finished 14-17 last year.

Oliver is back this year.

“Adrian is clearly one of the better players in the country,” coach George Nessman said.

Nessman, who loses Chris Oakes (10.3 points), Robert Owens (10.5) and Mac Peterson (9.9) off last year’s team, is confident the Spartans will be improved this year.

“We think we’re more athletic and more skilled,” said Nessman, who also returns guard Justin Graham (9.4 points).

Nessman understands that Oliver will be watched closely by opponents, as he was a year ago.

“He receives an inordinate amount of attention and deservedly so,” Nessman said. “Teams try to be physical with him and knock him around as much as they can. But he can deal with it. He’s not a machine but Adrian wants to expand his game beyond just scoring. He wants more assists and rebounds this year.”

IDAHO: The Vandals finished 15-16 for coach Don Verlin last season.

“I have no idea what to expect this year,” Verlin said. “We have a totally new program.”

Gone from last year’s team is guard Mac Hopson, who averaged 14.4 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.2 assists. Also gone are guards Kashif Watson (10.7 points) and Steffan Johnson (9.9) and center Marvin Jefferson (9.2 points, 6.2 rebounds).

“You’ll see more of a system-type team from us than you’ve seen in the past,” Verlin said. “We won’t have any one player dominate the ball like Mac did the last couple years.”

The Vandals return the 6-6 Brandon Wiley, 6-8 forward Luiz Toledo (7.4 points, 4.0 rebounds), 6-3 guard Jeff Ledbetter (2.9 points in 11 minutes a game) and 6-10 center Kyle Barone (5.0 points). Wiley missed all but three games last year because of injury.

BOISE STATE: The Broncos, 15-17 last year, will feature a new head coach in former Gonzaga assistant Leon Rice.

“For me, everything is new,’ Rice said. “I still have to learn about our team and the league.”

The Broncos biggest loss from a year ago is center Ike Okoye, who averaged 12.9 points and 7.9 rebounds. Boise, though, returns forward (6-8, 230) Daequon Montreal, who averaged 10.8 points and 5.3 rebounds in just 25 minutes a game.

“The best thing about him is his versatility,” Rice said. “He can score inside or outside. He can shoot the three and handle the ball real well for a big kid.”

Also back are 6-10 center Zack Moritz (3.5 points 2.4 rebounds off the bench) 6-7 forward Paul Noonan (8.8 points) and guards Robert Arnold (11.8 points) and La’Shard Anderson (9.9).

The Broncos might be as deep as any team in the league other than Utah State.

Freshman Jeff Eloriago, a 6-2 guard, scored 14 points in the Broncos exhibition victory over Montana Tech last week. In that same game junior Westley Perryman, a 6-1 guard who played just eight games last year before suffering a season-ending injury, had seven steals.

HAWAII: The Warriors also made a coaching change, bring in former USC assistant Gib Arnold. Arnold’s father, Mike, was the head coach at Hawaii in the mid-1980s.

“We did the math,” Arnold said. “We return the least amount of points and the least amount of rebounds off last year’s team. We have a lot of newcomers.”

The Warriors, led by Roderick Flemings’ 16.6 points and 6.2 rebounds a game, finished 10-20 last year. They return 6-9 forward Bill Amis, who missed all of last year with a foot injury, guard Hiram Thompson (9.2 points and 3.9 assists) and 7-foot Brazilian center Douglas Kurtz, who averaged 1.4 points in six minutes a game.

“Ideally I’d like to play an up-tempo style but I don’t know if we can do that because we need to develop some depth first,” Arnold said. “We have a lot of question marks about this team about how well we’ll mesh and blend.”