It could be point guard by committee for Pack
Appeal Sports Writer
RENO – When Ramon Sessions bolted to the NBA and then Lyndale Burleson became academically ineligible for the first semester, it left the Nevada basketball team with a gaping hole at point guard.
With the first exhibition game set for Nov. 3 against Seattle Pacific, it appears that the point guard spot will be shared by former Hug star and true freshman Armon Johnson, sophomore Brandon Fields and senior Marcelus Kemp, at least until Burleson comes back in late December.
Early indications from Nevada coach Mark Fox is that Johnson does have an advantage over Fields at point guard, though we’ll know more after Nevada scrimmages Loyola-Marymount over the weekend.
Throwing Kemp’s name in the mix shouldn’t be surprising for anybody who has followed the Pack in the last four years. Both Kirk Snyder and Garry Hill-Thomas got limited minutes at point guard in Todd Okeson’s second season with the Pack.
“Armon is a talented young guy,” Fox said. “I’m excited about his future. Freshmen are going to be entitled to some mistakes, but I think he will give us a lot of good minutes, too. He has the advantage over Brandon because he’s always played with the ball in his hands, and he’s very confident with the ball.
“Brandon is a solid practice player. He didn’t get many minutes last year. Brandon’s main position is still going to be on the wing, though he is going to play some point for us and he could even play some small forward.”
It’s been Fox’s practice to teach incoming freshmen guards one position, and Johnson indicated he is working exclusively at point guard.
“It’s unfortunate what happened to Lyndale,” Johnson said. “He’s right in there teaching me the ropes. That (starting) is all coach’s decision. He’ll make the right decision for the team.
“He (coach Fox) is trying to make me a better player, and I’m glad he’s doing that. I learned at Hug what it took to do to win and be a better player, and that is what I’m going to do here. I know he (Fox) doesn’t want us trying to learn too much, so we concentrate on one thing.”
The speed of the game always seems to catch young players by surprise, but Johnson doesn’t believe he’ll have any problems fitting in.
“I’ve played with older guys all my life,” he said. “That really helped me back in the past.”
One thing is certain, Johnson is happy he was able to stay home and play in front of friends and family.
“I knew this was the perfect situation,” he said. “Everybody was here.”
“He was a local kid and already was a big fan of our team,” Fox said. “We’ll continue to recruit local players if they are able to help our team.”
Fields said he played point guard most of his career until his senior year in high school when he was moved to small forward to take advantage of his great leaping ability. Fields showed his “hops” on more than one occasion and brought the Lawlor Faithful to their feet with a couple of thunderous slam dunks.
“I’m not used to setting the play up,” Fields said. “I’m used to coming off a screen or cutting to get a pass.
“It takes time getting used to doing it (setting up the offense) again. It’s a big adjustment bringing the ball downcourt and setting things up. I worked a lot on ballhandling and passing over the summer with a little bit of shooting. I knew I would have to play point guard again at some point while I was here. I’ll play wherever they need me.”
Fields, who worked out in the off-season with former Texas A & M star Acie Law, is putting a lot of emphasis on his defense, and rightfully so. He’s been in the program for a year, and knows that if you don’t play defense, you don’t play for Fox.
“We will have a fast-paced defense this year, I know that,” Fields said. “We’re more athletic as a team this year.”
Fields said he’s trying to emulate the now-graduated Kyle Shiloh, who was Nevada’s defensive stopper the past four years. If he turns into half the defensive player Shiloh was, the Pack could have a budding superstar on its hands.