Nisré Zouzoua's topsy-turvy career at Nevada is unmatched by anybody in recent Wolf Pack history.
A high-scoring guard who began his college career at Bryant, Zouzoua was one in a pipeline of Division I transfers to sign with Nevada during Eric Musselman's regime. But unlike many of those transfers, he did not find immediate success.
Instead, Zouzoua was stuck to the bench in his first season of eligibility at Nevada and seemed destined for another transfer if Musselman had remained the Wolf Pack's coach. But an offseason coaching change, from Musselman to Steve Alford, gave Zouzoua a second chance at success in Reno, and he took full advantage.
Zouzoua became the Mountain West's 2020 sixth man of the year, and is now looking to start a career at the next level by landing a job overseas. Zouzoua is represented by Duran International Sports Management and has had contact with leagues in Spain and France, according to a recent article by The Enterprise, a Brockton, Mass.,-based newspaper, which is Zouzoua's hometown.
“It was for sure tough, Zouzoua told The Enterprise of his time at Nevada. “It was not an easy thing to do. I just had to keep my faith in God and understand He brought me there and He’s trying to show me something. I just had to sit back and watch and control the things I could control, my attitude, my effort, not pouting, not being upset, being supportive of my teammates. It was definitely a difficult thing, but I didn’t let that hinder my whole career. I knew I would still have a chance.
Zouzoua was among the national leaders in scoring during his sophomore season, averaging 20.3 points per game at Bryant in Smithfield, R.I., a school picked in part because of its proximity at home. He transferred about as far away from home as possible for his final two seasons of college, moving west to Nevada, where he saw his playing time disappear during his junior season.
The Wolf Pack was a top-10 team for much of the season, and Zouzoua struggled to get in Musselman's trademark small rotation playing behind future NBA players Caleb and Cody Martin as well as Jazz Johnson and Corey Henson. Zouzoua averaged just 6 minutes per game and tallied only 27 points the entire season, which used to be a game's worth of work for him at Bryant. He made only 22 percent of his shots, including 3-of-29 shots from three (10.3 percent).
Zouzoua likely would have been jettisoned off the roster for his senior season if not for the coaching change from Musselman to Alford, who immediately tried to instill confidence in Zouzoua. Despite Nevada remaining deep at guard with Jalen Harris, Lindsey Drew and Jazz Johnson, Alford sought to find an immediate and high-impact role for Zouzoua.
“I had a lot of talks with Coach Alford and Coach Craig (Neal)," Zouzoua told The Enterprise. "They basically told me they liked my game and had the confidence in my game and my role would be completely different. They wanted me on the court and they wanted me to score the ball. I was playing well in practices. I kind of realized this is my chance.
“At the beginning of the season, Coach came to me and he was like, ‘The way we have it is we have our four guards, but we don’t want to put all our offensive firepower out there all at once.' He said, ‘Would you be willing to come off the bench?’ I said it was no problem for me."
Zouzoua said he was happy to get 15 to 20 minutes per game after not seeing much after as a junior. The 6-foot-3 guard made the most of his minutes, tallying 9.8 points, 2.6 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game as one of the nation's most productive role players. He made a career-high 41.8 percent of his shots and his 3-point stroke returned after the abysmal 2018-19 season as he hit 52 treys at a 41.6 percent clip, also a career best.
It was a redemptive season for Zouzoua, who spent all but four days last offseason in Reno working to prepare for his make-or-break senior season. His return to form has at least opened the chance for a professional career. After graduating from Nevada with a business degree, Zouzoua has been back home in Brockton preparing for a pro opportunity. He is one of a handful of Wolf Pack players doing so this season, with Harris entering the NBA draft after his junior season and Drew and Johnson also having pro potential.
“Since I was young, my goal has been to get to the NBA, play professionally, Zouzoua told The Enterprise. “It’d be amazing to play professionally. At Bryant, we went to Italy for a trip and spent 12 days there, played four professional teams and I fell in love. We get so caught up in the NBA, but there’s so many other great leagues that play a high level of basketball. I would love to play over there.
Zouzoua said winning the MW sixth man of the year award a season after not playing much was "almost a relief." Nevada went 19-12 and finished tied for second in the conference, and Zouzoua became a trusted leader on the team and a source of positivity even during his junior. Despite it not being the smoothest transition, Zouzoua said he enjoyed his time at Nevada.
“Bryant was great, but Nevada made me grow up, Zouzoua told The Enterprise. “It turned me into a man. You’re living by yourself out on the West Coast. It’s not like mommy and daddy can come and cook you a meal. You’re living like a man. I struggled with it at first, but I got the hang of it and it helped me grow and work on my game. I appreciate the move to Nevada.