The Nevada basketball team returns all five starters from last season, but that doesn't mean the Wolf Pack staff rested on those laurels.
Head coach Steve Alford has largely built his Wolf Pack teams with Division I transfers, and he continued to add to his roster via that pipeline this offseason. Nevada added five transfers to its roster over the last several months, including the additions of Will Baker (Texas), Addison Patterson (Oregon), Trey Wade (Wichita State), AJ Bramah (Robert Morris) and Kenan Blackshear (Florida Atlantic). While Patterson and Wade parted ways with the Wolf Pack before playing a game with the school, Baker, Bramah and Blackshear — the Killer Bs? — will bolster what was already one of the Mountain West's most impressive rosters.
Alford said he's excited for Wolf Pack fans to see those players, especially considering the team hasn't had a chance to do much in the way of engagement activities with the community do to COVID-19 restrictions.
"The majority of Reno probably has no idea who those three guys you just talked about are, and I think they are three really important pieces to what we've got," Alford said.
Baker was a five-star recruit out of high school who had UCLA as his runner-up to his hometown Texas Longhorns. Alford was the head coach of UCLA at the time, and when Baker entered the transfer portal last year, Nevada scooped up the 7-footer. Baker had limited success at Texas, averaging just 2.1 points and 1.9 rebounds in 8.4 minutes per game. He shot 27.5 percent from the field, including 6-of-39 from three (15.4 percent), but the Wolf Pack staff has worked on the lefty's long-range shot during his time on campus, which began in the middle of last season when he joined the team as a mid-season transfer and was allowed to practice but not play with the Wolf Pack.
"He's somebody that can pass it, shoot it, dribble it at 7-foot," Alford said. "So he's going to bring versatility to our frontcourt that we just haven't had."
Bramah also was a mid-year transfer, although he didn't pick a school until the offseason when he first signed with Arizona State before backing out of that commitment and signing with Nevada following Patterson's departure from the program. Bramah, a 6-foot-7 power forward, began his career in junior college before joining Robert Morris, a low-major team. Last season, he averaged 21 points and 10.3 rebounds in 12 games before leaving the team. He could slide into Nevada's starting lineup or be one of the first players off the bench.
"AJ Bramah is going to rival Des(mond) Cambridge as our most athletic player," Alford said. "We really added athleticism in that position, and he's somebody at Robert Morris who was a double-double guy. He averaged 20 and 10 there. He's somebody who's got good experience at the collegiate level and put up numbers at the collegiate level."
Blackshear comes from a basketball family. His father and mother, Kerry and Lamila, played at Stetson. His dad was the Atlantic Sun Player of the Year and graduated as the school’s all-time leading scorer. His mom is one of Stetson's top rebounders. Blackshear's oldest brother, Kerry Jr., was an all-conference player in the ACC (Virginia Tech) and SEC (Florida), and his sister, Kayla, is a top-100 national recruit who is committed to Arkansas. Blackshear was a sophomore at Florida Atlantic last season and averaged 9.4 points and 4.3 rebounds per game.
"Keenan Blackshear is a very big guard," Alford said. "You're looking at somebody who's 6-6, 220 pounds. I'm out on the recruiting trail, and a lot of those guys that you look at are 6-6, 180. So we're looking at somebody who is a very big guard who's very talented. I think he can guard a lot of positions, play offensively a lot of positions."
Baker, Bramah and Blackshear are three of five new players for Nevada, a list that includes freshmen Nick Davidson, a power forward from Southern California, and Jalen Weaver, a combo guard originally from Colorado.
The Wolf Pack could realistically go 10 deep in proven Division I players, something it was not afford during Alford's first two seasons with the Wolf Pack as he was building the roster. That new depth — two starters from last season, Tre Coleman and Daniel Foster, could be pushed to bench roles — will help Nevada's ability to get the most of its players, Alford said.
"I think it maybe alleviates pressure from a coaching standpoint, not from a playing standpoint, and I think that's a good thing," Alford said. "I think that competition is really good. You want to get better, and that's a piece of our development. I do think we do a very good job with development in our program. I think that's been a staple of our coaches over the staffs that we've had over the 30 years. But it's hard for guys to develop if you don't have that competition. We've got competition up front, and we've got competition in the backcourt. We didn't have that before.
"Last year, if Des got in foul trouble or he was in a funk and needed to sit down, we had inexperience to bring in. We had no backup point guard for Grant because Daniel got hurt and didn't didn't join our team again until mid-January. So we've got that depth now that presents coaches some opportunities that if you're not playing well, we can send a message. We weren't able to do those things, and I think that usually breeds a little bit more consistent play, and the development piece we've seen since April has been very good."