Joe Santoro: Can 2019 – 20 Nevada Wolf Pack pack Lawlor Events Center? | NevadaAppeal.com

Joe Santoro: Can 2019 – 20 Nevada Wolf Pack pack Lawlor Events Center?

Joe Santoro

The lines of fans in front of Lawlor Events Center’s doors waiting to watch Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball games might be a whole lot shorter this coming season. Given the wholesale changes on the coaching staff and roster, the Pack men’s basketball team could see a marked drop in attendance this year. Wolf Pack basketball average attendance has declined by 1,000 or more from the previous season just four times since Lawlor Events Center opened for the 1983-84 season. The biggest one-season decline was an average of 2,705 fans a game from 1997-98 to 1998-99 in the last two seasons of the Pat Foster era. The last time the average attendance dropped by four figures was a decline of 1,389 from 2008-09 to 2009-10, the last year of the Mark Fox era and the first year for David Carter. The reason attendance is such a hot button topic right now is that the Pack set a program record for attendance last year with an average crowd of 10,878. Coach Eric Musselman and the Pack, in fact, set the school average attendance record in each of the last three seasons (8,923 in 2016-17 followed by 9,048 and 10,878), breaking the record of 8,903 which was set in 2006-07. Musselman set the attendance bar so high that new coach Steve Alford could attract the sixth largest average attendance in program history (at 8,172) this coming season and still suffer the biggest one-season decline in program history (at 2,706).

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Winning, of course, has always been the key to Lawlor Events Center basketball attendance. The Wolf Pack has averaged 8,000 or more fans a game during just six seasons in its program’s history (2004, 2006, 2007, 2017, 2018, 2019) and all six seasons ended with a NCAA tournament appearance. Nobody knows what to expect from this year’s Wolf Pack basketball team, on the court or in the stands. The Wolf Pack’s own web site, in fact, lists just five players on the roster. So until we get a better idea of who, exactly, will be scoring the points, pulling down the rebounds and dishing out the assists, we won’t put the pressure of having to go to the NCAA tournament on a program rebuilding from the ground up. But keep in mind that the Wolf Pack’s current string of three consecutive seasons of 8,000 or more fans a game is already a program record and a fourth, well, would immediately justify giving a new coach a 10-year contract.

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Can the Wolf Pack average 8,000 or more fans again this season? Alford’s teams at Iowa and New Mexico, from 1999-2013, did finish in the Top 25 nationally for attendance 15 times. The Pack’s schedule this year won’t attract lofty crowds all by itself at least at the start of the season. The Pack’s home non-conference schedule includes a couple of teams that are mildly interesting (USC, Utah) and four (Loyola Marymount, Santa Clara, Texas Southern, Texas-Arlington) that don’t even draw well in their own gyms. But that might be a good thing. A good start in the standings, after all, will be the biggest factor in making sure the Pack enjoys a good start in the stands.

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Mountain West football will get plenty of opportunities for national recognition in the first couple of months of the season. The time has come for some (one?) Mountain West teams to win a meaningful game nationally. It’s the only way the conference will start to get some respect around the country. The Pack will play both Oregon (on the road) and Purdue (at home). Hawaii plays at Washington and will host both Arizona and Oregon State. Boise State plays at Florida State. Utah State will go to LSU. San Diego State travels up the freeway to play UCLA. Fresno State travels down the freeway to play at USC and New Mexico goes to Notre Dame. Mountain West football is as entertaining and competitive as any conference in the country. It’s about time the rest of the country is aware of it. But that type of recognition requires a few Mountain West teams to take home a victory along with a big check.

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NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said this week that he is concerned with all of the tampering that teams obviously did before this year’s free agency period. He also said he doesn’t like the way star players are demanding trades. Silver can say he is concerned but don’t believe him. You really think he is going to make life difficult for LeBron, Kawhi, A.D., K.D. and Kyrie? Free agency and trades, after all, have become the most interesting part of the NBA season. The flurry of player movement the past couple of weeks is all the national media can talk about. The actual games in the NBA have become boring and lifeless. Who won the championship last month? Some team from Canada? Nobody cares. But when Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George went to Los Angeles, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving went to Brooklyn and a couple dozen other notable players changed teams in trades and free agency, well, everyone got excited.

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Players run the NBA. Coaches are mere babysitters. We know the players by their first names, initials, nicknames and commercials. Coaches are just the guys who give excuses to the media. The average fan can tell you that Anthony Davis is now playing with LeBron James with the Los Angeles Lakers. But hardly anyone outside of Southern California can tell you who, exactly, is the Lakers’ head coach. The same is true in Brooklyn with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Who is coaching the Nets? Does it matter? In college a mid-major can give a 10-year contract to a guy like Steve Alford, who has never gotten close to winning a national title, and the community gets excited despite the fact that hardly anybody can name more than two players on the roster. Eric Musselman is a star coach in college. A dynamic personality who sells tickets faster than they can print them. In the NBA he gets fired. In the NBA hardly anyone can name more than a third of the head coaches. But they can tell you where two dozen guys went in free agency.

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Los Angeles, it seems, is becoming the sports mecca of the United States. ESPN and the national media will tell you that the New England area is the center of sports these days, given that the Red Sox and Patriots are the reigning champs in their sports. But, in reality, that title belongs to Los Angeles. The star power is not only in Hollywood. It’s on the fields, courts and rinks, too. LeBron, A.D., Kawhi, Paul George, Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Shoei Otani, Clayton Kershaw, Cody Bellinger, Hyun-jin Ryu, Walker Buehler, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Jared Goff, Todd Hurley, Aaron Donald, Clay Matthews. The Dodgers have been to the last two World Series and could be on the way to a third straight. The Rams went to the Super Bowl last year. The Anaheim Ducks won the Stanley Cup in 2007 and the Los Angeles Kings won it in 2012 and 2014. The Angels are in the playoff hunt this year. The Los Angeles Galaxy has won five MLS titles.

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Former Pack players Cody Martin (Charlotte Hornets) and Jordan Caroline (Los Angels Lakers) have opened some eyes in the NBA’s Summer League this month. Martin is averaging 9.5 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.8 steals and 1.5 assists for the Hornets in four games and Caroline is averaging 14.7 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.3 assists for the Lakers. Caroline had a 27-point effort earlier this week against the Golden State Warriors. Of course, the NBA’s Summer League is even more meaningless than its rules for tampering, but Martin and Caroline are showing they belong. Who has the best chance of making a real NBA team? It appears that Caroline has almost no chance of making the Lakers given all of the free agents that LeBron has signed in the last week or so. Martin, though, could have a better than 50-50 chance of making the Hornets roster. Charlotte lost guards Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lamb to free agency and could be starting a massive rebuild. Martin might be exactly the type of versatile, cheap player that would be perfect in Charlotte on its way to the draft lottery.