Friday Fodder: T.J. Bruce was a good hire for Nevada baseball
For the Nevada Appeal
Sports fodder for a Friday morning… Wolf Pack baseball fans can rest easy. Athletic director Doug Knuth put the program in capable hands last week when he hired former UCLA assistant T.J. Bruce to succeed Jay Johnson as head coach. Bruce, in fact, has an even more impressive résumé than Johnson when Johnson came to the Pack two years ago. Bruce has coached at big-time programs (Long Beach State, UCLA) and is a former infielder at Long Beach State and Texas A&M and played with Troy Tulowitzki. He also helped UCLA win the College World Series two years ago. He’s young, full of enthusiasm and positive energy and, well, looks younger than most of his players. Bruce, born and raised in Southern California, knows where the good players are and will bring them to the Wolf Pack. Well, he’ll bring those that don’t go to UCLA, Long Beach, Fullerton and USC. And that will be good enough since southern California will always have more ballplayers than water and wide open freeways. Bruce also comes highly recommended by former Pack assistant coach and current UCLA head coach John Savage, who was a big key in laying the foundation for the Pack’s success in the 1990s. Knuth has had an incredible four months, first hiring basketball coach Eric Musselman and now adding Bruce.
The hope now is that Bruce will remember all of the great teams his Long Beach State 49ers and UCLA Bruins played the last 10 years and try to add some of those teams to the Wolf Pack schedule. We certainly hope that Bruce can at least use his friendship and relationship with Savage to add UCLA to the schedule. The only reason the Wolf Pack didn’t go to the NCAA regionals this past year was because the schedule was full of weaklings and underachievers. Three games with UCLA last year — even if the Pack lost all three — might have been enough to get the Pack to the regionals. The schedule clearly needs an upgrade if this program is ever going to return to the glory days from 1994-2000. We have no doubt that the roster and talent level will be fine with Bruce running the program. Good baseball players aren’t hard to find. At Nevada, the key to national success will always be the quality of the schedule.
While we’re on the subject of schedules, the Wolf Pack football team certainly has a friendly one this year. There is only one home game the Pack can possible lose (Arizona in Week 2). The other five (Davis, UNLV, San Jose State, New Mexico, Hawaii) should be over by halftime. And the six road games (Texas A&M, Buffalo, Wyoming, Fresno State, Utah State, San Diego State) are nothing that will wake you up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night. So we’re looking at an eight-win season, minimum, this fall up on north Virginia Street with another meaningless bowl game tacked on at the end.
The issue of a quality schedule in football is not as crucial as it is in baseball or basketball. The difference is that In football the Pack doesn’t have to impress a NCAA selection committee since it will never be allowed to compete for a national title.
The key to this Wolf Pack football season — and the key to every Wolf Pack football season — is defense. And that is why we’re optimistic about this Pack season despite the fact that we don’t know who will be playing quarterback. Scott Boone had a solid first year as defensive coordinator last year. Yes, much of that improvement was due to the fact that the Pack didn’t have to deal with quarterbacks Jameis Winston, Brett Hundley and Derek Carr like they did in 2013. But this Pack defense is talented, deep and experienced with the likes of Lenny Jones, Rykeem Yates, Matt Lyons, Ian Seau, Jordan Dobrich and others. This also might be the worst year for quarterbacks in the history of the Mountain West. Everyone can score in college football these days. All you need are 11 guys who all know in what direction to find the end zone. The difference is defense and the Pack has a good one.
The sport of basketball at the college and pro level is now a year-round affair. We always had the regular seasons and postseasons but now we have the season in which players jump to new teams. In the NBA it’s free agency, where guys like Alexis Ajinca can sign a $20 million deal and Aaron Afflalo can still get $16 million. In Division I basketball it’s the transfer season where hundreds of players transfer to a new school from March through the end of the summer. The Wolf Pack, which normally just loses talent this time of year, has been as active as anyone this transfer season and has dramatically altered its roster.
Players have been coming and going (one, Shawn Smith, did both) ever since Musselman got the job. College coaches now have to recruit the high schools, junior colleges and other Division I programs. It’s a wonder they ever have to time actually, you know, coach. And when they do coach them, they can’t be too hard on them because those players can always go to your competitor and get you fired.
The United States’ women’s soccer team just might be the best national team this country has ever produced. The U.S. women, which are back in the World Cup championship game this Sunday against Japan, have been to four World Cup Finals, won two (1991, 1999) and played in seven semifinals. They’ve also won four Olympic gold medals. The team’s stars through the years (Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Brandi Chastain, Michele Akers, Hope Solo, Alex Morgan, Abby Wambach, Kristine Lilly, Carla Overbeck, to name just a few) have become almost as well known as Ruth, Gehrig and DiMaggio. The Women’s World Cup, when the U.S. is playing, is more popular than the World Series, NBA Finals and Stanley Cup. If you are still stuck in the 1980s and 90s and refuse to believe that soccer will ever catch on in this country, well, you just haven’t been paying attention.
Prediction: LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers will win the NBA title in 2016. Kevin Love just signed a five-year deal to stay in Cleveland. Kyrie Irving will be back to run the show. Matthew Dellavedova, Tristan Thompson, Timofey Mozgov and Iman Shumpert will do all the dirty work. And if they get anything out of J.R. Smith, Anderson Varejao and Mike Miller, look out. LeBron and the Cavs would have won the title last month if both Irving and Love were on the floor. James has taken his team to six of the last nine NBA Finals. Getting there is not a problem for LeBron. The Cavs, by the way, will beat Billy Donovan’s Oklahoma City Thunder in the Finals next summer. The Golden State Warriors? Enjoy the 2015 title, Warriors fans.