Dr. Eric Musselman cures all for the Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball team says Joe Santoro
For the Nevada Appeal
Eric Musselman isn’t a real doctor. He only plays one during the college basketball season.
Need quick pain relief? Call Dr. Musselman. Feel a winter cold coming on? Don’t delay. Doc Musselman can take care of it. Lost that spring in your step? Doc Muss has what you need.
Don’t let the appearance fool you. The guy knows a thing or two because he’s seen a thing or two. The Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball coach can show up in saddle shoes one night and a bow tie the next. One night he can look like the lead singer in an aging boy band and the next night he’s that cantankerous angry old uncle that is saying some uncomfortable things around the dinner table. But the Pack was reminded this past week that if they just listen to him, separate the message from the saddle shoes and bow tie and follow his advice, they will find the cure to all that ails them.
After a pair of uncharacteristic sluggish performances against Air Force and Fresno State two weeks ago, the Pack was facing a trip to Boise and a revenge grudge match at home against New Mexico this past week. That 72-hour virus we saw them muddle through against Air Force and Fresno State was in jeopardy of turning into an epidemic.
Calling Dr. Musselman. Your team needs you. Immediately.
The doctor made a very important house call last week. He took the Pack’s temperature, checked their vital signs and didn’t like what he saw. And he told them some pretty uncomfortable things. But he also told them how to cure their ailments. And they listened to him. The Pack got up out of their sick bed and whipped Boise State and New Mexico in arguably the school’s most impressive back-to-back victories since joining the Mountain West four seasons ago.
How’s that for quick pain relief? If you saw it on a TV commercial you wouldn’t believe it. Headache gone. Virus vanished. The bounce in the Pack’s step is back thanks to Dr. Muss.
“First place was on the line in these two games,” said Musselman after the 82-65 victory over New Mexico on Saturday afternoon. “We knew these games were important.”
Much more than first place was on the line. Pretty much everything Musselman stands for as a coach was on the line. His Wolf Pack didn’t play with a pep in their step against Air Force and Fresno State. They didn’t play defense (the basis for all that is Musselman basketball) with the same fire that turned the program around last season. In short, it was as if that cantankerous angry uncle wasn’t on the bench at all watching their every move. The Pack, for the first time since Dr. Muss put out his shingle and opened for business on north Virginia Street, got cocky, overconfident and a bit lazy. They not only didn’t go see the doctor for help, they acted like he was off playing golf somewhere.
Well, sometimes the doctor needs to go see the patient even if the patient doesn’t know he’s sick. That’s what happened last week.
Musselman reminded them that doctor knows best. The Wolf Pack went to Boise last Wednesday night and routed the Broncos 76-57. They then toyed with New Mexico before burying them at Lawlor Events Center on Saturday. There was absolutely no traces of the team that was under the weather against Air Force and Fresno State.
“Our energy was phenomenal,” Musselman said.
Did Musselman administer a wonder drug? You could say that.
“We definitely prepared hard,” said sophomore Cam Oliver, who played against Air Force and Fresno State like he was in a summer league game and then played against Boise and New Mexico like his career depended on it.
“We came out and made a statement,” sophomore Jordan Caroline said.
We saw once again this week that Musselman, maybe quicker than any other coach in Wolf Pack history, attacks and fixes ailments before they become season-killing epidemics.
He is now 60 games into his Wolf Pack coaching career and has never lost three games in a row. That, Pack fans, is quick relief. Only one other Wolf Pack coach in history has gone through his first 60 games and never lost three in a row. That was Mark Fox, the greatest and most successful coach in school history.
Musselman is on a path to challenge him for that title.
The best three coaches in Wolf Pack history after their first 60 games are Fox, Jake Lawlor and Dr. Musselman. Fox and Lawlor each went 48-12 in their first 60 games and Musselman is 42-18 after winning 23 of his last 28 games. What Musselman has done, though, might be more impressive than what Fox and Lawlor did. Lawlor’s Pack teams during World War II were playing a bunch of teams from military bases like McClelland Field, Mather Field, the Hawthorne Marines, Fallon Navy, Fallon Airdales, Camp Park Seabees, Alameda Coast Guard and Reno Air Base. It wasn’t so much a college basketball program as it was a recreational program designed to keep up the morale of the brave boys about to be shipped overseas.
