Nevada hoops coach Eric Musselman and Athletic Director Doug Knuth announced new deal at press conference Tuesday afternoon
Forty-eight days after withdrawing his name from consideration at Cal and agreeing in principle to a new deal at Nevada, Eric Musselman smiled.
Nevada’s third-year hoops coach and the University officially signed a new five-year contract that was announced at a press conference on Tuesday afternoon at Legacy Hall, the Athletic Department building on campus sandwiched between Lawlor Events Center and Mackay Stadium.
“It’s a big commitment for the University, and we’re excited about that,” Athletic Director Doug Knuth said before handing the podium over to Musselman. “We’re excited about the direction Coach Muss has this program going in.”
The details of the new five-year contract were not released, but Knuth said the specifics will be revealed on Wednesday. Early reports suggest the value could reach $1 million annually, well above Musselman’s $400,000 base salary in his first two seasons. All additional funds will be provided by boosters, at no additional expense to the University.
“This is the community stepping up,” Knuth said. “And we talk a lot about what this community means to Wolf Pack athletics. I’ve never seen anything like this.”
“Often times, when we talk as a family, we’re speechless at the support we’ve had,” Musselman said. “This is home and we’re overly excited about what the future holds for this program and all of our student athletes.”
Musselman said as a sign of gratitude, he and his wife, Danyelle, will donate $50,000 a year back to Nevada athletics.
After briefly commenting on his contract that figures to make him the highest paid coach in Nevada athletics history by a significant margin, Musselman delivered what essentially amounted to a state of the program address, speaking to the recent recruiting class he just assembled, Elijah Foster, the new staff, scheduling and even an international trip.
The big man from Seattle was having a breakout start to his junior season before a late-November arrest stemming from a domestic battery charge ended his season.
In January, he pleaded guilting to a lesser charge (disturbing the peace) once the case was dismissed.
The school remained mum on Foster throughout the season, but as he remained on the roster, it was assumed he would return for his senior year barring any setbacks. Musselman confirmed that idea.
“Elijah is (officially back),” Musselman said. “We’re proud of his growth, the maturity he’s shown off the floor the last six months. He’s earned the opportunity to return to basketball. We look forward to and we’re excited about his senior year.”
Foster fills a position of need for the 2017-18 team that lacks a bonafide center. Foster will play the position, likely along with Jordan Caroline.
Musselman mentioned the 2018 recruiting targets, who cannot specifically comment on per NCAA rules, include numerous big men.
2017 recruiting class
Musselman filled all four available scholarships last week, bringing in a quartet of transfers who will be ineligible for upcoming 2017-18 season.
Jazz Johnson (5-10 sophomore guard from Portland), Nisré Zouzoua (6-3 sophomore guard from Bryant), Marqueze Letcher-Ellis (6-7 sophomore forward from Rice), and Tra’Shawn Thurman (6-7 junior forward from Omaha) will all become eligible for the 2018-19 season.
“We couldn’t be happier,” Musselman said. “It was a situation in a small timeframe we got four players who we feel are going to be impactful players. (Two) combo guards and a couple forwards that have great, great versatility.
“The thing that has really helped us in the last two years become a successful program, is that every day in practice our current roster will be challenged by our scout team. It’s played out perfectly for us in years No. 1 and 2.”
Ten of the 13 scholarship players on the roster are Div. I transfers (Foster, Lindsey Drew and Josh Hall are the only non-transfers) and four of those transfers will become eligible this winter.
That list includes Hallice Cooke (6-3 guard from Iowa State), Kendall Stephens (6-7 guard from Purdue) and twin brothers Caleb and Cody Martin (6-7 forwards from North Carolina State).
“We feel like for the first time, we have multiple positions covered,” Musselman said. “We’ve kind of been dealing with an eight/nine-man roster the last couple years.”
Assistant coaching staff
Finding assistant coaches has become an annual offseason chore for Musselman.
Following the NCAA Tournament run, Nevada parted ways with Yanni Hufnagel – a controversial hire from Cal – and former UNLV head coach Dave Rice took a similar role at the University of Washington. Both spent just one year on Nevada’s bench.
Ron Dupree was the lone assistant to stay. He will be joined by Anthony Ruta, who was promoted from his director of basketball operations position last week, as well as former LSU Head Coach Johnny Jones.
Jones, who coached 2016 No. 1 NBA draft pick Ben Simmons, was the boss of both Musselman and Dupree in Baton Rouge.
“This is the first time since I’ve been here that we’ve put together a staff that I’ve known everybody prior to being a part of Nevada basketball,” Musselman said. “We’re really excited about the chemistry we’ll have, not only on the floor, but just as importantly off the floor … It’s a family the way we want to put this thing together.”
Musselman added he was tentative asking his former boss to join the staff, additionally noting that Jones will also help the development of the fellow assistants just as much as the players.
Putting together a schedule was something new to Musselman when he took over at Nevada in the spring of 2015, and he’s quickly familiarized himself with the difficulties it presents.
Scheduling is one of the most, if not the single most underrated aspect of coaching at the collegiate level. If you have postseason aspirations, you need to play quality opponents – home, away and at neutral sites – to bolter your strength of schedule and RPI while limiting the ‘yeah, but who did they play?’ excuse for the selection committee.
Despite winning the second most games in program history this winter (28), Nevada was not going to make the NCAA Tournament without the Mountain West Tournament title because it had a weak non-conference slate. It’s lone meeting with a ranked team came in the season opener, at St. Mary’s – an 81-63 loss.
Four vacancies remain on the upcoming schedule.
“The first year, it was pretty easy to schedule games. The second year, it was a little bit more challenging and right now, it’s overly challenging,” Musselman said. “But we’re trying to put together the best possible schedule that would balance what it would take to try to put ourselves in contention from an NCAA (Tournament) standpoint … to put ourselves in the right light come selection Sunday.”
An announcement of a neutral-site game with a “top-25 BCS school” could come “in the next couple weeks.”
Musselman said that desirable opponents have failed to bite on two-for-one offers (two away games and one in Reno). He added that one program recently turned down a three-for-one offer and joked he may need to dangle a four-for-one.
The NCAA allows its member schools to take an international trip every four years and it’s Nevada’s turn this summer.
Aspirations exist to finalize plans in the coming weeks.
“It is our thought process that we would love to go somewhere this summer,” Musselman said. “I think it would be great for our guys to be able to get another 10 days of practice and play five games outside our area … All that stuff is in the works.”
Nevada no longer a secret
Musselman took over a team that won nine games then led it to a CBI title and NCAA Tournament berth in his first two seasons at the helm.
College basketball is now aware of the Wolf Pack, which adds a layer of difficulty, including scheduling and expectations.
“This has to be our most challenging offseason,” Musselman said. “We have a target on our back and we’re not going to surprise anybody. We’re not going anybody in non-conference. Most of the publications that continue to come out media wise, have us as a team to beat in the conference. With that, comes added responsibility and added pressure. We, as a group, have to understand that.”