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Kraemer loosens up defenses with his 3-point shooting

JOE SANTORO
For the Nevada Appeal

RENO – Nevada Wolf Pack coach David Carter sat senior Ray Kraemer down for a little talk early last month.

“After the North Carolina and Pacific game I had a talk with Ray and I challenged him,” Carter said. “I just said, ‘Ray, your role is to come in and knock down shots. It’s a tough role but that’s what we need from you. If that’s too much pressure for you, let me know.'”

Kraemer let Carter know, all right. The Wolf Pack shooting guard has turned himself into one of the best 3-point shooters in the Western Athletic Conference.

It was the answer Carter was hoping for.

“I’m not surprised by it at all,” Carter said. “I always knew Ray was a good shooter. Since we talked he’s been more focused and he’s really stepped up.”

Kraemer, who played an average of just 7.4 minutes a game over his first two seasons at Nevada, going into Wednesday’s 88-82 win against Boise State was averaging 7.1 points a game on the year. Last week, in a 79-72 overtime loss to Utah State, the 6-foot-4, 200-pound shooting guard made all five of his shots (4-of-4 from 3-point range) to finish with 14 points.

“I told coach that I wish I would get more touches in a game,” said Kraemer with a confident smile. “Maybe then I could go 7-for-7 or 8-for-8.”

There might not be a hotter 3-point shooter in the nation right now than the kid with the crewcut from Kemah, Texas. In his last four games, against WAC opponents New Mexico State, San Jose State, Utah State and Idaho, Kraemer is 12-of-19 from 3-point range (.634 percent).

“It’s great to have Ray coming off the bench,” said Wolf Pack senior guard Brandon Fields. “He brings a lot of energy and scoring.”

Kraemer has definitely stepped up his game this year in Carter’s first season as head coach. The last two years, under head coach Mark Fox, Kraemer got lost on the bench at times. Last year he only played as much as 10 minutes in a game twice over the Pack’s last 20 games. He only attempted seven shots over the Pack’s last 11 games combined.

This year he’s averaging 19.8 minutes and 4.7 shot attempts a game as the Pack’s sixth man.

“I’m definitely a lot more confident this year,” said Kraemer, who came to the Pack after one season (2005-06) at Weatherford (Texas) College. He missed the 2006-07 year with a shoulder injury before joining the Pack the following season.

“Coach Carter has shown a lot of confidence in me as a player,” said Kraemer, one of three seniors on the roster along with starters Fields and Joey Shaw.

Carter’s confidence has been rewarded.

“He’s done a real nice job in a difficult role,” Carter said. “We’ve put more on his shoulders this year and he’s handled it well.”

Kraemer has given the Pack more than just a hot hand off the bench. He has also contributed 1.7 rebounds a game as well as 10 total assists, three blocks and eight steals this year.

“He gives us a lot of energy,” Carter said.

Kraemer attributes his statistical improvement this year to his increased playing time. Kraemer is the only Pack player who has received consistent minutes off the bench this year.

“That helps a lot,” said Kraemer, who is normally the first Pack player off the bench. “I know I’m going to get playing time and minutes in every game. That gives me a lot more confidence.”

Kraemer scored a career-high 19 points on 7-of-9 shooting in 21 minutes against Houston on Nov. 21. For the year he’s shooting .541 percent (33-of-61) on 3-pointers and .500 percent on 2-pointers (9-of-18). Overall, he’s shooting .531 percent.

The last two years, with inconsistent minutes, he shot just .392 percent from the floor overall and just .371 (38-of-97) on 3-pointers.

This year, Carter said, it’s a shock when he doesn’t make a shot.

“When he shoots, it always looks like it’s going in,” Carter said. “In fact, in practice, when he shoots, the guys all run to the other end because they just assume it’s going in. I have to remind them that they have to rebound. Nobody goes to rebound when he shoots.”

Kraemer’s four 3-pointers against Utah State were almost as many as he had all last season (five) in the Pack’s 16-game WAC regular season. Before he leaves Nevada, Kraemer could become one of the top 3-point shooters in Wolf Pack history.

The Wolf Pack record for 3-point shooting percentage for a career is .450 by Bryon Strachan (1986-88). Kraemer right now is sitting at .455 percent (56-of-123). Strachan’s .500 percent (31-of-62) percentage is the Pack’s single-season record. Kraemer is at .541 percent (31-of-61) now.

Kraemer could also set a few 3-point shooting records for Wolf Pack seniors this year. Bryan Thomasson (1991-92) and Jimmy Carroll (1997-98) hold the Pack record for seniors with 74 3-pointers made in a single season and Gabe Parizzia has the senior record for single-season 3-point accuracy at .459 percent in 1988-89.

“That just shows that all of the hard work is paying off,” Kraemer said. “It shows that if you stick with something, it can pay off in the end.”