In a perfect scenario, college basketball teams would prefer not to lean heavily on freshmen unless they're five-star players who are one-and-done talents.
But for the Nevada basketball team's 2020-21 season, you can expect to see freshmen playing a lot of minutes. The Wolf Pack returns only four players who have logged a minute for the program, and all of them were role players last season. Additionally, two Division I transfers who sat out last season become eligible for Nevada this year. While those six players are expected to each fill big roles next season, the Wolf Pack also will be relying on a large freshman class that was signed in November.
That five-person class will be asked to provide immediate production after Nevada lost four starters this offseason, including three who earned All-Mountain West honors last season. That most recent loss was that of Jalen Harris, who said last week he was staying in the NBA draft, opening 35 more minutes of playing time per game he would have soaked up.
Nevada's recruiting class was not highly acclaimed when it signed with only one of the five freshmen even drawing a recruiting rating by 247Sports.com. But it looks better a few months later after a handful of the freshmen earned postseason accolades following their senior seasons. Nevada's freshmen logged 21.3 percent of the team's minutes last season, but you can expect that number to be higher with this year's class of freshmen.
During a recent Zoom press conference with local media, Wolf Pack coach Steve Alford discussed each of the players and why he's excited about the 2020 class that includes prep guards Daniel Foster, Je'Lani Clark and Alem Huseinovic, wing player Tre Coleman and big man DeAndre Heny.
The 6-foot-3 Clark was named the San Francisco region Player of the Year by the San Francisco Chronicle after averaging 15.8 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.7 steals as a senior for Archbishop Riordan High School, one of the nation's top teams.
"Je’Lani was somebody we’d been recruiting, but we got on him when the season started to unfold because we saw how he was very aggressive with the basketball and his shooting had drastically improved from his junior year to his senior year," Alford said
The 6-3 Huseinovic was the first commitment in Nevada's 2020 class and is known for his shooting. He averaged 14.5 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.4 assists as a senior at PHHoenix Prep, which went 35-15 while competing in the vaunted Grind Session. He made 43 percent of his 3-pointers and 91 percent of his free throws.
"Alem was somebody in the Phoenix area who were really liked, and Coach (Craig) Neal had a little bit of a relationship with him prior to getting here and he can really shoot the basketball," Alford said. "In our system, guards if you can shoot it we find a place for you. His work ethic was off the charts."
The 6-6 Foster played for Golden State Preparatory School in Napa, Calif., after moving to America from Australia. Golden State Prep is a post-grad offshoot of prep powerhouse Prolific Prep, which churns out several Division I players a year. Foster probably has the widest potential of outcomes as he can play point guard to power forward but has the least experience in the U.S.
“Daniel, the Australian kid, we saw him basically as he got off the plane," Alford said. "We were in the gym recruiting somebody else and we were able to see him play and get on him right away because we knew what he could bring with basketball IQ and his length and size at the guard position."
The 6-7 Henry played with Huseinovic at PHHoenix Prep and averaged 17.4 points, 11.3 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game. He made 57 percent of his shots and 84 percent of his free throws. The former FBS-scholarship-level offensive tackle was selected to play in the Grind Session All-Star Game, which was loaded with four- and five-star recruits.
"Dre was somebody we started recruiting as a former football guy who lost a ton of weight, so he has that football mentality," Alford said. "He’ll bring toughness to what we want, very athletic and gives us something up front that can really help our veterans as well. Excited about him."
The 6-6 Tre Coleman was the most acclaimed signee in the class with a three-star rating and No. 333 national rank among 2020 prospects. He averaged 15.4 points, 7.1 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game while shooting 65 percent from the field en route to Indiana All-Star honors (13 players from the state make the team).
"Tre Coleman is an Indiana All-Star, somebody we had a relationship with who played for Indiana Elite AAU program," Alford said. "We watched him a lot. Getting those five early was huge because they all play a role. Very heavy guard, but we knew we were losing a lot of guards."
The lone late signee in the class was Wichita State transfer Grant Sherfield, who signed with UCLA when Alford was the Bruins' coach. After Alford was fired, he got out of his letter of intent and landed with the Shockers where the 6-2 guard averaged 8.1 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game while shooting 35.3 percent, including 30.4 percent from three. He will have to sit out next season under NCAA transfer rules, barring getting a waiver from the NCAA.
"We had a previous relationship," Alford said. "He had committed to me at UCLA and then obviously I left UCLA and ended up coming here, he has family in Wichita. His grandparents live in Wichita. We were a little late with me getting hired here to get out of that situation. Fortunately we got him on a rebound from that standpoint. It’s a six-member class, and I think you add Warren and Des to that class."
That would be Warren Washington and Desmond Cambridge, transfers from Oregon State and Brown, respectively, who redshirted at Nevada last season. Both are expected to play heavy minutes in 2020-21 with Cambridge the odds-on favorite to be Nevada's leading scorer and Washington adding great size and length at 7 feet and 215 pounds.
"They might not be in the class, but they haven’t played yet and you have two good guys there, one a 7-footer and the other in Desmond who is a terrific score and bouncy athlete," Alford said. "We like the makeup, we like how the puzzle is being put together. But for the most part, it’s a very young puzzle."
And those youngsters will be valuable rotation players this season, with each having a path to a starting job if they play well after Nevada lost its top five players in terms of minutes logged last season.
With Harris' departure, the Wolf Pack has one open scholarship to finish its 2020-21 roster, with that likely going to a transfer, either one who would be immediately eligible or be required to sit out a season under NCAA rules. Either way, Nevada's freshmen aren't only a future play. They'll be counted on to be productive next season.
"It’s a relatively young, inexperienced group, but it’s a group that we like and we think we can grow with," Alford said.
Sports columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @ByChrisMurray.