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Take pride in the Pack

Nevada Appeal Staff Reports

Charles Whisnand

Finally, this state can take pride in something. Let’s face it, Nevada doesn’t exactly have the best of images.

Even though Nevada is the fastest growing state in the country, to the rest of the nation, we have a somewhat suspect repuation to say the least. While he certainly didn’t mean any harm, in his opinion, a Washington Post writer found the armpit of America in our state.

Scott Ostler, a San Francisco Columnist who has been called the best sportswriter in the country and deservedly so in my opinion, still is among those who has taken his shot at Nevada.

Several years ago when the Nevada Athletic Commission was struggling with the decision to give Mike Tyson a license, Ostler wrote the commission wasn’t struggling with the idea of giving Tyson a license, it was trying to decide if it should make Tyson the Governor.

But now with the success of the Nevada men’s basketball team, we have something favorable to display on the national stage for a change. The Wolf Pack play Georgia Tech in the NCAAA Tournament regional semifinals in a game scheduled for 6:40 p.m. tonight.

This is a far different situation from when Jerry Tarkanian’s UNLV teams were doing so well on the national stage in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

I can remember hearing one KNBR radio broadcaster in San Francisco commenting before UNLV routed Duke for the 1990 national title. The broadcaster said he was rooting for Duke to win because he wanted to see a “true college basketball champion.” The reference was clear – that UNLV was just a bunch of mercenaries.

That can’t be said about Nevada coach Trent Johnson and his team. When the team made its triumphant return on Monday after beating Gonzaga and met with the national media, Johnson said his first priority was to make sure his players got to class that morning.

It was refreshing to hear a coach say that instead of something like my first priority is preparing for Georgia Tech. Kirk Snyder, Nevada’s star player, wasn’t even allowed to attend the press conference in Legacy Hall, although he did make it to the teleconference a little later. Snyder couldn’t make the press conference because he had to turn in a paper for one of his classes.

By comparison, Tarkanian once said in effect that if he could teach his players how to use a fork, he was doing a good job. Then there’s Jim Harrick Jr.’s infamous test that asked questions like how many points is a three-point field goal worth?

There’s no question that programs like Nevada have been helped and the elite programs have been hurt by players leaving college early for the NBA or not even going to college at all. Johnson admitted as much in a media conference on Thursday in St. Louis.

“Without question, everybody wants to have an opportunity to win and be successful,” he said. “In terms of parity across the country, guys leaving for the NBA, I don’t think that’s hurt college basketball as much as it has helped. No. 1 seed, No. 2 seed, No. 10 seed – it’s given more teams across the country a chance to be successful.”

Ironically, Nevada may be the victim of Johnson’s success. There’s rumors that Johnson’s going to Utah. It’s also likely that Kirk Snyder could skip his senior year to go into the NBA.

Snyder has said it would be tempting to go to the NBA if he’s projected to be a first round draft choice. Johnson, who is sincere when he says he only deals with facts and not rumors, has not surprisingly been more willing to talk about Snyder’s future than his own.

Johnson said he’s only talked about Snyder as an NBA prospect because its people who really know have told him so. Not wannabes like people from scouting services, but NBA general managers.

There have been plenty of rumors about Johnson, including one that he’s put his home up for sale. Johnson’s ignored all that.

For now, he’s talking like a coach who wants to stay at Nevada. “I don’t want to be known as a hot commodity,” Johnson said.

He could have likely waited for a more attractive job than Nevada. In 1999, Reno was the college basketball equivalent of being shipped off to Siberia.

Johnson was an assistant coach at Stanford, who was heavily responsible for the Cardinal making the Final Four in 1998. The advice he received from those close to him about Nevada: Don’t go.

“‘Trent you should stay at Stanford, you can get a better job,'” said Johnson about what those told him.

But Johnson saw something in Nevada that most didn’t see when he took the job in 1999.

“A job is what you make it,” said Johnson at Thursday’s media conference. “I’ve always been what you would call a low-maintenance individual, a blue-collar guy and Reno was a good fit for me.”

I have to admit, Johnson hasn’t been one of my favorite people to deal with. But his responsibility isn’t to make my job easier.

Even though he hasn’t been the most media-friendly guy in my opinion, it’s clear that Johnson is a decent, honest guy who believes in doing what’s right.

That’s why I’m proud to say that Trent Johnson and his team are from the state of Nevada.

Charles Whisnand is the Nevada Appeal Sports Editor. Contact him at cwhisnand@nevadaappeal.com.