Students supposed to be kinder, gentler
Appeal Sports Writer
When conference teams invade Las Cruces, N.M., for next week’s Western Athletic Conference men’s basketball tournament, they will supposedly see a loud, but not vulgar student section at the Pan American Center.
The student section’s favorite chant this year has been “Nice shot a…..e” when an opposing player makes a free throw. Not exactly a cheer that you want your school to be known for.
Coach Reggie Theus held a pep rally recently at the school, and told students that if they didn’t clean up their act that the Aggies were in danger of losing next year’s conference tournament.
“It’s something they have been doing since the 70s,” said Damon Archibald, the Aggies’ first-year assistant coach. “You have to walk a fine line even though you disagree (with students doing it). We’re in a new situation. You have to pick your time. Reggie (Theus) is a class act.
“The conference tournament gave us an excuse to deal with the situation. They have changed. The first time was against Utah State. They were saying different things. We have a great student section.”
Commissioner Karl Benson said that wasn’t the case, though no doubt he and his staff aren’t a fan of the vulgarity.
“First of all, there has never been any conversation between myself and representatives of New Mexico State threatening (taking away) the tournament,” Benson said. “This was done entirely by New Mexico State.”
There’s plenty of ways for a student section to be effective without having to swear at opposing players. Let’s see if Theus’ pep talk worked.
THE 10TH TEAM TALK
The nine-team schedule is concluding its second season, and the coaches obviously still aren’t wild about not having travel partners.
A reporter from the Idaho Statesman in Boise asked some of the coaches about Utah Valley State, which has posted a 20-win season as an independent, and currently has an RPI of around 130.
Utah Valley State would be a good geographical fit. It’s located in Orem, which is between Salt Lake City and Logan. The Wolverines offer six men’s sports and seven women’s sports. They don’t play football, however.
“It’s been brought up in the past,” Boise State coach Greg Graham said. “They could be a travel partner with Utah State. It could help balance things out a bit. It’s a viable one (alternative).
“It’s (having nine teams) is tough on everyone. At times it hurts the quality of play in the league. It’s tough on everyone all the way around.”
Fresno State’s Steve Cleveland knows all about Utah Valley State from his days of coaching at BYU.
“Dick Hunsaker is a great coach and they have a great facility,” Cleveland said. “They are an up-and-coming program. We obviously need a 10th team or find a better way to schedule. We have to sit down at the Final Four and work through this. We have to figure out the schedule and get a TV contract.”
San Jose State’s George Nessman also believes that the schedule affects the teams adversely.
“If Utah Valley State isn’t it (right fit), we need to find somebody else,” Nessman said. “I’ve heard some different things (schools mentioned).”
Nessman said the conference needs to identify schools and solve this issue.
Nevada’s Mark Fox said last year he would be in favor of adding a 10th team as long as it had a decent RPI, and certainly Utah Valley State appears a solid team on paper.
Benson feels the coaches’ pain, but said the conference isn’t considering expansion right now.
“Nine is not an ideal number for basketball,” Benson said. “Ten would be a better model. It’s a question of football versus basketball.”
Benson said it is possible that the conference could take another (Sacramento State plays baseball) non-football member at some point. He admitted that there is interest on Utah Valley State’s part to joining the conference.
FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR
It will be interesting to see who the coaches choose as the conference’s top freshman.
Nevada’s Nick Fazekas and Ramon Sessions won in back-to-back seasons, and they played big roles on successful Wolf Pack championship teams.
This is a conference dominated by juniors and seniors, and there aren’t freshman playing significant minutes or putting up significant numbers.
Three names come to mind – Nevada’s JaVale McGee, Idaho’s David Jackson and Boise State’s Anthony Thomas, who was recently a WAC Player of the Week winner.
“Anthony would be one,” Graham said. “He does not have quite the minutes, but he’s getting them now. McGee is a guy you would add to the list. Jackson has put up some good numbers lately.”
Graham said last week he thinks that McGee, who is averaging around 3 points a game, could be the best defensive center in the conference before he graduates. McGee has tremendous timing, and already is one of the best shot blockers.
“He just keeps getting better,” Utah State coach Stew Morrill said of the 6-foot-11 McGee. “You wonder how they (Nevada) got him. He’s a great recruit. The future looks extremely bright. He looks like a great kid who wants to learn and get better. He’s a rising star in this league.”
LAST HURRAH FOR WALLACE
Legendary coach Riley Wallace will coach his last game at the Sheriff Center this weekend. Throw in the fact that it’s Senior Night, and you can imagine the emotions that will be flying around that place.
Wallace made it clear that he doesn’t want to be the focus, and that it should be on his players.
“It will be tough,” said Wallace, who said he appreciates the way his team has shown up and played hard the entire season.
A couple of WAC coaches talked about Wallace and their memories of him.
“His name has been tied to Hawai’i, and Hawai’i basketball has been tied to him,” Louisiana Tech coach Keith Richard said. “When you think of Hawai’i basketball, you think of Riley Wallace. It’s great to see a university commit to a coach, and it’s great to see a coach commit to a school. Coaches are sometimes quick to leave a school.”
Morrill is probably Wallace’s closest friend among WAC coaches. That dates back to the old WAC days when Morrill was at Colorado State.
“I have strong feelings (about Riley),” said Morrill, who said Wallace has done a great job with the Warriors’ program. “There are a lot of trip-ups in that job – trying to get players and the travel. He’s done it with class.”
Wallace’s most memorable moment at Hawai’i? You’d be surprised at the answer.
“I have a lot of good ones,” Wallace said. “The first one that pops into my mind is watching my life flash in front of my eyes on a bus trip to Laramie, Wyo.”
Wallace has received parting gifts from most or all of the WAC schools, including a rocking chair from the University of Nevada.
Benson said that Wallace would be honored at next week’s WAC Tournament.
Fred Peete, who transferred to New Mexico State after two years at Kansas State, suffered a broken foot against Utah State.
It’s not certain how soon he’ll be able to come back, or if he will at all this season.
Archibald said there is either some tendon or ligament damage, too.
That’s a big blow for the Aggies. Peete was the team’s best perimeter defender and a dependable scorer from the 3-point line.
NO BUBBLE TEAMS
Gary Parish of CBSSportsLine.com is projecting that Nevada will be the only WAC team to make the NCAA Tournament.
No doubt Fresno State’s recent upset of New Mexico State hurt the Aggies tremendously. Of course should somebody upset Nevada, the WAC would get two teams because Nevada seems to be a lock at this point.
Benson said that either Utah State or New Mexico State need to make the finals to have a shot at an at-large bid on March 11 which is Selection Sunday.