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Murray's Mailbag: What's up with Nevada football and basketball recruiting?

Jay Norvell
Jay Norvell has already landed 11 commitments in the 2020 recruiting class. (John Byrne/Nevada athletics)

We're grinding through the dog days of summer with fairly minimal content, but you again came up with a solid 30 or so questions for the Monday Mailbag, so let's jump right in. Thanks, as always, for your inquiries.

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

No. That is my brother-in-law holding his son, aka my nephew. My son has no idea who Steph Curry is and doesn't especially care for sports. He likes PJ Masks and Blaze and the Monster Machines. If Steph Curry gave him 50 signed golf balls, he'd trade all for them one used Blaze die-cast.

(a) I'm not putting any grown adults on my shoulders.

(b) If you're not a kid, you're not getting a signed Steph Curry ball. The key to get autographs at the American Century Championship is to be a kid.

Him being a relative of mine did not help him get the ball. Curry basically signed his ball after every hole and had his caddie hand it to a kid in the crowd between every hole. So Young Mason smartly lined up between holes with his Curry jersey on and got two balls, one handed to him from Curry himself (between holes 6 and 7) and the other to him by Curry's caddie (between holes 10 and 11). I have never asked a celebrity for an autograph or selfie because I'm a journalist, but I did pee next to Aaron Rodgers in the VIP bathroom Saturday at the ACC, so that was something. Reflexively, I almost pulled out my phone to take a picture, but I probably would have been arrested if I did that.

Charles Barkley also patted Young Mason on the head and said, "Hello" between holes six and seven. Barkley is the best at the ACC. Always so jovial and accommodating. Nobody puts more smiles on faces at the tournament than Barkley.

247Sports.com has Nevada having the top recruiting class in the Mountain West so far (my breakdown of each player here). Now, part of that is because the Wolf Pack has 11 commitments with Air Force (eight commits) and UNLV (six commits) being the only other schools in the conference with more than five pledges. And you get points for more commitments, so that helps (Nevada's average rank per recruit on 247Sports is seventh out of 12 MW teams). Rivals.com also has Nevada atop the MW in the 2020 class, but that's again mostly because of the Wolf Pack's bulk of commits. Rivals only lists two of Nevada's commitments as three-star prospects. 247Sports.com is more generous with nine three-star prospects out of the 11. I say all this while not putting much stock into recruiting rankings, which I believe are more overrated in football than basketball.

I do think Nevada has a pretty good class so far with a talented quarterback (Chandler Galban), two intriguing running backs (Clarence Dalton, Avery Morrow), a cadre of offensive linemen and one of the highest-rated players the Wolf Pack has ever gotten a commitment from (WR Isaac Jernagin, who has offers from USC, Oregon, Arizona State, Utah and others). It's heavy on offense right now with only two defensive commitments, so Nevada will have to even that out. And most of these players had limited offers, with only Jernagin reporting Power 5 opportunities. So, it's pretty similar to previous Wolf Pack classes from that perspective. 247Sports ranks Nevada's class No. 82 in the nation, but that number could slip a little as other schools catch up to the Wolf Pack in terms of pure numbers.

I can't given you a ton of information until I see the players in a fall camp when you can truly evaluate their skill-set at the college level, but it does seem like an excellent start to the 2020 collection. At minimum, the Wolf Pack's messaging in recruiting is working as it is pulling in a lot of verbal commitments, which aren't binding until the first signing period in December. The biggest commitment in the MW so far is QB Jaden Casey to Fresno State. Casey is the No. 379 player in the class and has offers from Alabama, Utah, Arizona State, Arkansas, Cal, Kansas State, Purdue and several others. Nevada hasn't landed a player of that ilk yet, but there appears to be a lot of good pieces committed.

I wrote this column ("Don't be quick to judge Steve Alford's recruiting at Nevada") six weeks ago and it stands as my take on the situation.

