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Murray's Mailbag: Will Jalen Harris stay in the NBA draft or return to Nevada?

JalenHarris
Jalen Harris has put his name in the NBA draft. (Byrne Photo/Nevada athletics)

Sports may still be paused, but we got some big news this week when Jalen Harris put his name in the NBA draft (without hiring an agent). It's not unexpected news as testing the waters is always a good way to get some feedback before making a final decision. This week's Monday Twitter Mailbag will start with a few questions on Harris, so lets get to them. Thanks, as always, for the inquiries.

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

Nobody truly knows what the final outcome will be. Not even Jalen Harris. If he knew what he was going to do, he would have hired an agent and moved on. But it is smart of him to test the waters. While this might not be a traditional pre-draft process with a full NBA combine and individual player workouts with teams (we don't know if either of those will take place), putting his name in the draft means, at minimum, teams will go back and watch his film from last season. And when they do that, they'll be very impressed. They'll see a big guard (listed at 6-foot-5) who can play both backcourt positions; who has all of the skills to be a top-level defender; a guy who can score at all three levels; an unselfish player; a guy with a good basketball IQ; and the versatility to fit on a variety of rosters given his array of skills. Harris is on pace to graduate in May, per his father, so he could have incentive to start a pro career sooner rather than later. Like any player, he could improve facets of his game (shoot better from three, finish at the rim at a higher clip, be more consistent on defense) with another college season. But it's going to be hard for him to out-perform his 2019-20 season. One thing he could get with another college season is more of opportunity to play in front of NBA scouts and on a bigger stage if Nevada were to make the NCAA Tournament. Yes, he was scouted this season, but it wasn't a full-court press like the Martin twins and Jordan Caroline got in their senior seasons (and as juniors in the NCAA Tournament).

The potential lack of a combine and NBA workouts would hurt Harris, who is not on most mock drafts currently, although he has been more widely discussed by NBA scouts than the media. As a player who has been at two mid-major schools, getting the opportunity to go live against the best prospects in the nation in a combine setting would have helped. He has NBA skills for sure. I think he's an NBA player. But not having gone against top competition is a question mark he likely won't get the chance to answer. On the flipside, if there is no in-person workouts or combine, it will make teams revert to this year's game film, and I could see a team or two falling in love with what they would see in a review of his season with the Wolf Pack. There aren't a lot of holes in his game. I don't see Harris wiggling into the first round, and his father, Erion, did say in February that Jalen would only make the jump to the NBA if it was a "sure thing." Things have changed in recent years where second-round picks almost always get guaranteed deals and a shot to show they can play in the league. If he gets a second-round guarantee, that would be hard to pass up. But can you get a guarantee with so much uncertainty surrounding the draft? We don't even know when the draft will be held.

The league and NBA teams seem to want to push it back to August, which means Nevada could be left in limbo until right before school starts, unable to fill the scholarship Harris would give back if he does turn pro with a grad transfer to help replace his production. That's the unfortunate part of the timing of this. In recent weeks, I've been putting it at 80 percent odds Harris returns to school and 20 percent he turns pro. With this weekend's decision, I would change that to a 60 percent chance of returning to school and 40 percent chance he stays in the draft. The temptation to stay in gets stronger once you've taken the first step, but more often than not when it comes to Wolf Pack players testing the waters, they do return to school. Among those players are Nick Fazekas, Marcelus Kemp, Cameron Oliver (the first time), Cody Martin, Caleb Martin, Jordan Caroline. The only players to test the waters and stay in the draft are Oliver (the second time) and Ramon Sessions, and Oliver more or less knew he was staying in when he "tested the waters."

I know playing in the NCAA Tournament has been important for Harris, and he's yet to accomplish that, but every basketball player's goal is to get to the NBA as fast as possible. If Harris feels like he'll get drafted, he'll stay in. I would use an NBA draft pick on him, but I do not run an NBA team. Needless to say, his decision will make a huge impact on Nevada, as we will talk about below.

