Murray's Mailbag: Most important Wolf Pack players for Steve Alford to keep?

Jalen Harris
Jalen Harris is a high-level player who could be the key to Nevada's success in 2019-20. (John Byrne/Nevada athletics)

Nevada has a basketball coach. He is Steve Alford. And you want to talk about him. So let's dig in and talk in this week's Monday Twitter Mailbag. Thanks, as always, for the questions.

(Note: If you're not seeing the tweets, it's probably because you're not using Google Chrome. Use Google Chrome).

1. Jalen Harris: He's a high-level scorer who can play and defend multiple positions. He's a pro for sure.

2. Jordan Brown: I think we'd all like to see what Brown could do if given 30 minutes a night. Nevada lacks bigs, too, which makes retaining him even more important.

3. Eric Parrish: A super versatile JuCo product who can play four positions. I think he'll be the hardest to keep since he's not on campus right now, so his bond with Nevada is a less formed.

4. Lindsey Drew: A fan favorite, so many would rank him higher, although the Wolf Pack would have a strong starting backcourt if it keeps Harris to go with Jazz Johnson, who already said he's coming back.

5. Shamiel Stevenson: The Pitt transfer would be eligible midseason and is a good undersized four who adds rebounding and toughness.

6. Nisre Zouzoua: I know Zouzoua struggled mightily last year, but he's averaged 20 points per game at the Division I level. A new coach could spark him.

7. Jalen Townsell: The local walk-on was leaving under Musselman but could be retained by Alford if he gets a scholarship. I think he can play at this level.

8. K.J. Hymes: Given Nevada's dearth of big guys, retaining Hymes would be key. He's pretty slender but has a solid inside game.

9. JoJo Anderson: The former Northern Arizona scholarship player who walked on at Nevada this season could add some backcourt depth.

And I've never eaten at Roscoe's and have only eaten at Waffle House once (in Ruston, La.) and got grits. They were gross.

I'll probably expand on this later in the week, but Nevada is definitely a basketball school now. The Wolf Pack has now paid two separate basketball coaches $1 million per season (on average over the length of the deal). It hasn't even hit $600,000 with its football coach. Nevada has a basketball practice facility. It doesn't have a football practice facility. Nevada has a history of being nationally relevant in basketball. It doesn't in football. Nevada sells out in basketball. It struggles to fill half of Mackay Stadium in football. Nevada is indeed a basketball school.

I think history will tell us Nevada, if only because the bar for "success" is so much lower. You go to three Sweet 16s in five years at UCLA (like Alford did) and you get fired with your tenure being viewed by many as a failure. You get to three NCAA Tournaments, including two second rounds, in your final five years at Arkansas (like Mike Anderson did) and you get fired. The bar to be a successful at Nevada has risen, but it's still a lot lower than those two schools. Eric Musselman, Mick Cronin and Steve Alford are all similar talents in the coaching ranks. Alford is making $11.6 million over 10 years, Cronin $24 million over six years and Musselman $12.5 million over five years. Alford is by far the best value.

No. Alford said he doesn't want to be in the spotlight as Nevada's head coach. He wants the spotlight to go to the players. I expect him to be fully clothed at all times during his Wolf Pack tenure.

If Alford doesn't want it to be about him, I doubt he's going to push a student section named after him like Musselman did. I'm still waiting for Alford to switch his verified Twitter handle so it's no longer @UCLACoachAlford.

Cheered. Really it should be a standing ovation. Musselman inherited a dumpster fire and won 110 games in four years with three NCAA Tournament appearances and a Sweet 16. I get why some people are upset about the manner in which he left, but without him propping up the program, Nevada never gets close to hiring Alford. Musselman did an elite job with the Wolf Pack.

And I'll take Laffy Taffy. I don't know if I've ever eaten a Necco wafer.

He isn't going to get the same caliber of recruit at Nevada. Alford's recruiting classes at UCLA ranked sixth, fifth, 11th, 24th and seventh in the nation. He's not getting top-10 recruiting classes (or even top-25 recruiting classes) at Nevada. He'll have to get three-star/four-star kids and develop them as he did at New Mexico, where he also was good with international prospects. Alford has good ties in the West and Midwest, so the Wolf Pack should be getting top-50 and top-60 classes, but to get those elite classes you need the school to have a blueblood reputation, too.

Also, the UCLA fans who didn't like the Alford era usually point to those recruiting classes. Three Sweet 16s in five years is solid, but they expected more given those recruiting hauls.

