Joe Santoro: Dear world: Reno is NOT Las Vegas | NevadaAppeal.com

Joe Santoro: Dear world: Reno is NOT Las Vegas

Joe Santoro
For the Nevada Appeal
Charlotte Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak, center, speaks as draft picks Cody Martin, left, and PJ Washington listen during a news conference in Charlotte, N.C., on June 21. Kupchak said the Wolf Pack's Martin played at UNLV.
Chuck Burton/AP | AP

Three NCAA tournament appearances in the last three years. One of the greatest comeback victories (over Cincinnati in 2018) in NCAA tournament history. A spot in the Sweet 16 in 2018. A College Basketball Invitation championship in 2016 and a record of 110-34 over the last four seasons. Three consecutive Mountain West regular-season titles. A spot in the Top 25 national rankings all of last season. A head coach (Eric Musselman) and twin star players (Cody, Caleb Martin) who became a fixture in the national media last year. And, still, nobody outside of the Silver State seems to know where the University of Nevada is located. The Charlotte Hornets selected Cody Martin last week in the second round of the NBA draft and Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak promptly introduced the former Wolf Pack player as a member of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. The Wolf Pack clearly has a public relations problem. The rest of the nation obviously believes that there is only one Division I school in the state of Nevada and that school wears red. The Wolf Pack is clearly Joel Murray to the Rebels’ more famous brother Bill.

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But don’t blame the Hornets for not knowing where Cody Martin played his college ball. It even took Cody a while to figure out where he was playing after leaving North Carolina State. Cody and Caleb revealed last season to ESPN that they had no idea where the Wolf Pack campus was located when they made their recruiting visit in the spring of 2016. “I thought it was Vegas,” Caleb told ESPN. “Everybody thought it was Vegas.” “I didn’t even know it (Reno) existed,” Cody said. “I was the typical East Coast kid who thought Reno was Vegas and it was going to be sunny all the time.”

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Cody Martin, who can remind everyone he meets in the G League next season with the Greensboro Swarm that the Wolf Pack is indeed in Reno, is the first Pack player to be drafted since Luke Babbitt and Armon Johnson in 2010. The huge (2011-18) gap without a Pack player in the draft is mainly due to the fact that coach David Carter (2009-15) didn’t recruit and sign any NBA draftees (or qualify for any NCAA tournaments). Johnson and Babbitt, in case you are wondering, joined the Pack when Mark Fox was head coach. Cody, the 15th Pack player drafted by the NBA, is also the only player drafted off an Eric Musselman roster. Fox leads all Pack coaches with four (Ramon Sessions, JaVale McGee, Babbitt, Johnson) recruits that ended up as NBA draft picks. Jim Padgett (Marvin Buckley, Pete Padgett, Edgar Jones) and Sonny Allen (Billy Allen, B.B. Fontenet, Sam Moseley) each had three.

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Former Pack forward Jordan Caroline has signed with the Los Angeles Lakers as a free agent while Caleb Martin has reportedly been in discussions to join brother Cody with the Hornets this summer. A free agent deal is usually a one-way ticket to the G League or overseas but it is not a NBA death sentence. The shining example of Wolf Pack perseverance is David Wood, who was ignored in the 1987 draft and went on to play 412 games for eight NBA teams from 1988-97, scoring 1,602 points with 1,004 rebounds, 111 3-pointers, 164 steals and 76 blocks.

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Has the Wolf Pack football team played its last game at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas? Let’s hope not. UNLV is scheduled to play its last season at Sam Boyd this fall before it moves into the 65,000-seat, state-of-the-art Las Vegas Stadium in 2020. The Pack and Rebels (and a red Fremont Cannon) will meet this season on Nov. 30 at Mackay Stadium. So, as things stand now, the Pack will never set foot in Sam Boyd again and its last game there will have to be the 34-29 nightmare loss to the Rebels last November that saw the Pack fritter away a 20-0 lead. There is, however, a chance the Pack could play one more game at Sam Boyd before it is turned into another Walmart or trailer park, or both. A Mountain West championship this season would put the Wolf Pack in the Dec. 21 Las Vegas Bowl at Sam Boyd.

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It is only fitting that the Pack plays in the Las Vegas Bowl this December. First of all, it would help erase the memory of last year’s disaster at Sam Boyd. But it would also be a fitting way for the Wolf Pack to say goodbye to the old stadium. This year will not only be the final Las Vegas Bowl at Sam Boyd, but it will also be the final Las Vegas Bowl involving the Mountain West. The bowl game will move into the Las Vegas Raiders’ new stadium in 2020 and will involve a Pac-12 team playing either a team from the Big 10 or SEC. It seems UNLV and the Las Vegas Bowl each have no use for Sam Boyd Stadium after this year. The Wolf Pack played in the first Las Vegas Bowl at Sam Boyd in 1992 so it’s fitting the Pack plays in the last one on Dec. 21. And, by the way, the Pack could also display a blue Fremont Cannon to the good folks of Las Vegas in that Las Vegas Bowl after whipping the Rebels on Nov. 30 at Mackay.

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If the Pack is in the Las Vegas Bowl this December then Chris Ault needs to be in the middle of the field with the other Wolf Pack captains for the coin flip. Ault was the Pack coach for the first Las Vegas Bowl in 1992 and in the fourth in 1995. He coached at Sam Boyd as a UNLV assistant for three seasons (1973-75) before coaching 14 games at Sam Boyd as the Wolf Pack head coach (two in the Las Vegas Bowl and a dozen in the regular season). He’s as much a part of Sam Boyd’s history as any coach. He deserves the opportunity to say goodbye to the stadium with a Wolf Pack victory in the last college football game ever played there.

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Ault, by the way, won nine of his last 10 games against UNLV and his last eight in a row. He went 14-3 against UNLV since 1985. Since he stepped down as Pack coach after the 2012 season the Wolf Pack has gone an embarrassing 3-3 against the Rebels. And that was against Rebel coaches Bobby Hauck and Tony Sanchez, two guys who have just one winning season over the last nine years combined. Last year’s game at Sam Boyd still keeps Pack fans awake at night. The cannon is red right now. So maybe Ault also needs to be in the middle of the field on Nov. 30 for the coin flip.