I'm not sure about the deep part. Yes, Nevada will have depth in eligible scholarship numbers like we haven't seen since 2014-15 when Nevada had 12 eligible scholarship players. But that team won nine games. In the last five years, the Wolf Pack has usually been at eight or nine eligible scholarship players and has averaged 26 wins per season. I agree with Eric Musselman than depth can be overrated. You really only need eight players. In terms of next year's Wolf Pack, how many players on that roster do we know are, at minimum, average Division I players or better? I'd say four: Jalen Harris, Desmond Cambridge, Zane Meeks and K.J. Hymes. Robby Robinson and Warren Washington could certainly become that next season. You never know what you'll get out of freshmen, and Nevada will have five of those. So Nevada is deep in numbers, but might not be deep in quality Division I players in 2020-21 even if a lot of the freshmen will become that over time. Because of that, Harris' return is huge. If he comes back, Nevada should be in the mix for a first-round MW Tournament bye again. If he does not, Nevada will most likely be facing a rebuilding season after losing five starters after the 2018-19 season and four more after 2019-20. That's a lot of departed (and quality) talent. Barttorvik,com ranks Nevada as the 119th-best team in the nation with Harris and 229th without him. You're talking about the difference between a team like UNLV and Wyoming this past season. It's vast.

It's hard to do a win-loss prediction without a schedule (here is what we know of the schedule right now), but I'll go 19 wins with Harris and 12 wins without him. It's fair to say the Wolf Pack's season hinges on Harris' decision. It's the most important testing of the draft waters since Nick Fazekas did so prior to the 2006 draft. Perhaps more important than that since Nevada at least knew it had Ramon Sessions, Marcelus Kemp and JaVale McGee on the 2006-07 roster if Fazekas did turn pro (he did not).

Here is my breakdown of Nevada's five incoming freshmen, but that is a longer-term look at the class. You're asking about just next season, which is a fun debate. It feels like DeAndre Henry could step in right now and give the team quality minutes, but he also will have to work to get on the court with K.J. Hymes, Zane Meeks, Warren Washington and Robby Robinson in front of him on the depth chart. That won't be easy. So I'll pick between Tre' Coleman and Je'Lani Clark. Coleman has the smoothest path to immediate minutes, so I will pick him as having the best freshman season in 2020-21 if Jalen Harris returns. If Harris turns pro, Clark's ball-handling and play-making skills will be more required, so I would make him my selection if Harris does not return for his senior season. The wildcard is Alem Huseinovic. If he's hitting 40 percent of his threes, he'll be hard to take off the court given his shooting ability. But my money is on Coleman until I hear what Harris does.

I don't see Steve Alford being motivated to leave Nevada. He's already coached at the Power 5 level twice at Iowa and UCLA, which is as blueblood a job as you could get. He's been there and done that. At Nevada, he gets to coach with a lifelong childhood friend (Craig Neal), with his son (Kory Alford), in a conference he likes (the Mountain West), in a state without an income tax and lots of good golf (Nevada), with a fan base that cares (Nevada basketball is the "pro sports team" in town) and with a comfortable contract (a fully guaranteed, $11.6 million deal that runs through 2029 and tops out at $1.5 million annually). He gets $250,000 retention bonuses simply for being Nevada's coach on April 1, 2022 and April 1, 2025. If Indiana offers him the job, is he leaving? Yes. But I would put my money on Alford being Nevada's coach through the duration of his contract.

If you are interested in his buyout numbers, they are as follows:

Year 1 (through June 30, 2020): $8 million

Year 2 (through June 30, 2021): $6 million

Year 3 (through June 30, 2022): $4 million

Year 4 (through June 30, 2023): $3 million

Year 5 (through June 30, 2024): $2 million

Year 6 (through June 30, 2025): $1.5 million

Year 7 (through June 30, 2026): $1.5 million

Year 8 (through June 30, 2027): $1.5 million

Year 9 (through June 30, 2028): $1.5 million

Year 10 (through June 30, 2029): $1.5 million (prorated for months remaining in contract)

It gets fairly minimal after five seasons.

