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1,000 Words: Nevada's 'pro day' a sign of program's ascension

Jordan Caroline
Jordan Caroline and the rest of the Wolf Pack players will get to showcase their skills in front of NBA scouts next week. (John Byrne/Nevada athletics)

Nevada Sports Net columnist Chris Murray is known to be a bit wordy, so we're giving him 1,000 words (but no more than that) to share his thoughts from the week that was in the world of sports.

* NEVADA BASKETBALL WILL HOLD what is essentially a preseason scouting combine next Thursday and I’ll I can say is … wow. It’s still hard to wrap my head around the fact Nevada basketball is in this position. When coach Eric Musselman inherited this job in March 2015, he took over a nine-win team and a nearly non-existent fan base. Now he has a preseason top-10 team in the nation, a program that has sold out its season-ticket allotment and one that has enough interest from NBA teams to hold a pro day, something done by blue bloods like Kentucky, Duke and Louisville and not schools like Nevada.

* BUT NBA SCOUTS WILL FLOCK TO Reno next week to check out the Wolf Pack’s talent. The interesting thing is Nevada doesn’t have any slam-dunk 2019 draft picks but does have potential picks in Caleb Martin, Cody Martin and Jordan Caroline (all proven seniors), young buck Jordan Brown (a McDonald’s All-American) and even Trey Porter (a high-ceiling big who scouts have little intel on). I’m partial to Cody Martin being Nevada’s top prospect but Caleb is right there, too; Brown’s pedigree will get him an NBA shot at some point; and I’d never count Caroline out from accomplishing what he puts his mind to. The trip to Reno is worth the cost for NBA teams.

* AS MUCH AS NEVADA IS TRYING to showcase its current players to NBA scouts, this event is probably more about trying to lure future players to Reno. The Wolf Pack is aiming high in the 2020 recruiting class and is trying to show those four- and five-star studs it can send players to the NBA, too. The only problem is Nevada hasn’t had a player drafted since Luke Babbitt and Armon Johnson in 2010. Deonte Burton was close in 2014. Cameron Oliver was close in 2017. But Nevada has a nearly decade-long drought of sending a player to the NBA, a hole on its résumé it needs to close to continue to land high-level recruits. As ex-Nevada hoops coach Mark Fox said the first time I spoke to him, “Every player we sign believes he’s going to play in the NBA.” The Wolf Pack has to show it can help make that goal a reality.

* IT SHOULD DO THAT SOON. Nevada might not have a for-sure future NBA player but it does have an NBA-caliber coach who knows how to develop talent and players with NBA-level desire with the Martins and Caroline. I imagine there are two or three players on this year’s team who will make it to the NBA (most likely both Martins and Brown), whether they’re drafted or not. And with JaVale McGee the lone Wolf Pack alum in the NBA right now – Luke Babbitt and Ramon Sessions are still looking for deals – Nevada needs to re-establish that NBA pipeline to ensure it can continue to get the kind of talent required to remain a top-10 team in the future.

* THE 2018 NEVADA FOOTBALL SEASON might be known as the “Check Box” season when all is said and done. The only box the Wolf Pack truly checked off in Jay Norvell’s first season was beating UNLV (granted that’s a big check mark). But it has checked off the “Beat an FCS team” and “Beat a Power 5 team” boxes so far this season and needs to check off the “Win on the road” box next as it readies to face Toledo on Saturday. Nevada also needs to check off the “Get to a bowl” box, and if it’s getting really frisky the “Beat Boise State” box, which few Wolf Pack coaches have been able to check off with regularity. I don’t see Nevada checking the “Win the MW West Division” box this year, but 2018 is all about making substantial progress.

* IF NEVADA BEATS TOLEDO in the Glass Bowl, a place it rarely losses, the Wolf Pack will prove to itself it can beat any MW team short of perhaps Boise State. Toledo is a good football team in the same class as Fresno State and San Diego State. A win on the road over the Rockets would be as strong an accomplishment as a win at home over the Bulldogs or Aztecs. Nevada will have to play its best game of the season to date to beat Toledo, but it’s more than capable. The Wolf Pack offense just need to show up for four quarters. We’ve seen spurts of quality Air Raid success but nothing close to a full game in 2018.

* NEVADA AND TOLEDO have an interesting history. The Wolf Pack is 0-4 in the series, losing twice to the Rockets in an 82-day span in 1995, including in the Las Vegas Bowl in the first overtime game in college football history. Nevada also lost at Toledo in 1997 after it basically ran out of quarterbacks. And after losing to the Rockets at home last season, the Wolf Pack is overdue for a win over the MAC school.

* ‘CREDIT’ SEEMS TO BE THE Kryptonite for teams these days. The Patriots' dynasty is cracking over whether quarterback Tom Brady or head coach Bill Belichick deserves the credit for their five Super Bowl wins together. The Seahawks squabbled over whether the Legion of Boom or Russell Wilson deserved credit for their one Super Bowl (should have been two). And the Steelers’ offensive lineman trashed running back Le’Veon Bell for not showing up at the start of the season, saying they were responsible for his success anyway. That brings us full circle as this year’s Nevada basketball team has tons of talent to do great things. But it also has a bunch of guys trying to make it to the NBA. They can’t fight over who gets the shine and credit for the team's success this year. That’s the one thing – the Kryptonite – that could blow up the what should be a special season.

Columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at crmurray@sbgtv.com or follow him on Twitter @MurrayNSN.

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