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Analyzing the first recruit for each of Nevada basketball's last five head coaches

Ramon Sessions
Mark Fox, right, struck gold with his first signee, Ramon Sessions. (John Byrne/Nevada athletics)

New Nevada basketball coach Steve Alford recently signed his first player as the Wolf Pack's head coach when he inked French guard Kane Milling. If you look at the previous four Nevada head coaches, their first signee foretold their future with the Wolf Pack, some in eerie fashion. Here is a look at the last five Nevada head coaches and the first player they signed while running the program and what that meant for their future.

Trent Johnson's first commit

Donny Guerinoni: When Johnson was named Nevada's head coach prior to the 1999-2000 season, he inherited a team that hadn't been to the NCAA Tournament in 14 seasons and was 209-190 during that period with just one 20-win campaign and one postseason berth (the 1997 NIT). There wasn't a lot of history here and Johnson went about changing that by adding toughness. That toughness started with Guerinoni, an undersized shooting guard (6 feet, 180 pounds) with a history of winning. He won two league championships at West Valley College in Saratoga, Calif., and was league MVP before signing with the Wolf Pack, where he played for two seasons. Guerinoni didn't post huge numbers (he averaged 4.7 points per game as a senior, including one seven 3-point game that remains a top-10 mark in school history), but he did play tough and smart (he was a WAC All-Academic selection). Those traits came to define Johnson's teams (Johnson was tough and smart, too). Players like Corey Jackson, Jerry Petty, Kirk Snyder, Kevinn Pinkney, Garry Hill-Thomas, Jermaine Washington, Richard Stirgus, Adrian McCullough, Calvin Criddle, Terrance Green and Kyle Shiloh would go on to personify that toughness element Johnson was looking to build his program on, but it started with Guerinoni, his first commitment. Defense is all about toughness, and Johnson's ultimate team (the 2003-04 squad) ranked 15th in the nation in KenPom defense. Johnson built a Sweet 16 team (and a program that would go on to reach four straight NCAA Tournaments) without any four- or five-star recruits. He did it with gritty guys. Guerinoni went on to be an assistant coach at Stanford, LSU and TCU under Johnson and is currently an assistant at Harvard.

Mark Fox's first commit

Ramon Sessions: When Johnson left for Stanford in late May, Fox inherited a solid four-player recruiting class signed by his predecessor. That group included Mo Charlo, David Ellis, Lyndale Burleson and Kevyn Green. But Fox had one scholarship to use and boy did he find a gem, adding Sessions as his first commitment as the team's head coach. Sessions was a super late sign, with his academic standing playing a role in him slipping through the cracks. A call between Fox and Bob Gibbons, who ran a national scouting service, put Sessions on the Wolf Pack's radar as the South Carolina player of the year had just passed his SAT and became eligible and Gibbons was high on the point guard. Sessions didn't sign with Nevada until August, but he ended up being a huge piece for the Wolf Pack. “He’s pretty solid,” Fox said of Sessions shortly after he signed. “He can shoot it, he can drive it and he finishes at the basket. He’s got a well-rounded game.” Sessions ended up leading Nevada to three NCAA Tournaments and three WAC regular-season titles before turning pro and logging a 10-year NBA career. The Sessions signing defined the Fox era because the coach did an excellent job of developing non-elite prospects into NBA players. During his five years as Nevada's head coach, Fox signed four future NBA draft picks in Sessions, JaVale McGee, Armon Johnson and Luke Babbitt. He also deserves a bunch of credit for discovering Nick Fazekas, another future draft pick who was lightly recruited. Of those five, only Babbitt was a blue-chip prospect. Fox's ability to find productive three-star recruits and turn them into pros was his greatest skill at Nevada.

