Joe Santoro: Nevada Wolf Pack coach Steve Alford makes hard sell on Jordan Brown | NevadaAppeal.com

Joe Santoro: Nevada Wolf Pack coach Steve Alford makes hard sell on Jordan Brown

Joe Santoro
For the Nevada Appeal
Jordan Brown (right) guards San Diego State forward Matt Mitchell last season during a game in Reno.
Tom R. Smedes/AP

Steve Alford, it seems, is doing all he can to make sure Jordan Brown remains a member of the Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball team. Brown, who entered the NCAA’s transfer portal nearly two months ago, still hasn’t made up his mind about where he would like to play his final three college seasons. He’s made visits to Saint Mary’s and Arizona and plans to visit Arizona State soon. Kentucky and Texas A&M have also contacted him. Alford, though, told CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein this week that the Pack would like the 6-foot-11 Brown to play 30-plus minutes a game and be the focus of the team. Give Alford credit for making sure everyone (namely Brown and coaches who want to steal him from Nevada) fully understands how much he values Brown. That’s all he can do. If Brown does leave Nevada it won’t be Alford’s fault.

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If Brown does take his talents elsewhere, a huge portion of the blame should go to ex-Pack coach Eric Musselman for burying Brown on the Pack bench last season. Brown played just 34 minutes combined in the Pack’s last seven games. He scored 42 of his 100 points, played 89 of his 332 minutes and pulled down 23 of his 70 rebounds his freshman year in the Pack’s first five games of the season. After that, however, he saw the floor in about as many meaningful situations the rest of the season as Alphie the mascot. In the Pack’s 70-61 loss to Florida in the NCAA tournament, he played a grand total of 115 seconds. If you need some tangible proof of how Musselman had absolutely no plans on coaching the Wolf Pack beyond last season, all you have to do is look at the way he treated Brown, his freshman McDonald’s All American who was the future of the program. That’s because it was a Pack future that was not going to include Musselman.

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Another player that Musselman all but ignored last season was 6-foot-2 guard Nisre Zouzoua. Zouzoua has already announced that he will stay at Nevada and Alford told Rothstein he expects the former Bryant guard to have a breakout year. Zouzoua averaged 16.5 points a game in two seasons at Bryant, shooting 41 percent from the floor overall and 37 percent on threes. He once scored 19 against Notre Dame, 22 against Gonzaga and 24 against Northwestern for Bryant. In his first game as a freshman in November 2015 he poured in 16 points on four threes against Duke and Grayson Allen and Brandon Ingram at Cameron Indoor Stadium. So, it seems, Zouzoua has already had his breakout college season. Musselman, though, saw fit to give Zouzoua just 126 minutes all last season.

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The way Musselman constructed and handled last year’s roster was, looking back, always a bit strange and confusing. Last spring he went out and simply started collecting players left and right, handing out scholarships like they were coupons for free chicken fingers at Raising Cane’s. It was as if he was building a program from scratch and not the coach of a team that was loaded with 23-year-old fifth-year seniors. All of that talent movement, though, didn’t come without a price. Josh Hall, one of the heroes of the Pack’s amazing NCAA tournament comeback over Cincinnati in March 2018, left the program and will play his final two seasons starting this November at Missouri State. Another cost of all the roster movement last spring was Ehab Amin. Amin signed with the Pack on May 7 and left the program on June 1, just two weeks after Brown signed on May 14. The 6-4 Amin then went to Oregon and averaged 5.9 points and 3.1 rebounds with 55 steals in just under 18 minutes a game for the Ducks. Amin also averaged 6.7 points and 4.7 rebounds in three NCAA tournament games for the Ducks. At Nevada, though, he likely would have been stuck to Musselman’s bench on a team that played just one NCAA tournament game.

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The Wolf Pack baseball team ended another season short of the NCAA postseason last week with a heartbreaking loss to UNLV in the Mountain West tournament at Peccole Park. The Pack finished a respectable 30-26 this season but has now missed the NCAA postseason for 19 consecutive seasons. The program has won 37 or more games in a season just twice (41 in 2015 and 37 in 2016) since the 2000 team won 38 and went to the Stanford regional. Former Carson High star Darrell Rasner is still the last Pack pitcher to win a regional game after beating Fresno State 13-5 at Stanford in 2000.

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Former coaches Gary Powers and Jay Johnson and current coach T.J. Bruce, though, have combined to keep the Wolf Pack extremely competitive the last 19 years despite missing out on the postseason. It’s not easy, after all, to build a regional team at Nevada, considering the weather challenges in Northern Nevada for much of the college baseball season. It is also not the easiest thing to recruit in the Mountain West, a conference that has just seven teams and gets little national recognition. Despite those odds the Pack has won 60 more games than it has lost over the last 19 seasons and has won two Mountain West regular-season titles in the last five years. But the last 19 seasons have served as further proof of the remarkable job Powers and his staff did from 1994-2000, getting to the regionals four times and sending numerous players to the major leagues. Those seven seasons in the extremely competitive Big West Conference remain as one of the best coaching jobs in Wolf Pack history for any sport.