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Looking ahead to next basketball season

Looking ahead to next basketball season

BY DARRELL MOODY

Appeal Sports Writer

It’s been 11 days since the door closed on Nevada’s 21-12 basketball season.

Some called the season a disappointment. Some said it was an unqualified success. Others said it was a rebuilding season and weren’t expecting all that much.

My thoughts?

I would say that Nevada won about as many games as I thought they would win. A colleague brashly made a preseason prediction of 25 wins, and had it not been for a couple of upsets at the hands of San Jose State and Central Florida, he would have been darn close.

I think 25 wins would have been viable if Nevada hadn’t been plagued with inconsistency, which is a common thread among young teams. Nevada had four brand-new starters that it put alongside Marcelus Kemp, guys that weren’t used to playing increased roles on the team or in Armon Johnson’s case, never played college basketball.

At times Nevada looked very, very good. At other times, the team look disjointed.

The biggest questions facing coach Mark Fox in the offseason are whether JaVale McGee will return for his junior season and can he recruit some front-line help to replace Demarshay Johnson and David Ellis.

First things first.

Every NBA scout I’ve talked to, on and off the record, said that if McGee declares, he would go somewhere in the first round, but wouldn’t be a lottery pick. Most say that his potential is endless, and I agree.

I’ve watched him do some amazing things: make inside shots from some extremely tough angles, swat a shot at the free throw line and go coast-to-coast from a rim-rattling dunk and soar high above the rim to grab a rebound and make a nice outlet pass.

But I’ve seen some things that truly bother me.

I’ve seen the poor shot selection. I mean the kid was booed by the home crowd for jacking up two 3-pointers against Houston. There have been the facial expressions when he’s called for a foul. You would have thought that somebody swiped his i-Pod or something. He could take a page from Nick Fazekas in that respect. Nick would show some displeasure, but many times you wouldn’t know whether Nevada was ahead or behind by the expression on his face.

Do I think he’s ready for the NBA now? Nope. But he will be in a year or two, and I think he could be a definite lottery pick. A team could take him this year based on his potential just to keep him away from another franchise.

As far as front-line help goes, Nevada is in vital need. Richie Phillips will be coming off another injury and quite frankly Fox doesn’t really know how much he can be counted on. Matt LaGrone is a battler, but hasn’t proven yet that he can be a 25-minute or more performer. That’s it, folks, as far as returning players.

It will be interesting to see where Luke Babbitt plays next year. Can he handle the rigors of being an inside guy, or is he best suited as a wing? Babbitt could do it all at the high school level, and it will be interesting to see how quick he adapts to the college game, especially on defense.

Still, Fox needs to go out and get some bigs. He has a team full of talented point guards, off guards and small forwards. He needs some strength, some bulk.

Nevada apparently added a talented wing player in Joey Shaw last week. Shaw, who gave a verbal agreement, played at Indiana for Mike Davis and then left when Kelvin Sampson took over the Hoosiers’ top spot.

Shaw was at Southern Idaho College this past season. At 6-foot-6 and 200, he’s a perfect wing player. He was a dynamite shooter coming out of high school.

Already the Wolf Pack Faithful are expecting big things from next year’s team. Optimism is always nice, but I caution people not to go overboard.

On paper, this should be a better team. Guys like Johnson, McGee (hopefully) and Brandon Fields are a year older. However, this team has to replace Kemp, and that could be tough proposition.

Kemp was a guy who can carry a team on his back at times with his scoring. He also proved many games this year that he can step back and take more of a playmaking role. He matured as a player the last two years.

I think Fields can step into the role as a scorer if he develops a little more consistency. Ditto for Johnson.

Besides anxiously awaiting Babbitt’s arrival, I can’t wait to see shooting guard Mike McLaughlin.

A nice home schedule – North Carolina, Southern Illinois, Pacific and Oregon State plus a BracketBuster game -awaits next year’s team. Nevada will also play at Cal next year.

•••

There are two Pac-10 jobs currently open: Oregon State and Cal. Kevin Mouton finished up the year for Jay John at OSU, but Ben Braun was just let go at Cal earlier this week.

I wonder how much interest either school would have in Fox and vice versa.

I think the Pac-10 would be a great move up for any coach with Fox’s experience and resume, though right now Nevada has a better program than Oregon State and is close to being on par with Cal.

I’d like to see Fox finish out his contract here at Nevada because I think people should uphold what they sign, but that doesn’t always happen. Coaches have to do what’s best for their families and themselves.

Oregon State is said to be interested in Randy Bennett, who guided Saint Mary’s College to the NCAA Tournament this year. If Bennett were to get hired, I think Pack assistant David Carter would be a slam dunk to return to SMC and coach at his alma mater.

• Contact Darrell Moody at dmoody@nevadaappeal.com, or by calling (775) 881-1281