Joe Santoro: UCLA-Muss talk means nothing (until it does)
January 10, 2019
It has already started. The Nevada Wolf Pack's Eric Musselman is already linked to a big-time coaching job. When UCLA fired Steve Alford on New Year's Eve, it took roughly 30 seconds for someone in the national media to attach Musselman's name to the opening. CBS commentator Seth Davis wrote for The Athletic, "With five fifth-year seniors in his starting lineup, Musselman could leave Reno with a clear conscience . . . He has the kind of hyperkinetic, media-friendly personality that would wear well in Westwood as long as his teams are winning big, that is." Get used to it Wolf Pack fans. The more Musselman wins at Nevada, the more you'll see his name linked to high-profile jobs. The good news is all of the rumors mean nothing. It doesn't mean he'll get an offer (he hasn't yet) and it doesn't mean he would accept it.
Davis, a former Sports Illustrated writer, is a long-time Musselman supporter. It was Davis who set up the interview between Musselman's daughter Mariah and Loyola's Sister Jean last March. National media people need coaching friends all over the country who will return their texts, otherwise they wouldn't know anything. So it benefits Davis to do Musselman a favor now and then by simply attaching his name to a big job. And it obviously benefits Musselman. Again, it means nothing. Until it does.
The one criticism of Musselman's success at Nevada, according to the national media, is he has done it with transfers and he couldn't do the same at a big-name school like UCLA. That is a ridiculous criticism. Why couldn't he do it at UCLA? Wouldn't it be easier to attract transfers to UCLA than Nevada? Also, what's wrong with adding transfers? Is it Musselman's fault he knew more than anyone else in the country players like Cam Oliver, Caleb and Cody Martin, Kendall Stephens, Marcus Marshall, Jordan Caroline, Tre'Shawn Thurman, Jazz Johnson and others were hidden gems? Since when is it a negative to add quality, experienced, mature players to your roster? Why do they have to be 18 years old? Also, don't forget Musselman signed talented freshmen Lindsey Drew, Josh Hall and Jordan Brown at Nevada. Brown was a McDonald's All American. If Musselman was at UCLA he'd have a dozen or so McDonald's All Americans to choose from each and every year.
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The most important thing to come out of the Wolf Pack's 92-53 blasting of San Jose State on Wednesday night is Caleb Martin rediscovered his shooting touch. The Pack's leading scorer made all six of his 3-point shots in the second half to finish with 23 points. He had missed 14 of his previous 16 threes. In the first half against San Jose State he was 1-for-7 from the floor and 0-for-5 on threes. He missed layups, free throws and even hit nothing but air on one 3-point shot before Musselman mercifully pulled him from the game. But all of that is over. If this team is going to go to the Final Four, it needs Caleb Martin to be its leading scorer or close to it night after night. He's the most versatile offensive player on the team and opposing defenses can't stop everything he does. One some nights, like in the second half against San Jose State, they can't stop anything he does. The only one who can stop Caleb Martin is Caleb Martin.
The victory over San Jose State, though, didn't mean much else. If you were wondering how the Pack would respond to its still-stunning 85-58 loss at New Mexico last Saturday, well, you should still be wondering. Whipping San Jose State didn't prove anything. That was nothing more than a glorified pickup game. It was basically a matchup of the 10th best team in the nation against the 10th worst team in the nation. Even bad Pack teams have whipped San Jose State over the past decade or so, winning 30 of the last 32 games against the Spartans since 2002. We'll find out this Saturday night in Fresno how the Pack will respond to losing at New Mexico.
Jay Norvell, it seems, has turned into the Father Flanagan of the Wolf Pack football program. Father Flanagan, the priest who ran a facility for young men and boys looking for a fresh start in life, would have been proud of Norvell this week. The Pack, Norvell announced this week, is allowing troubled quarterback Malik Henry to join the team as a walk-on. Henry, a former Florida State recruit, played for three high schools in Southern California in four years. He also attended IMG Academy in Florida (sent there by Florida State) and lasted only a few months. Henry, again, then lasted only a few months at Florida State after being suspended for violating team rules (missing classes and team functions, he later said in an interview). He resurfaced at Independence Community College in Kansas the past two years, where he was shown on the Netflix reality show, "Last Chance U," to have a stormy relationship with his coach. Father Jay, though, thinks he can save Henry's football career.
The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Henry was one of the top quarterback recruits in the country when he signed with Florida State in 2016. At one point in his high school career he was a five-star recruit. Barton Simmons, the director of scouting for 247sports.com, told the Tallahassee Democrat in January 2016 that Henry would either be a Heisman Trophy winner, a national champion and first-round NFL draft pick or he would become "a player that never really puts it together." Mike Farrell, the national recruiting director for rivals.com said in that same article three years ago that Henry "is either going to be horrible or great. No in between." Well, so far he's been horrible. Maybe Father Jay can bring out the great.
It would seem that Norvell is taking a huge risk by bringing Henry into the program. The Pack already has plenty of quarterbacks on the roster with highly-touted freshman Carson Strong (6-4, 210) as well as juniors (in 2019) Kaymen Cureton and Griffin Dahn, senior Cristian Solano and freshman Austin Kirksey. Strong came to Nevada early last spring so that he could learn the Air Raid offense and be ready go in the fall of 2019. Would Henry be a good teammate and accept a role as a backup? Would Strong be content to sit for two years while Henry, a walk-on, takes over? It's like Mike Farrell of rivals.com said three years ago. Horrible or great. No in between.
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