If he had a bag of recruits waiting, we'd be hearing about commitments or at least visits. He was out of the game for four months before getting the Nevada job, although I'm sure he still has a lot of connections with class of 2019 kids. I think he'll go after his own guys rather than attack the Wolf Pack's recruits when he got the job. It's not like Nevada was heavily involved with a lot of high school kids. The Wolf Pack didn't have a single visit from a high school kid in this cycle.

Solid coach. He's won at a variety of levels with a variety of budgets and a variety of rosters. His New Mexico tenure was probably an "A-." His UCLA tenure a "B." His Iowa tenure a "C+." His Missouri State tenure an "A." He should succeed at Nevada. He hasn't really failed at a stop yet, although I guess some UCLA fans would disagree.

It's hard to gauge a true playing style as his New Mexico teams played slowed and were more defensive oriented. His UCLA teams played a lot faster and were offense over defense. He said during his introductory press conference that he wanted to play fast and use that UCLA style on offense while playing "90 to 95 percent" man-to-man on defense. His Bruins teams also shot a good amount of threes like Nevada the last few seasons. Alford's teams should look a lot like Musselman's teams, probably with stricter shot selection.

Assuming nobody transfers, I'll go 23-10. But we also don't know what Alford will do with all of those open scholarships. So until we have a full roster and full schedule, it's a complete guessing game. With Utah State big man Neemias Queta declaring for the draft, the Mountain West is a lot more winnable. If Alford can keep this group together, Nevada would be the favorite to win the MW. I don't think the conference will produce any NCAA Tournament at-large teams, so whoever wins the conference tournament will get that berth.

As for Jazz Johnson, he gets to wear No. 22 next season and then it will officially be retired in Nick Fazekas' honor.

All depends on that roster, which literally has one guy in place right now (Jazz Johnson). Check back later when the roster is filled out. I think Wolf Pack fans will understand to some degree if there's a little dip next season given the circumstances, but it is important Nevada doesn't have a true rebuilding season. With the momentum the program has right now, the Wolf Pack can't afford a 12- or 14-win season given how much it is charging for season tickets. Getting to 20 wins is important.

We've addressed next year's record, but I'll take the second part of the question (with a twist).

Musselman won four Mountain West titles, had three NCAA Tournament berths and reached one Sweet 16. Will Alford match those totals over his 10 seasons?

I'll take Alford surpassing the MW titles and NCAA Tournament berths but falling short of the Sweet 16 number. It's hard to get to a Sweet 16.

No. I don't even think it'd be close. Nevada's offense in 2017-18 ranked seventh in the nation, per KenPom. It was an elite, elite offense. I don't think the Wolf Pack will ever have a better offense, and I'm basically 100 percent sure there's nothing Nevada can do this offseason to give itself a top-10 offense in the nation. Alford's Lonzo Ball team ranked No. 2 in the nation in offense, but Ball was an incredible college player (and that team had five NBA players).

I don't think either team gets into the Top 25 during the season, but I'd back Arkansas as having the higher end-of-season KenPom ranking.

Wins: Alford

Conference titles: Alford

NCAA Tournament berths: Musselman

The MW is pretty close to a one-bid league at this stage.

1. I don't know the first part of the question. Alford's buyout is too high in the first three years ($8 million then $6 million then $4 million) for Power 5 to swoop, so he's locked in for at least three seasons.

2. Nevada had a lot of coaches last year, but they were almost all GAs or working for nearly nothing. The Wolf Pack will probably have a smaller staff next year that makes more overall than Nevada's staff last season. I'd go with a nine-person staff (head coach, three full-time assistants, director of ops, three GAs, player development coach).

A ton of risk. I don't expect things to go south, but if Nevada isn't winning three or four years in, there's no way it could fire Alford and pay the buyout. For example, even after year five Nevada would owe Alford a $7 million buyout. That number would still sit at $4.35 after year seven. By fully guaranteeing the contract, Nevada is committed for at least eight seasons. In exchange, the Wolf Pack got a more lucrative buyout if Alford leaves, but Nevada took on plenty of risk, too. There is the potential, albeit small, this turns into an epic disaster. But that'd require Alford's teams being non-competitive in the MW, which I don't think will happen.

If Alford wins four MW titles with three NCAA Tournament appearances and a Sweet 16 in his first four years (like Musselman), I do think a Power 5 program will come after him.

