It’s been a long time since Jay Bilas visited Lake Tahoe. After a trip to Edgewood Tahoe for this week’s American Century Championship, he regrets that.
“It’s great,” Bilas told Nevada Sports Net this week during his first appearance at Tahoe’s annual celebrity golf tournament. “The people are so nice and you can’t have a more picturesque, beautiful environment in which to play. I haven’t been to Tahoe since I was a little kid. I grew up in Los Angeles, and it’s been forever since I’ve been here, but I’ve been making a mistake because it’s fantastic.”
While it might be a few decades since Bilas has visited Northern Nevada, he has kept an eye on the area’s local basketball team, which has drawn national headlines over the last couple of years thanks to names like Eric Musselman, Jordan Caroline, Cody Martin and his twin brother, Caleb Martin.
Bilas is bullish on the future pro careers of those former Wolf Pack stars, especially Caroline, who is playing for the Los Angeles Lakers’ summer league team. Caroline suffered a mild groin injury that cost him a couple of games, but he did have a 27-point outing earlier this week in Las Vegas.
“I don’t know that Jordan Caroline needs to prove anything,” Bilas said. “Everybody knows he’s a capable player who can play in the NBA. He’s basically a 6-foot-5 three or four man. He’s going to have to step away and shoot it a little bit better. He’ll have to stretch the floor a little more, but he’s capable of doing that. But he knows how to play. He’s tough, he’s strong, he can get to the basket and use his body really well and can draw fouls and get to the free throw line. I’m not surprised he’s having success in summer league, but he’ll have to blend in where he can be a productive member of the big squad.”
The Martin twins, meanwhile, are both on the Charlotte Hornets’ summer league team, with Cody being an early second-round draft pick and Caleb being an undrafted free agent who is sitting out the summer sessions with a knee injury. Bilas has been tracking the Martins since they arrived in college at North Caroline State.
“I watched them play when they first got to NC State and obviously transferred to Nevada and got to watch them play for Eric Musselman,” said Bilas, a standout player at Duke in the 1980s. “They’re both really good players. Cody is the more versatile of the two and I think he’s coveted in the NBA and got drafted because at 6-foot-7 he can play the point. He can initiate offense, he’s good off the dribble and a really good passer. He's sneaky scorer, a better scorer than he got credit for. Caleb is more the shooter, scorer type. Both really good players. One was (Mountain West) defensive player of the year and the other the (MW) player of the year. Playing with Jordan Caroline and that whole crew, that was a really neat team.”
While the twins are on the same NBA team for now, Bilas said it will be difficult to manage that much longer.
“I don’t know that they’ll be able to play together for very long or much longer,” Bilas said. “It’s a lot more difficult at the pro level. Markieff and Marcus Morris played at Kansas. Even though you’re twins, it’s tough to stay together in a professional environment. They did in college. But I’m happy for them. They’re great young men and it’s so fun to see, especially after a transfer year, to see both do so well. The narrative out there is transfers don’t work out. That’s not true. Those guys are great examples of a transfer who works out really, really well for everybody.”
After four historic seasons at Nevada, Musselman accepted the head job at Arkansas this offseason. The Razorbacks won a national title in 1994 and was a runner-up for the crown in 1995 but hasn’t been to the Sweet 16 since 1996, giving Musselman a bit of a reclamation project in the SEC.
“The easy answer is recruit,” Bilas said of what Musselman must do to be successful at Arkansas. “As good as all of these coaches are, and Eric is one of the really good ones, you’re not going to be successful unless you get players, so he’s going to have to recruit. Recruiting the SEC is a different thing. He can handle it. He’s really good. It’s just a question of getting players. Arkansas hasn’t been really good in a while. They’ve been in good in spots. They’ve had a number of coaches over the last several years and things haven’t worked out for one reason or another.
“It’s not looked upon right now as a destination, but good coaches build places into destinations. It’s got a really good history and tradition over the years, but an 18-year-old kid coming out of high school right now doesn't remember Sidney Moncrief and the really good teams Nolan Richardson had in the early ’90s with Corliss Williamson, Scotty Thurman and all that, so it has to be rebuilt.”
Replacing Musselman at Nevada is former UCLA head coach Steve Alford, who signed a 10-year fully guaranteed contract with the Wolf Pack in April. Bilas believes Nevada’s success should continue under Alford.
“Steve’s a great choice for Nevada,” Bilas said. “Steve Alford has been an outstanding coach. Everybody knows what a great player he was. He’s a really good guy and has done such a good job everywhere he’s been. I think this will be a stop very similar to the stop he had in New Mexico, where he did an excellent job. He understands the league, he understands the landscape and I think he’ll do a really, really good job.”
Bilas, who has a 6 handicap, said he’s looking forward to this week at Tahoe, although he wouldn’t advise any fans to put money on him at the 100-1 odds he’s listed at in local sports books.
“Only if they want to lose it,” Bilas said with a laugh. “100-1 is exactly what is seems like, and I think that’s probably generous.”