Friday Fodder: Musselman is anything but boring | NevadaAppeal.com
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Friday Fodder: Musselman is anything but boring

Joe Santoro
For the Nevada Appeal

Sports fodder for a Friday morning…Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball just got a whole lot less boring. The past six years under nice guy David Carter put the community, the program and seemingly even the players to sleep. Lawlor Events Center most nights was as exciting as a weekend garage sale. Carter was polite, cordial and always under control and, well, his teams played that way. Well, nobody in silver and blue is going to be sleeping with Eric Musselman in charge. There’s nothing polite, cordial or self controlled about the 5-foot-7 Musselman. He’s a tightly-wrapped bundle of energy, passion, fight, spit and grit. Heck, the guy almost got into a fight with an opposing coach when he was coach of the Reno Bighorns four years ago. The Pack, it seems, hired the anti-David Carter.

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Musselman could turn out to be a brilliant hire. He has long been recognized as one of the best teachers in the game throughout his two-plus decades of coaching in the NBA, countless professional minor leagues, international basketball and college. He’s coached almost every type of player at almost every level. His teams play like their shorts are on fire, they play defense and they listen to their coach. Or they don’t play. Nobody knows how many Mountain West championships the Wolf Pack will win under Musselman or how many NCAA tournament bids they will get, but we do know the following. Musselman’s teams will play extremely hard at both ends of the court for the entire 40 minutes and they will play smart. They will fight, scratch and claw to the end and they won’t be afraid of anybody. The victories, championships and NCAA tournament bids will follow.

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Give Wolf Pack athletic director Doug Knuth a ton of credit for hiring Musselman. The Wolf Pack is the first college program smart enough to finally give Musselman a head coaching job. It would have been easy for Knuth to hire a young, up and coming assistant off someone else’s staff. He could have easily hired a former college head coach who has experience building a program. But Knuth had the courage to go outside the box and hire Musselman, a basketball lifer who has spent the bulk of his career living in the basketball shadows of the minor leagues and international teams. But if you go beneath the surface, past the D-League, CBA, USBL and all the other strange alphabet combinations on Musselman’s resume, you’ll find Knuth also played it safe. He hired the smartest basketball mind out there and the best teacher and leader.

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The Wolf Pack is now in position to dominate the Mountain West in the top three high profile sports of football, men’s basketball and baseball. Brian Polian already has the football team pointed in the right direction. Jay Johnson’s baseball program is seemingly headed to its first NCAA regional in 15 years and now Musselman is about to make the Pack interesting again. All three of them are short (Chris Ault clones?), fiery, passionate and extremely confident. They are pit bulls in silver and blue suits and sweatsuits. The Wolf Pack’s top three sports have changed dramatically since late Dec., 2012. Just 27 months ago the football team (Ault) and baseball team (Gary Powers) were led by veteran coaches who had lost their passion and fire. The basketball team (Carter) always seemed to be in damage control and patching one hole or another. And, oh yeah, there was the lame duck athletic director (Cary Groth). Hope, promise and confidence have returned to north Virginia Street.

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Johnson’s baseball team is on its way to making school history this season. The school record of 43 wins (1992) seems easily within reach. The team is also riding an eight-game winning streak that just might double before the next loss comes. The Wolf Pack has also never won a conference tournament or regional since it joined Division I in 1970. Both those achievements could fall this year. We might be looking at the first 50-win season and first College World Series team in Wolf Pack history.

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It might be time for Knuth to look into expanding Peccole Park. Another 1,000 seats and improved restroom facilities and concessions should do the trick. Peccole Park is sort of an erector set of a stadium, built piece by piece in a random, ill-conceived way as the money trickled in. It really needs to be remodeled and upgraded. In addition to more seats, restrooms and concession areas, it also needs a new scoreboard and bigger press box as well as more ticket booths and entrances to the park. The time has come for the Pack to start hosting regionals and super regionals. Johnson has the team on the field worthy of such lofty goals and now the administration needs to make sure the stadium doesn’t stand in their way.

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Lawlor Events Center also needs an upgrade. The place was state of the art when it was built in the mid 1980s. Three decades later it is now a dark, damp, musty cement bowl that kind of smells like your grandfather’s basement. The place has no character or appeal. If you sit halfway up or higher you kind of feel like you’re sitting in Sparks watching the hot air balloons float above Rancho San Rafael Park. The Pack has to figure out a way to get the students and all the fans more involved in the games. The Pack has taken care of its three main sports with excellent coaches and now it’s time to take care of those excellent coaches by giving them excellent facilities.