And, no, I don't think 80 percent transfers will work in the SEC. Need to mix in more high-level preps. You need NBA guys to win big in the SEC.

Saddled, and that's the downside, but he's had only two losing seasons in 23 full seasons as a Division I head coach, so there's really no precedent with him putting a bad team on the court. Fifteen of his 23 teams won at least 21 games with 12 of them winning a league title or the NCAA Tournament.

He was in the mix for Arkansas. The Razorbacks preferred Musselman. Alford has had Power 5 stops at Iowa and UCLA, and those were his "least successful" given the level of expectation. He might need to rebuild his value a little at a school like Nevada to get another crack at a Power 5, but the Wolf Pack is banking on his buyout and his increasing age (he'll be nearly 60 by the time his buyout is manageable) keeps him in town long term. I'm always leery about the "last job I'll have" talk. Trent Johnson told me that when he was at TCU a few years ago and he was angling for the Nevada job last week. I do believe Alford more than most coaches who use that line given he's already been at the Power 5 level twice, but I wouldn't bet my life on this being his final job.

Going out on a limb and saying Alford coaches at Nevada for double-digit seasons.

I'd put my money on Musselman. If it works out at Arkansas, I'm sure he has higher aspirations. If it doesn't, Arkansas will be quicker to make a move and change coaches. His coaching stops also have been a lot shorter than Alford's. But you can go ahead and sign me up for a first-round game between these teams in the NCAA Tournament.

Alford was 7-7 against San Diego State, twice beating the Aztecs when they were Top 25 teams. That's the one big bugaboo from the Musselman era. He couldn't beat SDSU with consistency.

Nevada already has two Power 5s (Utah, USC), three strong mid-majors (Davidson, BYU, Secret Game I'll Reveal Tomorrow) and a solid tournament (Paradise Jam) on the 2019-20 schedule. Eight of the 13 games are filled, with most of those being quality games. Nevada only has two home games scheduled, so you're probably looking at four more home games, mostly mid- and low-major. Alford did express a desire to schedule up, so maybe he can pull off one more marquee game with that last slot. Home-and-home with Indiana?

No. Alford really mishandled the Pierre Pierce situation. Here's a summation from the L.A. Times when Alford was hired by UCLA:

Alford's time in Iowa City is remembered most for the Pierre Pierce scandal. Pierce, a talented Hawkeyes player, was accused of sexual assault by another student in 2002. Alford staunchly defended Pierce, saying at Big Ten media day, "I totally believe he is innocent. I believed it from day one, and I still believe it." At the time, there was already a plea bargain being worked out. Pierce pleaded guilty to a charge of assault causing injury.

Pierce sat out the 2002-03 season as a redshirt and was kicked off the team the following season after another incident, this time involving an ex-girlfriend. He pleaded guilty to third-degree burglary, assault with intent to commit sexual abuse, false imprisonment and fourth-degree criminal mischief. Pierce spent 11 months in a correctional facility.

Alford said Tuesday, "I just followed everything the University of Iowa told me to do. I really didn't do anything. The university made the call on everything." A committee appointed by Iowa's university president investigated Pierce's first assault, against a fellow student, and criticized Alford for his statement that Pierce was innocent.

The committee also determined that a person affiliated with Athletes in Action, a religious organization, contacted the victim and asked her to meet informally to speak and pray with Pierce. That person, according to the committee's report, had a "longstanding relationship" with Alford and the basketball program.

Nevada said it vetted the situation and believes Alford was a young coach defending his player before he knew all the facts and that he's grown since then and has an impeccable reputation since that mistake. Still, it's hard to explain why the victim was contacted by a religious organization to speak and pray with Pierce, her assaulter, especially if that situation was initiated by Alford.

But add this situation plus Nevada's hiring of assistant coach Yanni Hufnagel, added under Musselman after being fired from Cal amid a sexual harassment, and the Wolf Pack allowing Elijah Foster to remain on the team following an arrest on a domestic battery charge (he pleaded guilty to a lesser charge), and if Wolf Pack fans don't want to support the basketball program, I'd understand.

Most of the Wolf Pack players don't even know if they're going to stay, so it'd be impossible for me to know at this stage. I'll reiterate what I wrote last week: Nevada's five-player corps is Jazz Johnson, Lindsey Drew, Jalen Harris, Jordan Brown and Eric Parrish. If Alford can retain four of those five, he's done a great job. That's a good base to start with, especially if Shamiel Stevenson also is in the mix.

