It would be silly to not honor Musselman | NevadaAppeal.com

It would be silly to not honor Musselman

Joe Santoro

If the Mountain West men’s basketball coaches don’t vote the Nevada Wolf Pack’s Eric Musselman as Coach of the Year the Pack should seriously consider leaving this silly conference. Musselman has worked miracles with the Wolf Pack. The team won nine games last year and basically was in turmoil at the end of the year. The Pack lost 14 of its last 17 games last year, seven of its last 10 the year before and 15 of its last 18 the year before that. This year the Pack is 17-10 and has won seven of its last 10 with the conference tournament right around the corner. And Nevada’s doing it with basically just seven players and some nights just five or six depending on foul trouble and injuries. This Pack team is just three wins shy of becoming the first Nevada team in 70 years to win at least 20 games after winning fewer than 10 the year before. That is the definition of Coach of the Year.

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Musselman’s strength as a coach goes well beyond the Xs and Os. He has transformed the mindset of his players, given them confidence and, above all else, toughness. There’s a reason why some programs always fall apart in the last month of the season like the Wolf Pack has done in recent years. That’s when it becomes about attitude, confidence, and mental toughness. The Wolf Pack could have lost on Wednesday night to a mediocre Utah State team. In fact, Nevada probably should have lost. The team kind of went through the motions in the first half and then senior point guard Marqueze Coleman went down with an ankle injury with 16 minutes left in the game. The last few Pack teams would have headed for the exits at that point. This Pack team played its best basketball from that point on. That is the definition of mental toughness.

There’s absolutely no reason why the Wolf Pack can’t win the Mountain West tournament and go to the NCAA tournament. No team in the conference, even regular season champion San Diego State, is dominant. Every team in the league has serious flaws. The Pack and San Diego State are the only teams in the league who can play real defense. San Diego State can’t score, the Pack can’t shoot and everybody else is about as consistent as the northern Nevada weather. There are five or six teams who can realistically win the Mountain West tournament but it’s shaping up to be a Wolf Pack, San Diego State, Boise State or Fresno State party.

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It’s time the northern Nevada community realizes what’s going on at Lawlor Events Center this year. The crowd for the Pack’s 73-68 win over Utah State on Wednesday was announced at just more than 6,500 fans but there were probably about 2,000 fans less than that actually in the seats. For some reason there’s still a huge disconnect between the community, student body and the Wolf Pack athletic teams despite all of the slogans, propaganda and photos the Pack athletic department throws out on social media. Winning is the only thing that truly fixes all that but just know the winning has already started, at least on the basketball court.

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Wolf Pack athletic director Doug Knuth is among a handful of potential candidates rumored to be named the next athletic director at the University of Connecticut. Knuth’s ties to UConn are obvious. He grew up less than 100 miles away from the campus in Fairfield, Conn., is a graduate of the school and a former Huskies tennis standout. Back in early January Knuth posted a photo of himself and his father with the Huskies mascot at a Connecticut basketball game. He would be a fool not to seek the UConn job and UConn would be foolish not to consider Knuth.

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Knuth has been at Nevada just three years but he has already done wonders up on north Virginia Street. The dark cloud of the Cary Groth era is long gone. There’s a sense of hope, unity and endless potential around the Nevada athletic program now. Knuth has made outstanding coaching hires since he came aboard in April 2013, including Musselman, baseball’s T.J. Bruce and women’s swimming and diving Neil Harper, who just won the Mountain West championship. Knuth, a premier fundraiser as are all great athletic directors now, has also implemented the current upgrade of Mackay Stadium. The future does realistically look bright for the entire athletic program. It would be a shame if the Knuth era lasted just three years. There’s still plenty of work yet to be done.

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General manager Trent Baalke said this week quarterback Colin Kaepernick will absolutely be a member of the San Francisco 49ers this coming season. Baalke, though, didn’t say Kaepernick will be the starting quarterback. Nobody, after all, just walks in and takes Blaine Gabbert’s starting job. If Kaepernick is indeed a 49er on April 1, all of his $11.9 million base salary is guaranteed for 2016. He can buy a lot of baseball caps, headphones and tattoos with $11.9 million. But Kaepernick will never be content with holding a clipboard and standing on the sideline. He went into Wolf Pack coach Chris Ault’s office and complained about not playing a month into his freshman year, don’t forget. Kaepernick will start this year and Gabbert will be holding a clipboard. You don’t want a competitive guy like Kaepernick on the team unless he’s starting. And you certainly don’t want to pay him $11.9 million to simply model tattoos and baseball caps.