I understand if fans have been underwhelmed by the 2019 recruiting class, which does not appear to have a star. That being said, when Alford was hired, there were only 25 of the top-150 recruits in the 2019 class uncommitted, and it's not like Nevada under the previous regime did a lot of legwork on prep prospects in the months leading up to that since it was focused on transfers. That combined with the fact Alford inherited a team with zero committed players (even on the returning roster) put things in scramble mode from the start. It would have been nice if Nevada could have landed Kuany Kuany or Josaphat Bilau, the two highest-rated recruits it got to campus, although the additions of transfers Desmond Cambridge and Warren Washington look good.

At New Mexico, Alford landed five future NBA players in six recruiting classes and only two of those players were highly regarded when they signed (four-star recruit Alex Kirk and UCLA transfer Drew Gordon). Meanwhile, he landed a relatively unheralded three-star recruit (Tony Snell), a JuCo product (Darington Hobson) and a two-star recruit (Cameron Bairstow) who became NBA players. He also unearthed an unrated player (Hugh Greenwood) who became an All-MW contributor and two three-star products (Kendall Williams, Dairese Gary) who were multiple-time first-team All-MW honorees (Williams was the MW player of the year).

As such, I'll trust that he and associate head coach coach Craig Neal have not lost the touch to recruit. It was probably more difficult this season with Alford out of the game since being fired by UCLA in December and Neal working overseas. If Nevada isn't getting higher regarded prospects in the 2020 class maybe you can be alarmed, but Alford has a history of recruiting players he can develop into stars. Wolf Pack fans were mad Musselman seemingly only recruited transfers, so perhaps no coach can please fans in recruiting outside of Kentucky and Duke where they have their pick of players.

I'll have to see some games before I can give a firm answer on this. I will say Musselman's teams were as prepared as any team can be entering a game. The amount of pre-game work that was put in was enormous. The kind of energy his staff put into preparing a team for its opponent was second to none in college. Musselman was groomed at the NBA level, so it was a elite preparation. Musselman's teams also were very good after timeouts. I think one noticeable difference you'll see is Alford will be more willing to play a deeper bench, although this year's roster isn't super deep.

That was a Musselman decision. Nevada had a four-year contract with Pacific run out this offseason, and the Wolf Pack did not re-up with Pacific, which it had played every year since 2001-02. Pacific has only one 20-win season since 2010-11 and hasn't been above-.500 since 2013-14 when it went 18-16. Coach Bob Thomason propped that thing up for decades, but the Pacific had become an RPI (or NET) drag. Really, Musselman built most of Nevada's 2019-20 schedule, scheduling marquee games against USC, Utah, BYU, Davidson and Saint Mary's as well as the Paradise Jam. The only games added after his departure were against Loyola Marymount, Texas-Arlington, Santa Clara and Texas Southern, so it will be interesting to see what kind of schedules Alford puts together in the future. Getting into some high-caliber tournaments would be big, and Alford has the connections to probably get that done.

I have not. Those practices have not been open to the media to my knowledge.

I'll put it at an 80 percent chance. Norvell should have bowl-caliber teams for his Nevada tenure, which should allow him to retain his job, although getting that attendance figure up would help, too. To get to that 2023 game, Norvell would have to reach his seventh season, and the last Nevada football coach to make it to season seven outside of Chris Ault was Jerry Scattini from 1969-75 (he went 37-36-1). I do think he'll make it seven seasons. He's a good coach who will put a good product on the field. Will Norvell put an elite product on the field so he can jump to a bigger school? It does happen from time to time in the Mountain West. Brady Hoke went from San Diego State to Michigan in 2011, Chris Petersen from Boise State to Washington in 2014, Jim McElwain from Colorado State to Florida in 2015 and Matt Wells from Utah State to Texas Tech in 2019. If Norvell can string together back-to-back 10-wins seasons he could make the jump, although he is a little older (56 years old, although he looks like 40), which could make the jump more difficult. He'd be awesome in interviews if he got to that stage. Good charisma, football IQ and connections. But my money is on Norvell leading Nevada onto the field against USC in 2023.