The schools do the reaching out, not the players. I'm sure some schools reached out. But there's really no downside for a player to put their name in the portal when you don't have a head coach. You might as well see what all of your options are, and if Nevada is the best option in the end you simply take your name out. Having to sit out a full season is a pretty big deterrent for most players, so I'm guessing Nevada retains most of its players. Alford has made a positive first impression.

You should see much more action in the high school ranks. Alford said he'll get the best players he can, so I don't expect him to ignore the transfer market, but he's largely built his teams on high school kids at his previous stops.

This first class will probably be more transfer oriented because most of the good high school kids have already committed or signed. One guy to keep on eye on is four-star guard Grant Sherfield, who was committed to UCLA until Alford was fired. Maybe Nevada can pick up a gem there.

Jordan Brown's dad, Dion, said the the family would be looking for "trust." The Browns were pitched on Jordan starting at power forward alongside Trey Porter at center. That never materialized as Brown averaged about 10 minutes per game despite usually being productive in his minutes. I can see why there would be trust issues, although Nevada's staff is going to be completely different, so there's a chance that trust can be reformed as Brown likes the community, campus and fans. I'd also add Dion Brown did not rip Musselman in our conversation. It's pretty obvious they were frustrated and would have liked their son to get a chance to be developed in games, but he also told Jordan not to rock the boat because they team was doing well and he could learn from the players in front of him. They treated the situation with a lot of class. They weren't constantly calling Musselman demanding playing time or answers for why Jordan wasn't playing.

I'd say higher. Alford is a proven commodity who has a history of playing and developing big guys while also playing five-star recruits big minutes. I doubt Brown wants to sit out, although he'll have some good options on the transfer market if he takes that path.

That's a good question that I did not ask Dion Brown. I'm inclined to say, "No," because he hadn't put his name in the portal for the 17 days between the end of Nevada's season and when Musselman took the Arkansas job. If he was going to leave, it would have made sense to put his name in the portal earlier. And when I spoke with him at the NCAA Tournament he expressed great excitement about being a focal point for Nevada next season.

I don't see the new staff putting a time limitation on the current players to get in or get out. As in, Nevada has five open scholarships, so there's no reason to rush a decision in order to know how much scholarships will be available.

I'll update this page tracking Nevada's roster throughout this process, so you can always check right here to get the latest news. Lindsey Drew entered today.

His buyout from New Mexico just ended, so he's probably looking for market value, which is probably around $200,000. Neal, an assistant under Alford at Iowa and New Mexico who replaced him as the Lobos' head coach, might take a discount at Nevada given his close relationship with Alford and Nevada's tax situation. He'd be a good add.

Nobody firmed up yet, although I've heard only Brandon Dunson, who was an assistant coach last season, and Brandon Chambers, who was the director of operations, were given the option to remain, although not for sure in the same roles and not for sure both have decided on what to do with that offer. Given the fact Nevada had an 18-person coaching staff last year, that's pretty massive turnover.

A non-Nevada guy to keep on eye on is Kory Barnett, an assistant at UCLA last season who has been in town since Alford was hired.

I'd love to see him as Idaho State's head coach, a position he interviewed for last week. He never had a shot at the Nevada job, as it turned out, and I don't think he'll be on the Wolf Pack staff. But he could get a chance to prove himself at Idaho State. He's a really quality coach.

I don't see Walker playing for Nevada. If Brandon Dunson is retained, perhaps there's a sliver of a chance given their relationship. But Walker is going to have his pick of Top 25 schools. And Nevada should release Parrish, and I think it will. The coach he signed with left. I get that he's a really good player you want to keep, but you don't strong-arm somebody in this circumstance.

I'll be doing this in a full article later this week, so you'll have to wait a couple of days. I appreciate your patience.

It's usually Montreux or Hidden Valley. I'd take Montreux. And Alford apparently loves to golf, although he also said Northern Nevada's climate was a big reason he liked the Wolf Pack's offer. Hopefully he is aware of the snow from November through March.

1. Lakeridge No. 15

2. Edgewood Tahoe No. 17

3. Montreux No. 17 (tee box 100 feet above fairway)

Most coaches don't do that. Unwritten rules against raided your former team's roster.

I think he means he wants some of the guys on the team to cut their hair to a shorter length.

