Nevada Wolf Pack Notebook: Alford goes with youth movement
For the Nevada Appeal
The Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball team got a whole lot younger last week.
The Wolf Pack signed five freshman to National Letters of Intent last Wednesday, adding youth to a roster next year that will return seven players from this year’s active roster as well as three others that are sitting out the year because of NCAA transfer rules.
“We got five freshman and that’s pretty exciting,” coach Steve Alford said. “We got five guys who love to play, who are students first and will be great teammates.”
The Wolf Pack signed Je’Lani Clark from Oakland, Calif., (6-foot-3, 180 pounds), Alem Huseinovic from Phoenix (6-3, 180), DeAndre Henry from Phoenix (6-7, 225), Daniel Foster from Melbourne, Australia (6-6, 185) and Tre Coleman from Jeffersonville, Ind. (6-7, 185).
“I don’t want to waste my energy trying to coach guys to have a high motor,” Alford said. “I want guys who already have a high motor and we got five guys who have that. I look at how hard a guy plays more than anything else.”
Also joining the Pack next year on the court for the first time will be Warren Washington, a 7-foot sophomore transfer from Oregon State, Desmond Cambridge, a 6-4 junior guard from Brown and Khristion Courseault, a 6-2 sophomore guard from Pasadena City College, who are practicing with the team this year but sitting out the season.
“We added five (freshmen) that really fit our program,” Alford said.
The Wolf Pack will lose four seniors (Lindsey Drew, Jazz Johnson, Nisre Zouzoua and Johncarlos Reyes) off of this year’s team.
ALFORD OPTIMISTIC: The first four games of the season did nothing to temper Alford’s optimism for this season despite two losses. The Pack, which lost 76-66 at USC at Lawlor Events Center on Saturday to fall to 2-2, will now play six of its next seven on the road starting Tuesday at Davidson.
“This team has a huge ceiling,” Alford said. “If we continue at the pace we are on now I really like our chances to be pretty good in January.”
Alford’s normal rotation, for now, includes nine players.
“It’s going to take some time but I like where we’re going,” Alford said. “It’s all new. We not only have a new (coaching staff), most of our players are also new. And the ones we have back are in new roles this year. Lindsey Drew, Nisre (Zouzoua) and Jazz were all role players last year and now we are asking them to be main guys. That takes time to learn.”
Alford pointed out recently some areas he looks for as barometers for success. “I’d like us to shoot at least 36-37 percent on threes, not turn the ball over more than 12 times and beat teams at the foul line.”
Alford also has a favorite defensive philosophy that he calls “kills,” when a team stops the other team for three possessions in a row.
“I like the concept of what three stops in a row means,” Alford said. “If you get three stops in a row in each half, you have a real good chance of winning the game. That’s just our way of taking a game and reducing it so our kids can concentrate and focus on things that help you win.”
HYMES GROWING FOR PACK: Wolf Pack freshman K.J. Hymes has showed improvement over the first four games this season and is now averaging 3.3 points, 2.5 rebounds, 1.8 blocks over the first four games on an average of 14.5 minutes a game. The 6-foot-10 center from Phoenix, who redshirted last season at Nevada, had seven points, two rebounds in 15 minutes against USC.
The media’s pick for preseason freshman of the year in the Mountain West, Hymes had a rough college debut against Utah on Nov. 5. He played just seven minutes in the 79-74 loss to the Utes and was called for five fouls to go along with one rebound and a block with two points.
Hymes then followed up that debut four days later with two points, four blocks, a steal, three rebounds and an assist in a 72-67 win over Loyola Marymount. The Pack went with a smaller lineup against Texas-Arlington in an 80-73 win last Tuesday as Hymes played just nine minutes with two rebounds, two blocks and no points.
One of his biggest problems over the first four games was avoiding foul trouble. Hymes has been called for 13 fouls in his 58 minutes.
“I liked his energy (against USC),” Alford said. “He played seven minutes in the opener. So he played almost three times the minutes in his second game. That’s an improvement. He had three fouls in 18 minutes (against Marymount) and I’ll take three fouls in 18 minutes from him, not three fouls in three minutes.
“He challenged himself. He’s rebounded the ball. He’s defended well. Hey, we’re looking at somebody that’s young. He’s just (four) games into his college career. Our young guys don’t know what this thing is yet. As much as you try to talk to them, they just don’t understand it. They have to experience it.”
A LEARNING PROCESS FOR ALFORD: Alford is still learning about his new Wolf Pack team.
“We have a very inexperienced team,” the first-year Pack coach said. “Some of them are putting too much pressure on themselves. They are a prideful group. They want to play well. We just have to find a way of connecting with them in that regard of just relaxing. It’s just us figuring out the personalities and learning how to communicate with them to get them to where they’re relaxed and can play.”
One of Alford’s biggest concerns from the first game is the Wolf Pack’s defense.
“We’re not taking charges,” he said. “We need to be in position to take charges and we’re not doing that.”
REBOUNDING IMPROVING: The Wolf Pack was outrebounded 51-32 in its season-opening 79-74 loss to Utah but has improved dramatically on the boards over its last three games.
The Pack outrebounded both Loyola Marymount and Texas-Arlington and was beaten on the board just 42-37 by USC. The Pack out out-rebounded its last three opponents 120-110 combined.
Lindsey Drew (6-4) and Robby Robinson (6-8) are tied for the team lead with 29 rebounds each. Jalen Harris (6-5) and Johncarlos Reyes (6-10) both have 16.
“We’re going to be a rebounding team by committee,” Alford said. “We’re not going to have one guy go out there and get 12, 13 rebounds every game. We need a lot of guys to have between three and seven or eight a game.”
NORVELL PROUD OF STRONG SHOWING: Wolf Pack football coach Jay Norvell said freshman quarterback Carson Strong took a huge step in his development in the Pack’s 17-13 victory at San Diego State on Nov. 9.
“He was really clear-eyed and led our team,” Norvell said.
Strong has had more impressive games according to the statistics. But Norvell was impressed with the way Strong led the team at San Diego State. Strong was 19-of-26 for 147 yards with a touchdown and an interception against the Aztecs and also had a run of 11 yards.
“He played very well,” Norvell said. “That’s a big win for that kid on the road.”
Strong now has a record of 4-3 as the Wolf Pack starter. A winning record, even if it is just over seven games, has not been easy for Wolf Pack starting quarterbacks since Colin Kaepernick left after the 2010 season. Kaepernick was 32-16 from 2007-10.
Cody Fajardo was 21-22 from 2011-14, Tyler Lantrip was 2-3 in 2011, Tyler Stewart was 11-11 from 2013-16, Devin Combs was 1-1 in 2012-13, Kaymen Cureton was 0-2 in 2017, Malik Henry is 1-1 this year, Cristian Solano has gone 1-1 in 2018-19 and Ty Gangi was 13-13 from 2016-18.
The Wolf Pack, overall, has gone 54-57 in 111 games since Kaepernick left.