Dang, we're really focusing on this 2023 season. Strong is a redshirt freshman in 2019, so he'll be a sophomore in 2020, a junior in 2021 and a senior in 2022. So unless Strong gets hurt and misses a season and needs a sixth year of eligibility, he won't be on the team in 2023 when Nevada plays at USC. So I'm going with a 4 percent chance Strong leads Nevada onto the field in the Coliseum.

We had Norvell in studio for a couple of segments today and asked about the quarterback competition and he had some pretty revealing comments without using any quarterback's name in particular. He basically said some in the competition have stepped forward and the players on the team more or less know who the quarterback is and the last people to know are the public. That was a true of the 2017 competition as well. While David Cornwell was the trendy name entering that season, it was clear among the players they preferred and believed in Ty Gangi. I still think it is Cristian Solano's job to lose, but check out Norvell's comments, which will be on NSN Daily tomorrow and on our website as well. I'd transcribe the quotes, but I didn't record the interview with my recorder, so you'll have to wait until Tuesday.

I also asked Norvell about that during the interview and he said Nevada will have new uniforms this season with a couple of surprises and he believes the fan base should be pleased with the changes. He didn't offer a ton of specifics, but expect new threads.

Nevada has set the season record for per-game home attendance three straight years, going from 8,923 to 9,048 to 10,852. I'm guessing Nevada's season-ticket base will be around 7,000 next year and we can give the school 1,000 walk-ups per home game, so that puts things at 8,000. Then it really comes down to the students, who came out in droves to support the program under Eric Musselman. Students get about 1,300 free tickets per game. I'm guessing the enthusiasm in that group will remain strong even if it doesn't match last year's numbers. Let's give Nevada 800 students per game. That's puts us at 8,800 or so fans per home game, which would rank fifth in program history. I'll guess somewhere in that 8,800-9,000 range per game.

How much does it cost to get a dog that catches a Frisbee because that's all I want.

After the explosion at Argenta Hall, the university has publicly discussed housing some of the students who were ticketed for Argenta at one of the downtown casinos. That would not be an extra benefit since their lodging was just blown up. It's not an ideal outcome for any student who was supposed to live in Argenta this year, but there aren't a lot of good options since Nevada lost that building, which holds 518 residents. The school has to find somewhere to put them and a local casino is an option. The freshmen football players will be staying at the YOUnion just off campus, which is actually much better digs than a dorm, so upgrade there.

Man landing on the moon, of course, but Chris Ault has a nice résumé.

Quick recap: NBA teams are allowed 15 players signed to guaranteed contracts and two more signed to two-way contracts. Right now, the Lakers have signed 14 players to regular contracts and one to a two-way contract. GM Rob Pelinka has said he's going to keep one roster spot open for an in-season trade and/or buyout pickup. That leaves one two-way contract available on the roster. Perhaps Caroline slots into that position. (A reminder a two-way contract is for players who will spend the bulk of the season in the NBA G League and no more than 45 days with their NBA team). NBA teams are allowed 20 players in training camp, so there's a good chance Caroline is with the team in camp, but the odds of him landing that two-way contract are probably low (say 25 percent). Caroline, who closed summer league strong, most likely will be with a G League team this season, although you can never truly know when it comes to a last roster spot. So much luck is involved.

Nothing between now and September outside of informal pickup games. Training camp starts the last week of September and you'll probably hear who is headed there at the beginning of September. Cody Martin will for sure be on the Hornets' training camp roster and Caleb Martin should, too. Jordan Caroline will most likely be on the Lakers' training camp roster, but I wonder if he would be better off trying to get into camp with another team given how the Lakers' regular-season roster has filled up.

