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Pack player preview: Jazz Johnson looks to make sweet music at Nevada

Jazz Johnson
Jazz Johnson looks to play big minutes for Nevada this season. (John Byrne/Nevada athletics)

Nevada Sports Net’s Chris Murray will break down each of Nevada’s 12 eligible scholarship players prior to the Wolf Pack basketball team’s season opener Nov. 6 versus BYU. We will count the players down in alphabetical order using their last names. Today’s player: Jazz Johnson.

Jazz Johnson

Class: Junior

Number: 22

Position: Point guard

Height/weight: 5-10/180

Hometown: Lake Oswego, Ore.

2017-18 stats: 34.9 mpg, 15.8 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 2.3 apg, 44.4 FG%, 41.5 3PT% 82.3 FT% (2016-17 at Portland)

Likely role: Johnson is a spark plug player who could find his way into the starting lineup (like he did in Nevada’s second exhibition) if he plays with the energy he’s known for and becomes a reliable 3-point shooter. The battle for guard minutes between Corey Henson, Nisre Zouzoua and Johnson will be waged all season, and Johnson is a solid bet to lead that trio in court time. He doesn’t have ideal size (5-10/180) and coach Eric Musselman has largely favored big guards in his backcourt, but Nevada has enough length on its team to give Johnson minutes and help cover him up on defense, especially if it does move to the zone. Johnson isn’t a traditional point guard (he had more turnovers than assists in both of his seasons at Portland), but he’s worked to become a better play-maker who makes the right decisions with the ball in his hands. Given his shooting ability and tenacity, I’d put my money on Johnson playing a big role for Nevada this season, even if that means coming off the bench.

Key stat: 40.2 — During his 65 games at Portland over two seasons, Johnson shot 40.2 percent from three, hitting 94-of-234 shots from beyond the arc. If there is one player who will help make up for the lost shooting ability after the departures of Kendall Stephens and Hallice Cooke, it is Johnson, who won Nevada’s 3-point shooting contest at the team’s Silver & Blue Scrimmage and is a deadeye shooter in practice. At 5-10, he doesn’t have the length of those two players, especially Stephens, so it won't be quite as easy for him to get his shot off, but he is an excellent shooter with deep range.

In his words: “There shouldn’t be a game where we shouldn’t be ready to play. We have a crowd that wants to see us play every night. There’s not going to be a game where we don’t have fans there who want to see us play hard and win for them. It gives us a reason to come out and be ready every game. … (Sacrificing minutes) is really just about if we want to win or not. We all came here knowing that minutes were going to be sacrificed, roles were going to be sacrificed. It’s all about doing what we have to do to come together so we can hopefully win the national championship. … I’ll bring my play-making ability and my decision-making. That was something at Portland that I had trouble with and I’ve gotten a lot better with that. I’ve been shooting a lot better than I did at Portland and defensively I’ve gotten a whole lot better. … It’s night and day basically. I came here around 200 (pounds) and that was in shape for at the time. After I had the shoulder surgery, I got all the way up to 215. It’s been a slow process, but I’m down to 180 now. I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been, so I feel great. … You don’t get chances like this very often. You have to dedicate yourself to an opportunity like this because not every team can say they have the talent that we have. We have to pounce on the opportunity that we have. … (A national title is) 100 percent what we’re shooting for. If we believe anything else, if we think anything else about the way that our season should end, we’re selling ourselves short. There’s no other option but to think we can win a national championship.”

Sports columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at crmurray@sbgtv.com or follow him on Twitter @MurrayNSN.

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