David Carter's first commit

Patrick Neyko: Of Nevada's last four head-coaching tenures, only one guy didn't eventually make the jump to a Power 5 school. That coach was Carter. (Johnson went to Stanford; Fox to Georgia; and Musselman to Arkansas.) Carter landed Nyeko exactly two weeks after he got the Wolf Pack head job, and that addition told the story of his tenure. After inking Nyeko out of Seattle Prep, Carter noted on signing day, "We are very excited about Patrick. He is an athletic guard who has the ability to guard several positions. He's unselfish and is a team player. His best basketball is ahead of him." Nyeko never broke into the starting lineup and tallied 111 points in 93 games before being dismissed from the team late in his senior season. There were simply too many recruiting misses for Carter, who signed the following players as the team's head coach: Nyeko, Marko Cukic, Malik Story, Deonte Burton, Olek Czyz, Jerry Evans Jr., Derrell Conner, Jordan Burris, Kevin Panzer, Jordan Finn, Illiwa Baldwin, Ali Fall, Marqueze Coleman, Richard Bell, Cole Huff, Michael Perez, AJ West, D.J. Fenner, Ronnie Stevens, Lucas Stivrins, Tyron Criswell, Eric Cooper Jr., Robyn Missa, Kaileb Rodriguez, Elijah Foster and Stelios Papafloratos. There are some good players in there, notably Burton, Story, Czyz, Evans, Coleman, Huff, Fenner and West, but just too many misses. Of those 26 players, only three made the all-conference team under Carter and 14 left the program before finishing their eligibility (that's 53.8 percent). Jumping from the WAC to the more competitive Mountain West so quickly after Carter signed an eight-player 2011 recruiting class didn't help, but Carter's first signing signaled what was to come for his Wolf Pack tenure.

Eric Musselman's first commit

Marcus Marshall: We learned pretty early on Musselman liked Division I transfers. How early on? Nevada earned a commitment from Marshall less than a month after Musselman was hired. And then Jordan Caroline was added as Musselman's third signee (Lindsey Drew came between the two). Marshall didn't have the greatest parting with Missouri State and had only one season of eligibility remaining while soaking up two years worth of scholarship. But Musselman wasn't detoured. He offered Marshall early on and got a pledge without Marshall even visiting the campus. The risk paid off as Marshall was a first-team All-Mountain West pick in his only season with the Wolf Pack, leading Nevada to its first MW regular-season title and breaking the school's nine-year NCAA Tournament drought while averaging 19.7 points and 3.7 assists per game while hitting a then-team-record 115 3-pointers. The transfer template worked out so well Musselman kept going back, adding Caleb Martin, Cody Martin, Kendall Stephens, Leland King, Hallice Cooke, Jalen Harris, Jazz Johnson, Tre'Shawn Thurman, Trey Porter, Corey Henson, Nisré Zouzoua, Darien Williams ... we could keep going on and one here ... as D-I transfers. The Marshall addition was the tip of the iceberg on how Musselman was going to build his program. Perhaps no first signing in Wolf Pack history was as prophetic as this one. Musselman mixed in a couple of good high school recruits in Drew, Cameron Oliver and Josh Hall, but this was a program built on transfers from the very start.

Steve Alford's first commit

Kane Milling: Only time will tell how this one will work out but Alford's first signee was Milling, a 6-foot-4 combo guard from France, based on a tip from assistant coach Craig Neal. Alford signed a few international players at New Mexico and leaned a lot more heavily on high school recruits than Musselman. With transfers more popular now than ever before, we'll see how Alford tweaks his recruiting formula. If Milling pans out and Alford continues Nevada's success, maybe this commitment will be a sign he was able to unearth hidden gems. Ultimately, it might be fair to say Alford's first commitment was Jazz Johnson, who obviously was on the Wolf Pack's roster but had put his name in the transfer portal (along with basically everybody else on the roster) following the coaching change. Alford was able to talk Johnson into staying at Nevada, an announcement that came after the coach's introductory press conference. Others have followed his lead. But it will be interesting to check back in a few years to see if Alford's first signee was as prophetic as the first commitments to Johnson, Fox, Carter and Musselman.

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