Fox, don’t forget, was handed a program in the 2004-05 season that had just gone to the Sweet 16. He did an amazing job, getting the Pack to the NCAA tournament in his first three seasons and winning 81-of-99 games over his first three seasons. His longest losing streak as Pack coach was just three games and that only happened once in his 166-game career.
Fox was just as good of a Pack doctor as Musselman. But his patient wasn’t as sick as the one Musselman was given. Musselman, heading into his first season in 2015-16, was given the task of caring for a 9-22 patient that was on life support. The program that Musselman was handed had four separate losing streaks of three games or more in just the previous season alone. The year before that (2013-14) they lost five in a row and the year before that (2012-13) they finished the year on a eight-game slide.
The Pack doctor before Musselman (David Carter) couldn’t stop the bleeding let alone cure the patient. More often than not, the Pack would just bleed out. Carter, who was given a program that had won 20 or more games in its previous six seasons and had lost as many as three in a row just once in those six seasons, had 12 losing streaks of three games or more in just five seasons. That’s not fixing what is wrong. That’s just hoping and praying the fever passes by morning.
Musselman, though, always has a sense of urgency. That’s what was so surprising by the lackadaisical efforts by the Pack against Air Force and Fresno State. Musselman is a coach who treats a two-game losing streak as if his team is about to be administered last rites. He’s a doctor that treats the common cold as if it is just two steps away from making it necessary to contact the next of kin. It’s why he’s never lost three in a row.
“We pride ourselves on never losing two in a row,” senior D.J. Fenner said earlier this year.
Nobody is perfect. Musselman’s first two-game losing streak in Nevada came last season when the Pack was still getting to know him. They lost at Wichita State and New Mexico in December 2015 right in the middle of the holidays (Dec. 22, 30) when the players’ heads were filled with visions of sugar plums and trips back home. The only other time Musselman’s Pack has lost two in a row was at Boise State and home against New Mexico in March 2016 when one of their best players and leaders (Marqueze Coleman) was out with a severe ankle injury.
So it doesn’t happen often. And it took strange circumstances for it to happen at all.
Musselman, it must be noted, is the last guy to make excuses for a two-game losing streak. Young and inexperienced on a tough road trip during the holidays? Big deal. Grow up. Depleted by an injury? Stop crying. Musselman doesn’t coach with excuses. Excuses, after all, turn into five, six and seven-game losing streaks and destroy a season.
Last year Musselman turned one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the nation into the Golden State Warriors with the season about to end. Talk about teaching old dogs new tricks. There was the Pack in the last few weeks of March last season shooting the lights out from long distance and winning the College Basketball Invitational.
Musselman took a team that was discouraged and demoralized after losing in the Mountain West tournament and transformed it into a national champion. The Pack didn’t even want to be in the CBI. They were feeling under the weather and just wanted to crawl into bed and pull the covers up over their eyes and let the season fade away. A lot of coaches, especially one who had just worked the past 11 months non stop in a feverish effort to resuscitate a wilting program, would have let his team go through the motions in the CBI. And nobody – the players, fans and media – would have cared.
But Dr. Muss, we were reminded this past week, will always care. He won’t let any ailment go untreated, no matter how small it seems. The Pack was feeling sorry for itself because it didn’t get to the NCAA tournament or NIT. Well, Musselman challenged them and told them to prove they belonged in the NCAA or NIT. And they responded to him, like they always do.
Yes, it was just the CBI but Musselman coached like it was the NCAA. Forget two-game losing streaks, let alone three or four. Musselman didn’t even want to end the 2015-16 season with a one-game setback. There’s a banner hanging in Lawlor right now to remind us all of that fact.
You can be sure there are more banners to come as long as Dr. Musselman is around.