Darrell Moody: Pack bids farewell to 3 seniors
Pack seeks third title in three years on Sunday
Nevada basketball fans may get a double treat Sunday at Lawlor Events Center.
Not only does 20th-ranked Nevada have an opportunity to clinch a share of its second-straight Mountain West regular-season title with a win over Colorado State, it also will honor seniors Elijah Foster, Hallice Cooke and Kendall Stephens.
Senior Day is always special and always emotional as coach Eric Musselman pointed out.
“Each senior has his own unique story,” Musselman said Friday. “Elijah has been here longer than me, and I’m sure he has a lot of stories on how the program has changed. Hallice thought his playing days were over; and Kendall has played phenomenal basketball all year.
“It’s an emotional day. The first year was emotional, and I’d only spent 12 months (with that group). Last year was emotional. I’ve been with Elijah for three years and Kendall and Hallice two years. When I walk out there and give them a hug I’m sure I’ll be teary eyed for sure.”
Of the trio, Foster might be the most unique in the sense that he is the only holdover from the David Carter regime. He has seen the lows and highs of the program.
Foster’s freshman season saw the Pack go 9-22 overall, 5-13 in MW play. Things got much better from there — 24 wins in his sophomore season and a CBI championship. His junior season stopped after seven games when he was suspended after a domestic battery charge. That charge was eventually thrown out, leaving a disturbing the peace charge on his record. Nevada has won 24 games this year, and certainly a good opportunity to match last season’s 28 wins.
“It hit me last week,” Foster said when asked about his home career winding down. “I was talking to my mom and reflecting on my four years.
“This basketball team did a (180) from (nine wins) and now we’re 20th in the country. It’s been one hell of a ride and proud to be a Wolf Pack. It’s been quite a journey.”
Foster was playing lights out when he was suspended last season — averaging 12 points and 7.3 rebounds before departing. His minutes have diminished to 7 per game, and he’s averaging 1.9 points and 1.6 rebounds a game.
“I’m happy wherever the minutes fall,” Foster said. “I try to make the best of the minutes they give me. We’re being recognized all over the globe.”
Winning will do that, especially if you are a team player, and that seems to be the culture that Musselman has built since he stepped on campus three years ago.
“Elijah has been a big part of everything we’ve done,” Musselman said. “Him coming back, he understands he got a second chance. He has done a great job attitude-wise and what he’s done academically. To me, it’s a special day for him.”
For Cooke and Stephens, both have put their stamp on the program in their only year on the floor, and they have done it in different ways.
Stephens has done it with amazing 3-point shooting. Cooke has done it with his emotional leadership and a great attitude. With Lindsey Drew’s injury, Cooke’s role has been magnified.
Stephens, a transfer from Purdue, said the season has gone as he envisioned when he decided to come to Nevada. He has been a huge hit this year with his long-distance accuracy.
“This is the most cohesive group I’ve played with in my college career,” Stephens said. “This has been a great learning opportunity. Learning under the coaching staff the last year and a half has been great.
“I knew going in the coaching staff had experience. It (Nevada) was a mid-major, but the coaching staff was a lot bigger. They expected to win. Their approach was championship like. You can see the hard work that we put in pays off. This year is a testament to all coming together as a unit.”
Stephens has had several games where he’s drained 7 3-pointers, including this past Wednesday when he went for a career-best 30 points in the 80-67 win over San Jose State.
Stephens is already the MW career record holder for 3-pointers made in a single season (64). Just think if he’d been at Nevada longer.
“A lot of those 3s have been catch and shoot,” Stephens said. “We have unselfish players, and my teammates look for me.”
Cooke had a heart condition, and he was going to stay on as a student assistant when he came to Nevada. He got a second opinion, and was given a green light to resume basketball.
With the injury to Drew, Cooke has played more minutes, and he’s coming off a season-best 15 points against San Jose. With him, it’s always team first. His stats and success are secondary.
“It (time in Nevada) has meant a lot to me,” Cooke said. “It showed who I am as a man. I’ve handled every situation. I trusted coach Muss and it has paid off.
“It was just his (Musselman) passion for the game. He stayed on guys whether they played 20 minutes or no minutes. Hopefully I won’t get too emotional. My parents have sacrificed so much for me to get here. This for them not for me.”