One of the best seasons in the history of the Nevada basketball program ended on Thursday night in Milwaukee.
Nerves built on a foundation of inexperience led to a forgettable start against Iowa State and the Wolf Pack couldn’t fully recover out of the locker room.
But speculation about the future of the program started long before the final horn in cheese land.
Coach Eric Musselman has pulled the program from the bottom of the Mountain West well in just two short seasons and has grown into a candidate for multiple power five openings. His salary paid him $400,000 this year. Multiple reports put the number potential schools would be willing to pay him in the $3 million/year range – nearly seven times what he’s making in Reno.
Almost two weeks ago, LSU coach Johnny Jones was fired after going 2-16 in SEC play in his fifth season. Musselman was an assistant for a season in Baton Rouge before taking the job at Nevada so it was expected his name would surface on the school’s short list.
Pros: Behind Kentucky, the SEC doesn’t boast any other perennial powers. With his electric passion and work ethic, an inflated salary, and far more resources, there’s no reason to think Musselman can’t quickly turn the Tigers into a contender. Plus, he’d have an excuse to hang out with Shaq.
Cons: Louisiana is further from the west coast than he’d like to be. Musselman has openly spoke about how much he enjoys being close to his two sons in California.
Last Wednesday, as many anticipated, Cal coach Cuonzo Martin announced that he was leaving the program to take the job at Missouri. This is the opening Pack fans should worry most about. Bleacher Report’s Jordan Shultz reported on Monday that Musselman was interviewing for the opening along with Travis DeCuire (Montana), Jim Less (UC Davis) and Russell Turner (UC Irvine).
St. Mary’s Randy Bennett is believed to be the front runner for the job, should he want it.
Pros: Musselman would be even closer to his kin in the Golden State. He would coach in a conference that would allow him to schedule the way he likes and compete at the national level almost immediately. The Golden Bears played in the NCAA Tournament in five of the last nine years. And obviously, money.
Cons: He’d have to leave Reno. Anyone with two eyes and a Twitter account has observed how much Musselman appears to enjoy Northern Nevada. He’s walked around campus promoting games to undergrad students, ran into the student section high fiving anyone with a free hand and his wife, Danyelle, is incredibly involved in the community.
Nevada fans did get some good news on Sunday morning when Washington, another school that Musselman’s name was linked to, hired long time Syracuse assistant Mike Hopkins to replace Lorenzo Romar.
Off the bench and onto the floor, it’s uncertain if Cam Oliver will return for his junior season. Oliver declared for the NBA draft following his freshman season, but opted to return after determining his draft stock.
The biggest knock on Oliver last year was his outside shooting. This year, he improved from a 32.8 percent three-point shooter to 38.4 percent on nearly three times as many attempts. He was one of the team’s most dangerous perimeter threats.
Not providing him any additional motivation to stay at Nevada and play for free, he became a father this year.
It’s hard to imagine a scenario where he doesn’t follow last year’s itinerary and declare for the NBA draft. The largest uncertainly is whether the NBA decides he’s ready.
And Oliver may not be the only player with eligibility remaining who won’t be back.
Junior forward Elijah Foster was having a breakout first month of the season before getting arrested and charged with domestic battery in November. The case was dismissed in January and he pleaded guilty to disturbing the peace. He never returned to the team, but remained on the roster.
If he returns, he would be fighting for time with Jordan Caroline – a second-team all-MW selection this year – as well as twin transfers Caleb and Cody Martin from North Carolina State. Both are versatile at 6-7 and have the talent to garner all-conference accolades in the MW.
Junior transfer Leland King also played well at times this year.
That’s a talented front court. It’s also crowded. Will one of the players look for playing time elsewhere? Is Oliver on to the NBA? Will Athletic Director Doug Knuth have to hire the second coach in three years?
For the resurgent Nevada faithful, only the waiting game will reveal the identity of the 2017-18 Wolf Pack.
Nathan can be reached via email at email@example.com. His weekly column, ‘Shoup Shots,’ was named the best column in the state of Nevada (community division) by the Nevada Press Association. It runs in the hard copy of the Sparks Tribune every Tuesday morning.