When Nevada basketball coach Eric Musselman decided this offseason to hold a pro day during the first week of his team’s official practices, he knew it was a risk.
“Will it be two scouts? Will it be three?” Musselman asked himself.
Instead, it was 32 scouts from 20 NBA teams. Nearly three dozen NBA personnel flocked to Reno on Thursday afternoon to watch the Wolf Pack practice, vindication for Musselman, whose risk to hold a pro day – something almost no college does, let alone a non-Power 5 school – paid off handsomely. It was a showcase for both his players and the growth of his program.
“I’ve only talked to two or three teams so far and some of them have said it’s the best pro day they’ve ever seen,” Musselman said. “The players were nervous. I was a little nervous. I thought I had done everything in basketball in my life, but I’ve never had a pro day and I’ve never attended a pro day.
“I thought it was great for the players. We’re going to get great feedback. I’ve already gotten feedback on some of our guys on what they can work on and some of our guys really helped themselves today for sure.”
Musselman said the event exceeded his expectations. The Wolf Pack players seemed equally pleased.
Caleb Martin said Nevada’s pro day compared favorably to the NBA draft combine, which he attended in Chicago in the pre-draft process before pulling his name from the draft to try and increase his stock. Brother, Cody, also attended the combine and said Nevada’s event, held at the Ramon Sessions Performance Center, had a similar feel.
“It was awesome,” Caleb Martin said. “I’m honored to be a part of the first ever pro day at this program, and people are recognizing the type of talent and the type of things we could do this year. It could be special. I was talking to Coach and my brother and this was pretty much just like the combine. When I walked in today and saw how the chairs were lined up and the cameras were in the corner, this is as close to the combine as anything you’ll ever get. It was second to none.”
Musselman said he owed it to the Martin twins and Jordan Caroline, each of whom tested the NBA draft waters this offseason, to hold such an event. McDonald’s All-American Jordan Brown also was a main draw as some teams sent as many as four scouts. Among the scouts were Antawn Jamison (Lakers), who played under Musselman in the NBA, and ex-Wolf Pack assistant Ronald Dupree (Bucks).
“Some programs don’t want to do it because it’s a distraction and ‘We don’t want our guys thinking about the three letters, the NBA,’” Musselman said. “Look, the bottom line is they are thinking about it. We understand that. We embrace that.”
Musselman said he would love to hold a pro day every year but that depends on his staff being able to recruit and land players who NBA teams want to see. Nevada opened practice for the highly anticipated 2018-19 season Tuesday and Musselman said getting all of the scouts at one practice early in the season was important so his team could focus on the upcoming season.
“One thousand percent,” Musselman said of wanting to gather all of the scouts at one session. “As a staff and department, we met and some people thought it might be better in October. I said, ‘No. I don’t want any distraction come Oct. 1.’ Every week we have specific goals we’re trying to do and we wanted this over and some guys here today are going to come to exhibition games and stuff that might be announced in the near future.”
As expected, both Martin twins played well. Caleb looked fully healed from the Lisfranc sprain that plagued him for the last month of the season. Cody’s shot, a point of criticism during NBA workouts, looked better, too.
“Just play my game, stay solid, don’t force anything,” Cody said of his pro day goal. “Stay within my game. That’s how I end up playing well. My game is to play unselfish, play hard, play defense and make the right decisions. I’m not really offensive-minded. I don’t care how many shots I get up. I just take them when they come, take open shots and just get everybody involved, which is what I tried to do.”
The Jordans – Caroline and Brown – also had their standout moments. Caroline thrived in the star shooting drill. His long-range stroke will be key as he makes the transition to small forward this season. Brown showed his length, scoring ability and also shot the fairly well. As the second McDonald’s All-American to sign with Nevada, Brown praised the coaching staff for putting on an event like this for the players.
“It means a lot because they put forth a lot of effort for this and to give us the opportunity to get to the next level,” Brown said. “Just to throw our names out there. I’m really appreciative. I didn’t even know this was going to happen until after I had already committed here.”
Caroline has seen the Wolf Pack’s ascension more than any player. He transferred to Nevada after Musselman was hired in March 2015 and has helped the team win three Mountain West titles and make two NCAA Tournament appearances, including last year’s Sweet 16 run.
“It’s crazy,” Caroline said. “When I committed, we were 9-22 and now we have 32 NBA scouts at a practice. It’s crazy to see that type of turnaround. It’s a complete 180-degree turnaround.”
With the pro day out of the way, the Wolf Pack – projected as a top-10 team in basically every publication – can now focus on fulfilling those lofty expectations.
“Tomorrow we turn the page and there are no distractions and we have to figure out how the Wolf Pack can get better,” Musselman said.
Sports columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @MurrayRGJ.
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