I'd be checking in with Dr. Anthony Fauci first and foremost to see if he thinks there will be a college football season in 2020. But if you're looking at just Wolf Pack position groups, I'd go with the quarterbacks given Nevada's situation there. The Wolf Pack has a good starter in Carson Strong. But after him? Nevada has Kaiden Bennett, who walked onto the team last season but will be on scholarship this year; Hamish McClure, a walk-on who is coming off major surgery; Kaymen Cureton, who was a safety for most of last season and reportedly put his name in the transfer portal; and Nate Cox, a junior-college transfer who was supposed to join the team for spring camp. The depth is not great, and all of the players above could have used a spring camp to get more comfortable in Nevada's system, which Coach Norvell has said he is planning on tweaking this offseason. If Strong stays healthy, Nevada will be fine. But that wasn't the case last year playing being an iffy offensive line, and you always want at least one good backup. I'd be checking up on them to make sure they're on point.

Nevada's 2012 offensive line was the greatest in school history with four NFL players (Joel Bitonio, Christian Barker, Sebastian Tretola, Kyle Roberts) and two more who got into NFL camps (Matt Galas, Jeff Nady). It's been downhill since then, and while Nevada has had some average offensive lines, it hasn't had the great ones we saw from 2005-12. The Wolf Pack simply hasn't been able to put together a good enough offensive line to hit the offensive standard Nevada fans are used to seeing. The group hit rock bottom last season and was rated by Pro Football Focus as one of the 10 worst lines in the nation. That entire group is back in 2020, so there should be progress, but it is under the direction of the program's eighth offensive line coach in the last 12 seasons. All of those changes has hurt the unit. But Coach Norvell has certainly invested into the group with seven scholarship offensive linemen who are freshmen on this year's roster (either true freshmen or players who redshirted last year). The position has not been neglected, but it hasn't been good, either. Nevada had at least one all-conference offensive lineman every year from 2000-14. From 2015-19, the Wolf Pack has had only one all-conference offensive lineman (Austin Corbett). That's been a major issue and needs to be solved for the Wolf Pack's skill-position players, who are probably the best in the Mountain West, to reach their peak.

The advanced metrics of ESPN's Bill Connelly gives Nevada a 28 percent chance of winning at Arkansas and a 30 percent chance of winning at South Florida. That's the two toughest games on the schedule, per Connelly. That was before the pandemic. And with both of those programs having first-year coaches, I can only assume the Wolf Pack's odds of winning have increased since those staffs will have less time to implement their systems before games are played. The most likely outcome in those games is a split with Nevada losing to Arkansas and beating South Florida, but honestly I would not be surprised at any of the three options (2-0, 1-1 or 0-2). Both are long trips, and Nevada hasn't been very good on the road under Coach Norvell (6-12 in road games, including 2-11 on the road against bowl-eligible teams). In terms of conference games, Connelly's numbers make Nevada an underdog in six of its eight MW tilts, the only exceptions being New Mexico and UNLV (so the Wolf Pack would be an underdog in all four of its home conference games). But we're talking moderate numbers. As Connelly points out, all eight of Nevada's MW games are projected within six points. They're all winnable games and all losable games. The season could really swing either way.

