WAC commissioner contemplates tourney venue | NevadaAppeal.com

WAC commissioner contemplates tourney venue

BY DARRELL MOODY

Appeal Sports Writer

Two years ago, Western Athletic Conference commissioner Karl Benson broached the subject about having the conference tournament at a neutral site.

Benson said during Monday’s weekly teleconference that neutral site conference tournaments would be ideal from a competitive point of view, but what makes it difficult is that the schools are so spread out.

However, he also pointed out that only four host schools have won the WAC post-season event in the last 13 years, including Nevada’s win in Reno last March.

The big thing is location. There has to be activities for people to enjoy while they come during the week of the tournament and Reno certainly offered that. Quite frankly Reno is the best possible on-campus site in the WAC.

Fresno State coach Steve Cleveland brought up the Bay Area because of its proximity to San Jose State and Fresno State.

The two biggest (and best) venues would be HP Pavilion, in San Jose, and the Oakland Arena. Another site could be the Cow Palace in San Francisco.

“I was just thinking about that the other day,” Cleveland said. “Something in Northern California, up in San Jose where you have professional teams and arenas. Playing at a professional arena and bringing everybody there … there are other attractions. I like the idea.

“When I was in the Mountain West, people preferred Las Vegas because they knew people would come to Vegas.”

Las Vegas has the Orleans Arena, which is currently hosting the Nevada high school championship. The arena seats approximately 7,000, and Benson said that the conference has been approached about holding a tournament there.

“I haven’t thought about it (Vegas),” Cleveland said. “You have to go somewhere that has more than just basketball. I don’t know if 7,000 is enough. I would think more like 12-15,000.”

San Jose State coach George Nessman, who grew up in the Bay Area, certainly likes the idea of a WAC tournament in the Bay Area.

“I think ultimately it would be better,” Nessman said. “With my Pac-10 experience, the Staples Center was a gathering place. A lot of people liked to travel to (Los Angeles).”

Nessman thinks having the tournament at HP Pavilion or the Oakland Arena would make the tournament a highly successful event.

“I’m not sure I want to give any team an advantage (for a post-season tournament),” Nessman said.

No doubt it’s an edge for a team to host in its own arena. True, the home team doesn’t always win, but in the three years the tournament was at Tulsa, the Golden Hurricane reached the finals each time.

Boise State’s Greg Graham said that he’d like to see a neutral site, but because of the geography of the league he thinks the neutral site would have to be very close to one of the schools or in the same city.

‘I don’t think you could go to Las Vegas or L.A.,” he said. “We’re so spread out. It’s not that it couldn’t be supported. Salt Lake is probably the closest.”

Oakland and San Jose may be a bit too big. Even at campus sites, the WAC Championship rarely draws more than 10,000. Nevada sold about 9,500 tickets to last year’s final.

That’s what makes the Orleans so attractive. It’s cozy, it’s Vegas and Sin City would certainly sell tickets.

BRACKETBUSTER SUCCESS

The WAC had a great BracketBuster weekend, winning all four of its televised games and seven of nine overall.

Nevada topped Northern Iowa, 79-64, New Mexico State topped Ohio University, 77-72, Utah State edged Oral Roberts, 71-65, and Boise State nipped Albany 83-82.

New Mexico State came back from a 47-29 deficit to win at home, while visiting Utah State trailed, 22-6, in the first half and managed to win.

The WAC was the only conference to go undefeated with more than two teams participating in televised games. The Colonial Athletic Conference was 3-2, the Mid-American Conference 2-2 and the Missouri Valley Conference 2-4.

Overall, the WAC and Horizon Conference posted 7-2 records, the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference was 6-4, the MAC 6-6, Missouri Valley 5-5 and Colonial Athletic 5-7.

“I thought we showed very well,” Graham said. “Hopefully it will open some eyes around the country. We have very good basketball, better than people think.”

“I was proud of the conference,” said NMSU coach Reggie Theus. “When I talk about the conference, people give the WAC pretty good respect.”

Fox was asked about Nevada possibly outgrowing the BracketBuster.

“It’s not our decision to play,” Fox said. “It’s a league decision. It’s been very good for us.”

Getting home BracketBuster games, according to Fox, has enabled Nevada to fill out its home schedule, which is very important financially for the school.

The BracketBuster was designed to help mid-major programs get some exposure, and increase their postseason prospects.

Benson said that wins by Nevada, New Mexico State, Utah State, Fresno State, Hawai’i and Boise State all helped their postseason hopes with victories.

“All four teams that played on TV helped their (Rating Percentage Index),” Benson said. “Nevada went into the game with a 30 and improved by nine spots. Fresno State and Hawai’i also improved their RPIs.”

TEXT MESSAGING THE WAY TO GO

Most, if not all WAC coaches, admit that they use text messaging to stay in contact with recruits and potential recruits.

“I think it’s become an important part of the recruiting process,” Fox said. “Kids don’t know how to talk anymore. It’s the avenue they use to communicate with each other.”

In fact, Fox’s star player, forward Nick Fazekas, can often be seen walking around campus, texting his buddies on the team or his girlfriend.

“I don’t particularly like it,” said New Mexico State coach Reggie Theus. “Kids communicate that way. If you don’t communicate that way, you really miss out.”

Graham said he has a son in eighth grade who “can text faster than I can talk.”

“I’m not sure overall that it’s a plus,” he said. “Guys text kids at school. You have 24-hour access.”

Nessman said he tailors things around what an athlete likes.

“We use it with kids who like to text,” he said. “Some kids like e-mail, so we use e-mail. You watch young people, and they are all texting and e-mailing.”

GRAHAM NEARS MILESTONE

Graham currently has 99 career wins as a head coach, and when an Idaho Statesman reporter informed him of that, he said he wasn’t aware of it.

He has two chances to get it this week – Thursday at home against San Jose State and Saturday at home against Nevada.

“That (100 wins) is the second milestone you remember,” Graham said. “The first one is your first (win).

“I’ve been fortunate enough to be a head coach this long and fortunate enough to have enough good players and assistant coaches to accomplish that. I haven’t really thought about it.”

WAC HONOREE

Boise State junior guard Anthony Thomas was named the men’s player of the week for his efforts against Montana Western and Albany last week.

Thomas averaged 17 points, three rebounds and 4.5 assists. He scored 18 points and dished out six assists and had four steals against Montana Western. He scored 16 points and hit two key 3-pointers in the 83-82 win, a game that featured 33 lead changes.

• Contact Darrell Moody at dmoody@nevadaappeal.com, or by calling (775) 881-1281