Nevada opens season | NevadaAppeal.com

Nevada opens season

DARRELL MOODY
Appeal Sports Writer

Nevada basketball coach Mark Fox said the focus will be more on his own team rather than Central Florida when the Pack opens the 2007-08 season today.

Tip-off for the season-opener at the brand new 10,000-seat UCF Arena in Orlando, Fla., is 11 a.m. (630 AM).

Fox intends no disrespect toward the Knights of Conference USA when he makes a statement like that.

“Central Florida is a very good basketball team,” Fox said. “They have a lot of experience (at guard) and shoot the ball very well. They are well coached and certainly a big challenge for us to start the year.

“Still, the focus has to be on ourselves. As inexperienced as we are, there are things that we are trying to do. It’s not just repetition. We’re still trying to add things. We’ve had fewer practices this year, and last year’s team was more experienced. It’s a challenge to get in as much as we can and not overload them.”

Central Florida went 22-9, but a first-round loss to Rice in the Conference USA tournament cost the Knights a post-season bid to either tournament. The Knights might have the best college basketball team not in either tournament.

So, going on a cross-country trip with a young team to start the season isn’t exactly the best situation.

“It’s not ideal,” Fox said. “Every coach would rather start at home. Playing in Florida and Los Angeles back-to-back is tough. We have been successful on the road. Hopefully the magic can be handed down to the new kids.”

Nevada has won 19 of its last 24 games away from Lawlor Events Center, including neutral-site games. Last year, the team was 14-4 away from Lawlor.

Fox was referring to true freshmen Armon Johnson and Malik Cooke and sophomore JC transfer Ray Kraemer, all of whom are playing their first regular-season game in a Nevada uniform.

“I’m really looking forward to it,” Johnson said of his first collegiate road trip. “I know we’re going to play a real good team. We’re just going to go out and do our best no matter what happens.”

Johnson had an impressive debut, scoring 22 points and dishing out eight assists in an 80-73 exhibition win over Division II Seattle Pacific. He ran the team with the aplomb of an upperclassman.

Fox will be at full strength this week, as Marcelus Kemp and Brandon Fields, both of whom were benched for violating team policy, will play. Kemp certainly is expected to start, while Fields should see significant minutes, too.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Fields said. “Not having played (yet), this will be a good starting point to see how I do this week.”

Fields, who averaged 2.1 a game, is expected to play a bigger role in the team’s success this season, both offensively and defensively. He will have his hands full today against the likes of Jermaine Taylor, Dave Noel and Mike O’Donnell.

“Brandon has matured as a player,” Fox said. “He has huge shoes to fill (Kyle Shiloh) like a lot of guys (on the team).”

Nevada will be a chore, according to Kirk Spieraw, the veteran UCF head coach. The Knights have won two exhibition games thus far, but Spieraw knows neither team comes close to the Pack, a team he will see twice in the preseason.

“I don’t know a whole lot (right now), other than a few games I saw from last year,” Spieraw said. “They are long, athletic and talented. They execute real well. Marcelus plays hard and he can score in a variety of ways.”

The Knights have a few big guys in 6-9 250-pound Kenrick Zondervan, 6-11 240-pound Stanley Billings, 6-9 225-pound A.J. Tyler and 6-9 230-pound Jean Michel Yotio. That group will have to contend with the Pack’s 7-foot JaVale McGee, 6-9 Demarshay Johnson and 7-foot David Ellis.

McGee had a 29-point 11-rebound outing against Seattle Pacific, knocking down 13 of 16 field goal attempts. Demarshay Johnson had nine points and seven rebounds.

This will be the first of two meetings between the teams this season. The Knights will play at Lawlor on Dec. 16.

“It (if playing home and home is a good thing) depends,” Spieraw said. “The circumstances here is that we both needed games. Dates are sometimes hard to match up. This is a huge step up for us in terms of non-conference. It’s not something we would have done in the past.”

Notes: Nevada has won its last four season openers and 12 of the last 13 dating back to the 1994-95 season … Nevada has started 6-0 and 7-0 the last two seasons …Taylor averaged nearly 13 a game for the Knights last year … Nevada and Gonzaga are the only two schools in the country to win or share four straight conference titles and make the NCAA Tournament.