In readers missed it, Nevada said in a mailer to Wolf Pack fans it was lowering season-ticket prices on more than half the seats at Mackay Stadium. It is hard to analyze what this means until we see the new season-ticket prices. All we know for sure is Nevada will lower season-ticket prices for more than 50 percent of the seats at Mackay Stadium, with prices dropping by 10 percent or more. So let's say Nevada lowers its general admission prices by 10 percent and that's the extent of it. I don't think that's going to do much. As is, the Wolf Pack's cheapest seats are $99 for six games ($16.50 per game). That's a bargain, and still it's been hard to sell season tickets. I don't think anybody should be criticizing Nevada for this move. I think it is smart to lower prices: (a) given where the economy is headed; (b) given how quickly the season-ticket base has fallen; and (c) given the 2020 home schedule, which does not feature high-caliber teams (UC Davis, UTEP, San Diego State, Fresno State, Utah State, Wyoming). I don't think Nevada is "throwing away money" with the move, but again we have to see what sections are decreasing. I would spin it as the Wolf Pack trying to get fans back into Mackay Stadium to get a game-day experience and see if they will stick long term. There's nothing wrong with that. Nevada should go 5-1 or better at home this season, which could get fans to renew in 2021. I believe the Wolf Pack's season-ticket base will decline in 2020, but perhaps not as sharply as previous seasons.

I would bet over, although Connelly's metrics give Nevada only a 35.7 percent chance of winning seven games or more. I just don't see how the Wolf Pack doesn't win seven or more given its schedule, which should be one of the easiest in the nation. Nevada doesn't play a preseason top-70 team the entire season. A lot of things would have to go wrong for Nevada to come up short of seven victories. It should be able to beat UC Davis, UTEP, New Mexico, San Jose State and UNLV, and getting two more from there shouldn't be difficult. The offense should be better and while the defense will be learning a new scheme, it shouldn't be much worse than last season. This is the year to strike before Boise State, Air Force and Colorado State (plus Cal and Kansas State) are added to the schedule in 2021.

Below is the list of pure football players on our G.O.A.T Challenge Bracket. Only three of them played four years or less in the NFL, so most of them actually did have long pro careers. (Don Manoukian and Dan Orlich made the list, and both played pro football, but Manoukian made the cut more for his wrestling and Orlich for his trapshooting.)

Marion Motley: Pro Football Hall of Famer; broke pro football color barrier; one of 12 running backs on NFL's 100th anniversary team; four-time champion

Colin Kaepernick: Greatest player in Nevada football history; One of three Nevada quarterbacks to start NFL game; Led team to Super Bowl appearance

Charles Mann: 12 NFL seasons; four-time Pro Bowler; three-time Super Bowl champ

Brock Marion: 12 NFL seasons; three-time Pro Bowler; two-time Super Bowl champion; 912 career tackles are most of any local

Dave Wyman: Nine NFL seasons; his 553 career tackles are the second most of any local

Joel Bitonio: Just finished his sixth NFL season; two-time Pro Bowler; two-time All-Pro honoree; will play in the league for 15 seasons if he stays healthy

Nate Burleson: 11 NFL seasons; Ranks first among locals in NFL receptions (457), receiving yards (5,630) and touchdowns (43)

Frank Hawkins: College Football Hall of Famer; seven-year NFL career; Won one Super Bowl

Stan Heath: First college football player to throw for 2,000 yards in a season, which nobody would do again for 15 years; fifth in 1948 Heisman vote; 5th pick of 1949 NFL draft; first Wolf Pack alum to start at quarterback in an NFL game

Chris Vargas: Legendary Wolf Pack quarterback who defined an entire era of Nevada athletics

Duke Williams: Four NFL seasons; on the list as much for what he did in high school, which was a state record in track, top-10 nationally in triple jump, three-time state honoree in football and hit back-to-back game-winning shots in basketball in the regional semifinal and championship games as a senior

Trevor Insley: Arguably the greatest wide receiver in college football history; played three NFL seasons before a career-ending ankle injury

And none of these guys called Reno "a dump" unlike Van Noy, who certainly could have made our list. If you want to argue for him over Williams, Vargas or Insley that'd be fine. But all of the other football players on the list are locks. But that's what lists are for: debate. Your list could differ from mine, and that's fine. Van Noy has a great résumé and he's done a good job of resurrecting his career after nearly washing out of the league in Detroit. It shows how fragile an NFL career is. Same thing happened to Brandon Marshall, who was cut by the Jaguars several times before landing with Denver and turning into a star-level player and Super Bowl champion. Marshall is another guy worthy of consideration on our list.

