No need for Wolf Pack to panic after exhibition loss | NevadaAppeal.com

No need for Wolf Pack to panic after exhibition loss

JOE SANTORO
For the Nevada Appeal

Blind dates rarely go well.

The eternal optimist in you always hopes for Katy Perry but you usually just end up with Perry Mason. And by the end of the evening you vow never to go on another blind date again.

Ever.

Northern Nevada went on a blind date with the Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball team Saturday night. And those of us that bothered to show up (just 2,984 strong, by the way) had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.

What did we get?

Well, it was equal parts Katy Perry and Perry Mason. It was also a little Lady Gaga weird, Paris Hilton goofy and Courtney Love scary. And, truth be told, there were also a few cover-your-eyes paparazzi moments as revealing as Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan climbing out of a limo at 3 a.m.

But you know what? We definitely want a second date.

This Pack team is, without question, clearly not marriage material at this stage of the relationship. And we certainly aren’t bringing them home to meet the parents anytime soon. But, as blind dates go, it was wildly entertaining.

And that, for now, is more than enough.

“We lack experience,” Pack coach David Carter said. “That’s the biggest thing. But with more experience, the better we’ll become as players.”

We’ll take his word for it. For now. But, make no mistake, we saw a lot of things that caused us to lose a lot of sleep Saturday night.

First of all, losing to a Division II school (84-81 to Seattle Pacific) on your own floor, especially when you were trying to make a good first impression, is disheartening. It wasn’t all that long ago, after all, that the Pack was a card carrying member of the NCAA Tournament and frequent visitor to the good ol’ boys’ Top 25 club. And now they are losing to a Division II school with a bunch of guys who aren’t worthy enough to toss Luke Babbitt’s backpack into the belly of the bus?

“It’s frustrating,” junior forward Dario Hunt said. “We made a lot of mistakes”

Exhibition games for Division I schools are supposed to be fun, a glorified pep rally to open a new season with hope, promise and red carpet photo opportunities. All the Pack had to do was smile for the cameras, wink at the pretty girls in the front row, dunk a few basketballs and go home with a victory.

What we got instead was a bunch of camera-shy youngsters. It wasn’t pretty. You’ll no doubt find some beer belly City Rec teams full of 50-something former high school stars who will run their offense better than the Pack did Saturday night.

“We turned the ball over way too much,” freshman point guard Deonte Burton said, referring to the Pack’s 16, mostly unforced, turnovers.

“The guys were anxious,” Carter said.

That’s a nice way to put it.

The Pack missed 60 % of its shots, 77 % from 3-point range. There were enough air balls to fill Chris Ault’s Pistol Offense for a month and enough bricks to build another Legacy Hall. We went to Lawlor Saturday night expecting to see a fun pep rally. What we got was two-plus hours of study hall.

The Pack missed 10 free throws. Hunt fouled out after playing just 16 minutes. Burton played 30 minutes and had just one assist.

Carter promised that this Pack team would play some defense this year. Oh, well. Everyone lies a little on a first date, right?

So, yes, there definitely is a ton of things to work on. We walked into Lawlor expecting a lot of answers about this team. We left Lawlor with even more questions.

But, like the car wreck on the freeway, we also definitely want to see more. We definitely didn’t go home after this blind date and vow never to leave the house again.

Believe it or not, there were a few questions that did get answered in a positive way.

Burton is a heck of a point guard already. The 6-1 guard (he plays much bigger than that) showed no signs of nervousness, tentativeness or hesitation. This was clearly not the first date of his young life.

Burton can score, he can handle the ball, he can lead an offense. We’ll find out later if he can make his teammates better.

There was even more to like Saturday night.

Jordan Finn looks like another Brandon Fields (that’s a good thing, by the way) and Malik Story looks like another Joey Shaw, the version of Shaw that actually played hard, that is. Jerry Evans is an incredibly athletic red-shirt freshman who will only get better and better the more weight he puts on his Patrick Nyeko-like 6-foot-8 frame.

Devonte Elliott might end up being the best player on this team. He’s an all-legs, all-arms, 6-10, 220-pounder with a world of talent. Think JaVale McGee without the bored, I-can’t-wait-to-get-out-of-Reno expression that McGee wore for two years. Elliott, who also will blossom in the coming years with more weight, had 10 rebounds in 20 minutes on Saturday and looks like he can average double-digit rebounds simply by making sure his shoes are tied.

Jordan Burris, a 6-7 freshman, also made a strong bid for more playing time with seven rebounds and two assists in just 12 minutes. Derrell Conner, a 6-foot junior, didn’t play much (just seven minutes) but he had one of the most eye-opening plays of the game, putting in a shot off the glass with his left hand in the opening minutes.

That’s a lot of first impressions to absorb on one eventful rollercoaster date night. Call it the Pack’s version of Fifty First Dates.

“We have good chemistry,” Finn said. “That’s not it at all. We just have to get to know each other more.”

We can’t wait.

So put that exhibition loss out of your mind. That doesn’t matter. You know the last Pack team that lost an exhibition game? It was the 2003-04 bunch that finished the season in the Sweet 16.

“That is why you play exhibition games, to work on things,” Carter said.

Nobody is suggesting this group will end up as the national darling of the NCAA Tournament in March. But nobody’s is suggesting they won’t, either. That’s the beauty of first dates. Anything is possible.

“We’ll be all right,” Hunt said. “There’s no need to panic.”

We couldn’t agree more.