One mother and one former school supplied Nevada’s best offensive and defensive players. The rest of the No. 6-ranked, unbeaten basketball team’s core came from other parts of the country.
North Carolina State, Southern Illinois, Portland, Omaha and Old Dominion compose the diverse group of schools that produced the six top scorers for the Wolf Pack, who will visit Utah at noon Saturday.
How did the Mountain West's Nevada become a potential Final Four team? The program's emergence began with the move of the Martin twins, Caleb and Cody, from North Carolina State, and the Wolf Pack's growth just kept feeding itself.
“When you look down their roster, there's an awful lot of transfer guys that found their way to Nevada,” said Ute coach Larry Krystkowiak, in an observation that's not as derisive as it may appear.
Nevada coach Eric Musselman “does a good job of blending personalities and talent,” Krystkowiak said.
Nevada (12-0) is the highest-ranked nonconference team to visit the Huntsman Center since an overrated, No. 1 Alabama team in 2002. Before then, Tim Duncan’s No. 2 Wake Forest team came to town in a memorable duel with Keith Van Horn’s Utes in 1996.
The makeup of the Wolf Pack is a major contrast to the way those Utah and Wake Forest clubs of the '90s were built, reflecting the nature of college basketball. Krystkowiak's 2018 NIT finalists were built around transfers. Musselman has taken that approach to an extreme, and successfully so.
Nevada’s top six scorers are transfers from other four-year schools:
Caleb Martin, 18.8 (North Carolina State).
Jordan Caroline, 18.8 (Southern Illinois).
Jazz Johnson, 12.0 (Portland).
Cody Martin, 10.1 (North Carolina State).
Tre'Shawn Thurman, 8.4 (Omaha).
Trey Porter, 6.8 (Old Dominion).
Nevada is “a cast of misfits glued together,” the Reno Gazette-Journal observed during the Wolf Pack’s run to the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16 last March. This year, Nevada might become a No. 1 seed at Vivint Smart Home Arena, hosting first- and second round NCAA games.
The buildup to this point began when Musselman, whose NBA and minor-league coaching history resembles Krystkowiak’s, landed the Martin twins in their move from N.C. State. His shrewd strategy: recruit Cody, the defensive-oriented twin, knowing the more prized Caleb would follow.
“We knew that everybody wanted Caleb — everybody in the country,” Musselman said in March. “And we kind of didn’t worry about Caleb and just went after Cody really hard. We knew they were going to play together no matter where they went, so we recruited Cody more than we recruited Caleb, and Caleb actually liked the fact that we wanted his brother so badly, and I know that his mom felt the same way.”
Jordan Caroline, a forward who's “as good a player as there is in the country,” Krystkowiak said, came from Southern Illinois. This year, Nevada added Jazz Johnson of Portland, Tre'Shawn Thurman of Omaha and Trey Porter as a graduate transfer from Old Dominion.
Much like Gonzaga’s staff does, Musselman has tried to maximize the transfers' redshirt seasons. “We call it a player development year,” he said. “It’s all about our staff investing in that player’s career, trying to get him to become a better basketball player, looking at his deficiencies and trying to turn those deficiencies into strengths. … We had a plan that in the [staff’s] Year 4, we wanted to be as good as we possibly could.”
So here’s the Wolf Pack, having already beaten the Pac-12′s Arizona State and USC, looking to complete a perfect nonconference schedule. Trying to upgrade Utah’s schedule, Krystkowiak’s staff had been talking to Nevada last spring about booking a series. Musselman finalized the deal in June, knowing his roster would remain intact, with no players entering the NBA draft. Utah will visit Reno next season.
Krystkowiak and Musselman were NBA coaches during the 2006-07 season, when Krystkowiak was promoted in Milwaukee in March and Musselman was about to be fired in Sacramento. The Bucks and Kings had completed their season series before Krystkowiak took over. So they won’t have met as head coaches until Saturday, when Nevada likely will be the best team that plays in the Huntsman Center all season.
NEVADA AT UTAH
At the Huntsman Center
Tipoff: Saturday, noon
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Radio: 700 AM
Records: Nevada 12-0; Utah 6-5
Series history: Utah leads, 10-0
Last meeting: Utah 83, Nevada 75 (1987)
About the Wolf Pack: Nevada is one of five remaining unbeaten teams among 353 Division I schools. … The Wolf Pack have played two true road games, beating Loyola (79-65) and USC (73-61). … Nevada is No. 4 in the country in fewest turnovers per game (9.5), while playing a fast pace. ... Nevada will open Mountain West play Wednesday vs. Utah State in Reno.
About the Utes: Utah has won its last 21 home games in the month of December, dating to 2012. … Utah has won consecutive games, but is danger of failing to take a winning record into Pac-12 play for the first time since 2011-12, coach Larry Krystkowiak’s first season. … The Utes will open the conference schedule Thursday at No. 17 Arizona State. …. Freshman forward Lahat Thioune, who broke his foot in preseason practice, is unlikely to return this season, Krystkowiak said.