Chris Ault, and it's not even close. During Ault's tenure, the Wolf Pack built Peccole Park, Legacy Hall and Cashell Fieldhouse; secured the Bishop Manogue property that turned into Hixson Field and the on-campus tennis courts and track and field practice area; turned Mackay Stadium into a real FBS stadium (capacity was 14,000 when he became AD and 30,000 when he left the job); jumped from Division I-AA to Division I; got Nevada into the Big West and then the WAC; integrated female sports into the athletic department (women's athletics used to be housed in the Virginia Street Gym); got tuition waivers from the legislature to fund more women's athletic scholarships; and hired Trent Johnson, which made Nevada basketball relevant. While Ault is a Hall of Fame coach, it's easy to overlook how good of an athletic director he was. Nevada wouldn't be anywhere near the Mountain West without him. It'd be Sac State.

Nevada's Elijah Foster and New Mexico's Xavier Adams got frisky with each other every time the Wolf Pack and and Lobos played. Foster kicked Adams in the head at one point. Good times.

Yes, the season will still count as a full year. Coaching contracts run through specific dates (for example, Steve Alford's contract ends April 30, 2029) rather than being quantified in terms of seasons coached. The cancellations of the spring sports won't impact the contracts at all. Some of Nevada's coaches are on one-year deals, so those will be extended a year as they normally would be. The higher-profile coaches are on multi-year deals, and I don't see those being impacted or extended by the pandemic.

Unless I missed something, I believe there are only six Nevada women's basketball players in the transfer portal. But I did ask Coach Amanda Levens about that during her interview on NSN Daily. You can check that out here.

The NIAA said Friday it has no further update since our last story on the topic. The worst-case scenario is pretty simple: The entire spring season is canceled. The best-case scenario seems like a couple of tune-up games before every team gets to compete at regionals. The state tournaments have already been canceled, so you can rule those out. My money is on the high school athletic season being over. I don't see how Northern Nevada could safely continue with those events, and while that is disappointing, we need to put safety first. If the MLB and NBA can't play right now, I don't see how it would be safe for high schools to do so.

Better question: Why couldn't golfers in Nevada adhere to social distancing policies while playing golf and not force the closure of courses in the state? Sisolak said he extended the state's social distancing rules because some golfers tried to circumvent the restrictions he put in place, including seeing pictures of golfers riding together in carts and standing together on the greens. O.J. Simpson seems all right with closing golf courses in Nevada, which is good because we know what happens when O.J. gets mad.

(He kills people. Allegedly.)

Congrats on the puppy! They can be expensive. Our St. Bernard cost around $2,500 before the mandatory vet visits, so I feel you. But dogs are great. We haven't spent on anything major during this quarantine period. We spent $54 on eight rolls of toilet paper, which is crazy, but you have to do what you have to do. In terms of the most expensive, we're putting in a home gym and that will probably come out around $800-$1,000, but I think we're going to be hunkered down for a while and you can never go wrong spending on your health.

I was actually playing Rock Band, not Guitar Hero, so my bad there. We haven't gotten too deep into the bottle yet, but my favorite song played so far is Alice In Chain's "Man in the Box." My favorite song to sing is Disturbed's "Down with the Sickness." Who doesn't love the "Oh, ah, ah, ah, ah" part?

Update: After playing more Monday night, my five favorite songs to play on guitar are Bon Jovi's "Livin' on a Prayer,"Jimmy Eat World's "The Middle," Linkin Park's "One Step Closer," Silversun Pickups' "Lazy Eye" and The Offspring's "Come Out & Play (Keep ‘em Separated)."

The bad news is I tried to hook up our old Super Nintendo and there are black bars running vertically up and down the screen, so that system might be cooked.

