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1,000 Words: Nevada has the most fun basketball program in the nation

Jordan Caroline
Jordan Caroline dunks during Nevada's Silver & Blue Scrimmage on Thursday. (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.

* THE NEVADA BASKETBALL TEAM is the most fun program in the nation. You can’t convince me otherwise. Would Mike Krzyzewski, John Calipari or Bill Self dress up as his team’s mascot and ride onto center court on a motorcycle? No they would not. But that was the latest hijinks from the Wolf Pack coach Eric Musselman, who hosted a students-only scrimmage following a Wolf Pack pro day following a years-long quest to make Nevada’s social media accounts a must follow locally and nationally. Wolf Pack basketball exudes fun, from its coach to its athletes to its style of play and even to its fan base.

* MUSSELMAN STARRED IN SPORT-SPECIFIC Twitter videos last year to increase interest in other Pack programs. Nevada released a “Sweet Caroline” music video, featuring the coaching staff singing, when Jordan Caroline announced he was bypassing the draft and returning to school. And there was a day-long campaign leading to Jordan Brown’s announcement he was committing to Nevada. Yes, there’s a little self-promotion in there and not all of the ideas Nevada throws against the wall work perfectly, but you have to credit Musselman and staff for making things fun and trying new things. The Wolf Pack trains hard, but sports are supposed to be enjoyed by the athletes. Musselman makes sure that’s the case.

* IT’S NOT JUST THE off-the-court stuff that makes Nevada the most fun basketball program in the nation. It’s also the style the team plays that’s infectious (ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt is a big fan). Nevada plays fast, its plays loose, it fires threes with little conscious and viciously attacks the rim. The playing style should be put on steroids this season with a deeper team. Nevada can force the tempo even more if it wants to. Loyola Chicago might have been America’s favorite team in last year’s NCAA Tournament because of their No. 11 seed and Sister Jean’s presence, but Nevada was a close second and should be even more beloved as it starts this season on a much bigger stage with a much brighter spotlight.

* THE FUN ON AND OFF the court is all a part of the master plan. It certainly should help in recruiting, but by sprinkling fun into the daily routine Musselman gets more buy-in from his players. “They play hard for us because we do things like this for them,” Musselman said after holding pro day last month. He could closet his top-10 team behind closed doors and only open those doors for the games, but he doesn’t. Musselman builds a community connection through fun events that helped the program sell out its season tickets for the first time ever. And when Nevada wins big, what does he do? He rips his shirt off and runs around the court like a madman. That’s fun, and it’s something no other coach does.

* THERE ARE PLENTY OF reasons Nevada fans should hope its team wins the national title this season. But, for me, the top one is my curiosity to see what Musselman would do if it did happen. I mean, he went crazy when Nevada won a conference title. He went bonkers when beat Cincinnati to get to the Sweet 16. He literally might streak across the court naked if the Wolf Pack won the title. Who knows? But that’s the fun thing about Nevada basketball. You can never anticipate what they program and its coach will do next. One day Musselman is talking about his peeing habits and the next awarding a walk-on a scholarship attached to his back and the next he’s letting one of his players jump over him to dunk.

* NEVADA’S SILVER & BLUE SCRIMMAGE was a success, although the attendance could have been better (in retrospect, the Wolf Pack should also have invited Starting Five members to pack the Virginia Street Gym a little more, but it was still a solid crowd). There were plenty of fun moments, but the thing that caught my attention most was Musselman saying this to the crowd at halftime: “We know that preseason rankings don’t mean anything, but we have enough talent in here to win a national championship.” It’s true, but how often do you hear a coach of a mid-major team say that?

* I’M USUALLY CURIOUS TO SEE the crowd size at Mackay Stadium, but I’m even more curious this week. Nevada-Boise State has always been a big draw. Six of Mackay’s top-15 attendances have been Nevada-Boise State games (that’s more than Nevada vs. UNLV). Four of Mackay’s seven sellouts have been against the Broncos. And each of the last three matchups between the teams has hit 30,000-plus fans. But enthusiasm for both of these programs is down from those 2010 (30,712 fans), 2012 (30,017) and 2014 (32,327) games. This year’s game won’t hit 30,000. It probably won’t even hit capacity, which is 27,000 following the 2016 renovation. But anything shy of 25,000 would be a shame for both schools.

* WHILE NEVADA AND BOISE STATE don’t play every season anymore (they won’t battle again, barring a meeting in the MW title game, until 2021), they’re still bitter rivals. And rivalry games need trophies. Nevada only has one game where the winner gets a trophy, the Battle for the Fremont Cannon against UNLV. There’s no way you’ll top that prize. But if Boise State and Fresno State play for a trophy (a Milk Can, created in 2005), Nevada and Boise State should, too. That’s a much more historic rivalry. Boise State has played Fresno State 20 times. It's played Nevada 42 times. So, what should the trophy be? Here's my idea. Since Reno is 288 miles from Elko and Boise is 236 miles from Elko, how about the winner of the game gets a gigantic “Key to Elko?" Who wouldn’t want that?

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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