He was on the G League's Delaware Blue Coats last season, but I'm pretty sure he's a free agent. I imagine he'll get a training camp invitation (he was with the Portland Trail Blazers last year) and could earn a two-way contract this season. Worst-case scenario is he has to go back to the G League and work for a callup, which he was trending toward ;ast season before suffering a season-ending ankle injury that required surgery. Fun fact: Oliver is younger than the Martin twins and Caroline, and in my estimation has the highest NBA upside of the four.

We talked to Nevada baseball coach TJ Bruce in Tahoe and here's video of him discussing the changes. Nevada basically swapped in former Long Beach State head coach Troy Buckley for pitching coach Steve Bennett. Bennett did a good job at Nevada, but Buckley is considered one of the best pitching coaches in the nation, so it should be a net positive. I did find it somewhat interesting because Buckley bypassed Bruce for a paid assistant job at Long Beach State when Buckley got the head gig. Bruce had been a volunteer assistant for the Dirtbags alongside Buckley for a few years before that when Buckley was a LBSU assistant. But Bruce did what was right for the program rather than holding a grudge.

No, I don't see that ever happening. Too expensive. You're talking about adding 18 men's scholarships, which means you'd have to add 18 women's scholarships. That's a huge expense. North Dakota hockey, for example, has a budget of $4.5 million. Nevada is not adding a sport that costs that much given the department's financial struggles. Getting Reno Ice built is no slam dunk, either. I'd love to see it happen, but the funding has to get there. As for the conference Nevada would play in if it did add hockey, you're probably looking at the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, which literally has zero Western-based hockey teams outside of Alaska, or the National Collegiate Hockey Conference.

Chicken if you want free eggs, rabbit if you want a play partner, bird if you enjoy torturing an animal that's meant to fly, fish if you like spending an hour a week cleaning a glass tank, desert tortoise if you want a pet that will out-live you and horny toads if you like animal puns.

Odd. James Harden and Russell Westbrook both need the ball in their hands. Harden had an insane 40.5 percent usage rate last season, and Westbrook isn't going to camp out at the 3-point line waiting for a pass. I don't see how the two will work together, but Houston clearly had enough of Chris Paul. Offers from Westbrook must have been sparse because Oklahoma City is taking on Paul's horrible contract and might have to attach the two draft picks it got in this trade just to get rid of him. It's more or less a lose-lose. Houston probably wins 50 games, but I'd put the Rockets behind the Lakers, Clippers, Jazz, Trail Blazers and Nuggets in the Western Conference. Maybe the Rockets get to the second round, but they're not getting to the Western Conference finals. Westbrook is better than Paul at this stage in their career, so Houston upgraded, just not as much as the other teams in the West. As for the Thunder, they're probably stuck with Paul, who has the second-worst contract in the NBA behind only John Wall.

A crazy coincidence.

I'd trade San Jose State for Bishop Gorman High School. Better facilities for the Gaels.

Most of Nevada's season tickets come with "seat premiums," which is a mandatory donation required to get that seat. Nevada did not list the seat premiums separate from the ticket cost in its 2019-20 prices, probably because you can't write off that seat premium anymore after the 2017 Republican tax bill. Nevada's most expensive ticket, including premium, is $5,000. When the courtside tickets were $3,500, the seat premium donation was $2,700. So the current seat premium is probably around $3,500, which is far less than UNLV's $50,000. Anybody paying $50,000 to watch UNLV basketball has far too much money.

Nevada's website says, "Mini Plans: 2019-20 details coming soon!" so I don't think the Wolf Pack has discounted mini-plans.

Don King? He was convicted of manslaughter for stomping someone to death over $600 and in a separate incident shot a man in the back in a case later ruled justifiable homicide. He was investigated for possible connections with organized crime and stole money from a number of fighters leading to multiple lawsuits. But he has cool hair and is charismatic, so I think people like him rather than looking at him as a villain anymore. Silly humans, we like crazy hair!

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