Nevada men’s hoops the face of the WAC | NevadaAppeal.com

Nevada men’s hoops the face of the WAC

RENO – If you want to know how the rest of the Western Athletic Conference feels about Nevada, listen to the comments made by Fresno State coach Steve Cleveland and Hawai’i’s Riley Wallace at Wednesday’s Media Day.

“They’re our face,” Wallace said during his stay in Salt Lake City. “They have a legitimate All-American player (Nick Fazekas). “They’ve gone to the NCAA Tournament and advanced. I think they’ll hopefully be a preseason Top 20 team. They should.”

“They’re our face,” Cleveland said. “They’re the flagship of the WAC right now because they’ve won the WAC three years in a row.”

And, as Mark Fox gathers his team for its first official practice of the season today, he knows that his team is a big favorite to win/share its fourth straight conference regular-season championship.

“We don’t put a lot of stock in where we’re picked,” said Fox, who was named the WAC’s Coach of the Year the past two seasons after posting a 52-13 record, including 27-6 last season. “I don’t think the team gets caught up in it.

“It’s an exciting time of the year. This conference is as strong as I’ve seen in the last five or six years. There are going to be five or six teams fighting for post-season berths. It’s going to be a conference race this year. We’re going to see a lot of teams beat up on each other.”

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The year for Fox certainly got a lot more exciting when two-time WAC Player of the Year Nick Fazekas elected to come back for his senior season rather than pursue his career in the NBA. Fazekas has averaged 18 point and 9.1 rebounds over his three-year career at Nevada.

Fox said again that he was pleased at the maturity Fazekas showed during the NBA process.

“Nick is such a complete fundamental package,” Fox said. “He is so skilled that the untrained eye might not see some of the areas where he’s gotten better. He’s improved every year. Hopefully that will continue.

“He’s improved his shooting range. He’s gotten stronger.”

Keith Richard, Louisiana Tech head coach, just chuckled when Fox talked about Fazekas’ improved shooting range.

“Gosh, where is he shooting from now, half court,” Richard said. “He’s gotten stronger every year. That’s the thing that stuck out the most.”

Fazekas said improved strength has helped his shooting, and he said that better shot selection will result in a better shooting percentage from 3-point land.

Fazekas has bulked up to 240 thanks to more work on the weights and improved eating habits. He said that he has worked off and on with a nutritionist since last season. The added bulk should make Fazekas a better defender in the low post.

“I’ve got gaining weight down now,” Fazekas said. “If you want to gain weight now, come talk to me. I had so many people telling me what to do and not what to do. I found myself eating too much. If you eat too much it will speed up your metabolism.”

Fazekas is indeed the leader of this pack, but Nevada has plenty more than his 21 points and 10 rebounds a game.

Nevada returns nine players, though one, Demarshay Johnson (5.0, 4.2) is currently academically ineligible and may redshirt this season, according to Fox.

Junior swingman Marcelus Kemp, who shot 46 percent from the field and averaged 15 points a game is back. Also returning are senior shooting guard guard Kyle Shiloh (8.7, 2.6), junior point guard Ramon Sessions (4.7, 4.2), sophomore defensive specialist Lyndale Burleson (2.2, 0.7), senior forward Dennis Ikovlev (1.8, 1.0), junior center David Ellis (1.6, 1.1) and junior walk-on Curry Lynch (0.8, 0.5).

The Pack will have six freshmen on the team this year – 6-7 forward Richie Phillips (redshirt), 6-4 shooting guard Brandon Fields, 6-6 forward Tyrone Hansen, 6-8 forward Matt LaGrone of McQueen High, 6-7 walk-on Adam Carp and 6-11 forward/center JaVale McGee.

“This is the youngest team I’ve coached,” Fox admitted. “It’s a fun group to coach. It’s been fun to see them make freshman mistakes in abundance. We will have some growing pains. Fortunately for them, they’ve got experienced players in front of them that can hopefully show them the way. They bring different things. They have different strengths.”

Some of these freshmen may have to grow up in a hurry. The biggest question mark is who will take the 6-foot-9 Johnson’s place in the starting line-up.

“That position is up for grabs,” Fox said, listing Ellis, Phillips, LaGrone and McGee as the candidates. The Nevada coach said that he could use a committee approach at that spot.

Scoring by Fazekas and Kemp are a given. Both have the ability to take over a game and carry a team as they demonstrated at times last season. Fazekas led the team in scoring 21 times, and Kemp led the team nine times, including a career-best 34 in the first-round tournament loss to Montana.

The Pack hopefully will get the same type of production or more from Shiloh, who came on in the conference season. He averaged 11.1 a game in conference and shot 48.4 percent from 3-point range.

“He’s got a lot of confidence shooting the ball, and we need that outside game he developed last year,” Fazekas said.

“Kyle shot the ball well for us last year,” Fox said. “He’ll continue to do that.”

Twice Shiloh buried six 3-point field goals in game. He went 6-for-7 against Idaho in a 20-point effort and 6-for-8 against Akron in a 22-point effort. His outside presence opens things up for Fazekas and Kemp.

Sessions was never 100 percent last year after sufferering a hip flexor strain at the start of the season, and his numbers showed that. The Pack need him healthy again.

“He’s worked hard to get back,” Fox said. “Hopefully he can return to form of his freshman season.”

Sessions was Freshman of the Year after averaging 9 points and more than 5 assists a game. He also averaged 3.8 rebounds a game two years ago.

If Sessions returns full strength, nobody will be happier than Fazekas, who has been on the receiving end of many no-look passes from Sessions. The Pack star talks in glowing terms about his roommate.

“He did rehab over the summer,” Fazekas said. “He looks better than ever. He’s a special player, who is always thinking pass first. If you make eye contact with him, he’ll fit that ball through a tiny opening to get it to you.”

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

2006-07 NEVADA WOLF PACK

0 G Brandon Fields 6-4 185 Freshman

1 G Lyndale Burleson 6-3 190 Sophomore

3 G Kyle Shiloh 6-3 195 Senior

5 G Marcelus Kemp 6-5 210 Junior

11 G Ramon Sessions 6-3 190 Junior

13 F Matt LaGrone 6-8 215 Freshman

22 F/C Nick Fazekas 6-11 240 Senior

23 F Tyrone Hansen 6-6 195 Freshman

24 F Richie Phillips 6-7 220 Freshman

25 C David Ellis 7-1 222 Junior

31 F Denis Ikovlev 6-7 210 Senior

34 F/C JaVale McGee 6-11 225 Freshman

35 G Curry Lynch 6-1 180 Junior

55 F Adam Carp 6-7 190 Freshman