Joe Santoro: Muss is now the shark in Nevada
July 5, 2018
The Nevada Wolf Pack 2018-19 men's basketball season is already a rousing success. Winning another Mountain West championship in March and going back to the Sweet 16 and beyond in the NCAA tournament will just be icing on the cake. The Wolf Pack athletic department told the world on Twitter this week "there are fewer than 2,000 seats left in Lawlor (Events Center) for the 2018-19 season." What does this mean? Well, as Roy Scheider told Robert Shaw in Jaws, "The Wolf Pack is going to need a bigger arena." Or at least more seats. Fill the exits with seats (we won't tell the fire department). Get rid of the media and cheerleaders. Fill their spots with paying customers. Tell the five or six players who have no real chance of getting into the game to go sit in the locker room and sell their seats on the bench. More seats means more fans means more money. Something tells me head coach Eric Musselman is going to get another contract extension after this coming season.
It appears Caleb Martin, Cody Martin and Jordan Caroline did the right thing by not forcing themselves into professional basketball this spring and summer. Winning 90 percent of your college basketball games and being fawned over by the national media for three weeks in March, after all, sure beats playing in the NBA G-League or over in Europe. ESPN's recently ranked the Top 25 NBA prospects off the teams in its "way-too-early" preseason Top 25 rankings and, well, the No. 6 slot belongs to Caleb Martin. If that holds true, Caleb will almost certainly be drafted either late in the first round or in the second round next June. And if the Wolf Pack gets to the Final Four in March there could be two or three (between Cody Martin, Caroline and Jordan Brown) more Pack players drafted next June.
Getting drafted, though, is just one way to get to the NBA. Former Pack players Kendall Stephens and Cam Oliver are in the NBA (sort of) and will be playing in the Las Vegas Summer League starting today. Neither Stephens (this past June) or Oliver (June 2017) were drafted. Stephens will be playing with the Orlando Magic (along with former Texas center and Wolf Pack NCAA tournament victim Mo Bamba) and Oliver, who played in the NBA G-League last year, will be playing with the Philadelphia 76ers.
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The Golden State Warriors simply can't get any respect. The Warriors, which have won three of the last four NBA championships, are one of the greatest dynasties in league history. But do we celebrate them? No, we ignore them as soon as the last cork is popped on their last championship champagne bottle. All of the attention since the Warriors beat the Cleveland Cavaliers was where LeBron James was going. The conversation the same night the Warriors won the title was how LeBron played the final three games of the NBA Finals with a broken hand. It's LeBron this, LeBron that and did you hear what LeBron did or said? The NBA draft gets more attention than the Warriors get by winning a title. The free agent signings and potential trades (where is Kawhi going?) certainly get more attention. The games, the championships are simply distractions now in the NBA., something to watch until LeBron moves to another team.
Why all the fuss about LeBron? You could argue he's the most disliked superstar the NBA has ever had. So why does the national media obsess over him? If the rest of the NBA that boring? Well, yes. But it's more than that. The Lakers were a 35-win team last season without James. Now they're a definite playoff team and maybe one player (Kawhi?) away from getting to the Finals. LeBron isn't going to Los Angeles to just stretch out on the beach, rub elbows with the Kardashians and make bad movies. He will win in LA. The Lakers are probably the third best team in the Western Conference right now. That's what LeBron James means. It's why the national media obsesses about his every move. Put him on a lottery team and they're an instant playoff team. Put him on a good team and that team is suddenly battling for a championship. He's the most influential player we have right now in basketball, football, baseball and hockey.
There's no question right how over which university has the best men's basketball team in the state of Nevada. The Wolf Pack was 29-8 last year, won the Mountain West regular season title and went to the Sweet 16. The Final Four is a legitimate goal this March for the Pack. UNLV might not even finish in the Final Four of the Mountain West. But football and baseball is up for grabs in the state. Yes, the Pack football team beat UNLV (23-16) last fall but UNLV had a better overall (5-7 to 3-9) and league record (4-4 to 3-5) than the Pack. Baseball is also a toss-up right now for state supremacy. The Pack won the Mountain West regular season title but UNLV had a better overall record (35-24 to 29-24) and won four-of-seven games during the season against the Pack, including their lone Mountain West tournament meeting.
This is a pivotal season for both the UNLV and Nevada football programs. Which one will finally step up and become not only a mediocre bowl team (both should accomplish that minimum goal) but also become one of the best teams in the conference? The arrow is clearly pointing up for both programs. Coach Tony Sanchez has made slow but steady improvement (from three to four to five victories) during his three seasons at UNLV. And the Pack will certainly improve upon its 3-9 record of a year ago under coach Jay Norvell. But neither program can afford another flat season. It's time to make significant improvement at both ends of the state.
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