Jokes aside, some coaches have rules on how long your hair can be. Mark Fox had such a rule at Nevada (no dreads, no cornrows). When he left and David Carter took over, some guys on the team grew their hair out. I don't know if Alford has a rule or was joking. Five of the players at UCLA this season had long hair, so I'm guessing it was just a joke and he doesn't have any rule on haircuts. That'd be a good way to turn off recruits.

Alford also won a gold medal as a player in 1984 along with Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, Chris Mullin and Sam Perkins, among others. While Coach Alford isn't quite as tall as I thought he'd be, he would probably take down Coach Musselman, 21-1, if we're counting by ones, both then and now.

No, the Utah State big man is not ready, especially on offense, but that rarely matters when it comes to the NBA draft. I do think he'll get drafted. He's an athletic 6-foot-11, 240-pounder who can block shots. Probably a second-round pick.

I'll take the over on that.

I expect him to ink a three-year extension shortly (his current deal expires at the end of June). As for as the basketball hires are concerned (both Musselman and Alford), you have to give a major tip of the hat to Matt White, a Wolf Pack booster (the Basin Street Club at Mackay Stadium is named after his company) for his role in both deals. They don't get done without him. Alford even gave a shout-out to White during his press conference. White and Knuth were the only two people on the plane from Van Nuys to Reno with Alford. White and Rick Reviglio also helped rally together the booster money to make Alford's 10-year, $11.6 million contract possible. Boosters are important, and Nevada has a couple of key ones who have helped shape the basketball team's recent success.

When he took over at UCLA, Alford inherited five NBA players and a sixth player (Tony Parker) who was a McDonald's All-American. That team was a lot better than this team.

Low. Really low. O'Neal missed his freshman season following heart surgery but recently announced he has been medically cleared to play again. I doubt the younger O'Neal wants to sit out a second straight season, this time as a redshirt transfer, and move from the Pac-12 to the Mountain West in the process.

For Nevada? 7-5 overall, 5-3 in the MW, second place in the West Division behind Fresno State.

No. I think he'll let people do their jobs and market and advertise the team. Musselman was very hands-on in that regard, but most coaches want to focus on their teams.

No, but the Wolf Pack is doing some interesting things to try and pump up its football fan base. Jay Norvell talked about some of those things on our show last week. You might have missed it because of all the basketball stuff going on.

I'm watching from the sidelines this season, which is why the team won its first game, 2-1. I believe I am 2-12 in my soccer head-coaching career.

Nevada making the Final Four, and yet it should have happened two seasons ago. Alas.

Gimmie Cleveland Cavaliers down 3-1 against the "unbeatable" Golden State Warriors.

I'm not all in on this Tiger Woods redemption story. Dude was cheating on his wife and breaking up his family by sleeping with porn stars (as well as anybody with a pulse). He was driving under the influence with five drugs in his system. He was undone by his own ego and hubris. Yes, his body also betrayed him, but Woods' undoing was his own fault. That being said, I wrote a couple years ago he'd never win a major again, so I was wrong and he made a lot of people look dumb. Golf is better with Tiger Woods and won't be the same when he's retired. And I did love his hug with his son after his victory. That was great.

I did not, but if he was going to win one, it was going to be the Masters. Course suits him perfectly.

He's back until his back breaks again.

I'm just glad he got over that sex addiction. That is a debilitating disease.

Tiger wants either Denzel Washington or Samuel L. Jackson to play him in a movie. I'd say Chadwick Boseman.

For me, just get a bald, slightly overweight Italian, so Stanley Tucci works.


The Dodgers are winning the NL West. No need to worry about that.

And I hope the Dodgers don't get loose in Houston.

The starting pitching has been OK. The starters have a 4.46 ERA (18th in MLB). The bullpen has been a disaster, posting a 5.14 ERA (22nd in MLB). With Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill coming back, the starting pitching will get better. There's nothing you can do with the bullpen right now besides signing Craig Kimbrel, and I don't want to see that. Just trust the process. And dump Joe Kelly. No idea why that guy was signed.

I haven't seen a second of the show.

I would be OK on Jeopardy but wouldn't win. I'm horrible at Wheel of Fortune. I do like Deal or No Deal, but I don't know if that's on the air anymore. So give me The Price is Right and give me Plinko. But if I could go back in time to do a show, it'd be Press Your Luck.

I break the record of $31,500 won in a game of Plinko.

It was fine brother-in-law.

I wish winning at life was so easy. But my advice is to be kind and love those closest to you. And I hope everybody enjoys their Easter this weekend. We'll chat again next week.

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