Very easily actually. Here was the debut of the column, and I don't follow any of the people included in the article. I already have three tweets lined up for this week's column, and I don't follow any of those people, either. The tweets just come to me like I'm a magnet. This column basically replaces my "Week in 1,000 Words" column, which usually took 90 minutes to 2 hours to write every Friday. The "7 Best Tweets" will take about 30 minutes, which is nice because my Fridays are usually loaded anyway.

With 1 being the least amount and 100 the most, I'd say 30. I don't actually watch that much sports on my free time. If we weren't quarantined and could come and go as we please, the number would be even lower than 30 because it'd be easier to fill time. When you're stuck inside with no sports, you miss it a little more. But I did watch most of a replay of Game 7 of the 2016 NBA finals yesterday. That is one of my five favorite games in sports history. That was a fun re-watch. LeBron James was so good in the fourth quarter of that game. He scored 11 of Cleveland's 16 points in the quarter; assisted on one of the two other made baskets; had the best block in NBA history; and made the series-clinching free throw. Steph Curry, on the other hand, was 1-of-6 for three points. So I miss the big games, but on a daily basis, I don't miss it that much.

The inclusion of "the last 30 years" makes this question more difficult because I would have easily gone Game 1 of the 1988 World Series when Kirk Gibson hit the walk-off homer to beat the Oakland Athletics. It's down to three options:

1. Game 5 of the Stanley Cup final (Alec Martinez nets the series-winning walk-off goal in double overtime to send the Kings past the Rangers)

2. Super Bowl XXV (Scott Norwood missed the game-winning field goal as the Bills lose to the Giants)

3. Game 7 of the 2010 NBA finals (the only Kobe Bryant-led Lakers title that went to seven games)

I'm going to pick Game 7 of the 2010 NBA finals. That was a horribly ugly game, but the Lakers rallied from a 13-point second-half deficit to beat the Celtics and win Kobe Bryant's fifth and final championship. Kobe's 60-point game in his final NBA contest would be cool, too, but I'll take the one that won the title.

It depends if we're talking one-ply, two-ply, three-ply or four-ply toiler paper, but one roll of toilet paper is worth more than three boxes of Kleenex on the open market. You only resort to Kleenex in a worst-case scenario.

He used his redshirt in 2000 and then tore his ACL as a sophomore in 2002. Back then, you had to miss all or most of two seasons due to injury to get one back (see Marcelus Kemp). The rules have changed since then to allow players who redshirt as true freshmen on the team's discretion and then suffer a season-ending injury early in the year to get an additional season (see Lucas Weber or E.J. Muhammad).

Dodgers

1. Jackie Robinson

2. Sandy Koufax

3. Clayton Kershaw

(Sorry PeeWee, Duke and Big D)

Guitarists

1. Mike McCready

2. Prince

3. Jimi Hendrix

(Sorry John Butler, Eddie Van Halen and Gary Clark Jr.)

Books

1. The Master and the Magarita

2. A Confederacy of Dunces

3. If on a winter’s night a traveler

(Sorry The Road, Scoop and The Underground Railroad)

1. Spicy picked cauliflower (cooked correctly, cauliflower is good)

2. Quarter jar of pimento stuffed olives (I like olives, so we're looking good so far)

3. Soggy celery (I'll eat it if I must, but I don't like it)

4. Thing in old tupperware (I'm not risking eating something labeled as a "thing")

As the smallest mountain in your list, I presume Rattlesnake would be a guard, so it would have the best odds of winning a 3-point shootout. As for the cats ...

Here you go.

And here you go again.

I'll take Dr. Fauci over "Deb" and Margs. Dr. Fauci was the captain of his high school basketball team, after all. As a 5-foot-7 guard, he led the Regis High's 1958 team past Donnie Walsh-led Fordham Prep. Walsh went on to play at North Carolina before being drafted by the San Francisco Warriors and having a long career as an executive with the Indiana Pacers and New York Knicks. Walsh controversially picked Reggie Miller over local hero Steve Alford in the 1987 draft. And it all comes full circle with the Alford reference. See y'all next week!

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