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Eric Musselman introduced as men’s basketball coach for Nevada Wolf Pack

Joe Santoro
For the Nevada Appeal
New Nevada basketball coach Eric Musselman addresses reporters at the Lawlor Events Center shortly after the state Board of Regents approved his 5-year contract worth $2 million Thursday in Reno.
Scott Sonner / Associated Press | AP

RENO — It didn’t take long for Eric Musselman to challenge his Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball players.

“We want to play as fast as possible at a high octane pace from an offensive standpoint and a defensive standpoint,” said Musselman, who was introduced as the Wolf Pack’s new head coach on Thursday at Lawlor Events Center. “They will have to be in unbelievable physical condition.”

The days of the methodical, plodding, patient offenses of Trent Johnson, Mark Fox and David Carter are over.

“I don’t have an offense that takes 30 seconds to run,” Musselman smiled. “Even if I want to milk the shot clock, I can’t do it.”

Musselman’s five-year contract for $2 million plus bonuses was approved unanimously by the Nevada Board of Regents on Thursday afternoon.

Musselman, though, didn’t waste any time trying to improve the Wolf Pack even before his contract was officially approved.

“I was on the phone with recruits when it came time for us to go meet with the Board of Regents,” the 50-year-old coach said.

Musselman, an assistant at Louisiana State University this past season, will be the 18th head coach in Wolf Pack history. He succeeds Carter who went 98-97 the past six years and was fired after this season’s 9-22 record.

“We looked for someone who understands what this university stands for and what this community stands for and there’s no doubt in my mind we found someone who hits on all those points,” Wolf Pack athletic director Doug Knuth said. “There is nobody with the skills and with the knowledge to get us where we want to be the right way more than Eric Musselman.”

The Wolf Pack is Musselman’s first head coaching position in college basketball. Musselman, in fact, has spent just three years in college basketball. He was an assistant at Arizona State for two seasons before going to LSU this past year.

Running a team, though, will not be a new challenge for Musselman. The Wolf Pack will be his 12th head coaching position in his 26-year career. He compiled a 108-138 record in three seasons as a NBA head coach with the Golden State Warriors (2002-03, 2003-04) and Sacramento Kings (2006-07). He has also been a head coach in the CBA, NBA D-League and USBL as well as for national teams in the United States, China, Dominican Republic and Venezuela.

He coached the Reno Bighorns of the D-League to a 34-16 record in 2010-11. Among the players he coached that season in Reno were former Wolf Pack players Nick Fazekas and Mo Charlo as well as former and future NBA players Jeremy Lin, Danny Green, Hassan Whiteside, Steve Novak and Bobby Simmons.

“People have asked me why I wanted to coach in college,” said Musselman, who was also a NBA assistant for seven seasons for such coaches as Mike Fratello, Lon Kruger, Chuck Daly, Doc Rivers and his father Bill Musselman. “It’s about being able to impact these players lives. We’re not just coaching them for the next four years We’re coaching them for the next 40 years of their lives.

“You know, I’m not so sure I had much of an impact on the life of Metta World Peace (with the Kings in 2006-07) but I know I can have a big impact on the lives of our players here. These players will have a relationship with me for the rest of their lives. That’s the neat thing.”

The lure of being part of a college atmosphere also attracted Musselman to the Wolf Pack. He recalled a special night he spent at Mackay Stadium with his son when he was coaching the Bighorns in 2010.

“I remember going to the Boise State football game (the landmark 34-31 Wolf Pack overtime win in 2010) and the enthusiasm in that stadium was second to none,” he said. “That’s the type of environment I want to create (at Lawlor).”

Musselman, whose father Bill coached the Reno Bighorns of the Western Basketball League in the 1979-80 season (the league folded after that one season), said he has been connected to the Reno community for much of his life.

“My dad coached here for one year and I have special memories of that year,” he said. “When I was coming out of high school (in 1983) one of the recruiting trips I made was to here. I wanted to play for coach Sonny Allen. And then my family and I fell in love with the area when I was here in 2010 with the Bighorns. We love living in this community. The Reno community has been a part of my family’s life for a very, very long time.”

Musselman, who is the first Wolf Pack basketball head coach hired from outside the program since Trent Johnson in 1999, said he is confident that the pieces are in place for the Wolf Pack to start winning championships again.

“I had an honest and open discussion with Doug (Knuth) about the facilities and our resources and I am convinced that we have what we need to win here, I can tell you that,” Musselman said. “All we need are two buckets and 94 feet and we’re ready to rock and roll. Believe me, I know. There were times in Venezuela when the court wasn’t 94 feet and we couldn’t get two buckets to practice with.

“Lawlor Events Center is the perfect place for us. Now, what we have to do is get more people (fans) in there (the Pack averaged 5,497 fans at Lawlor last year). I know there are fans out there to fill this place. I went to five or six games when I was with the Bighorns in 2010. I saw how special this place can be. We just have to put a product on the floor and make them proud.”

The Wolf Pack will return all but two players (seniors Michael Perez and Ronnie Stevens) off of last year’s roster.

“Recruiting is the lifeblood of our program,” Musselman said. “You need players to win basketball games. And the first people we’re recruiting is our own guys. There’s no such thing as ‘those are his (Carter’s) guys and those are my guys.’ I have great sensitivity to all the guys Coach Carter recruited. Everybody starts with a clean slate. We think we have a good group of players. If everyone buys into what we’re doing, we can be one big happy family.”

Musselman met with the Pack players Thursday morning and gave each of them a set of goals to work on.

“We’re going to set high goals and high standards for our team,” Musselman said. “We have a lot of work ahead of us.”