Struggling to a 3-4 start with a young, inexperienced team, Nevada basketball coach Mark Fox got a little pep talk and some unlikely advice on Monday from his old boss, Trent Johnson.
"He called me and said, `Don't get angry with them,"' Fox said
about the coach known for occasionally displaying his temper during
four years at Nevada before moving on to Stanford and now LSU.
"I said, `You are going to tell me not to get angry?"' he told
more than 100 boosters at his monthly luncheon who laughed at the
thought. "I said, `That's the pot calling the kettle black right
Fox sprinkled some humor with a sober assessment of a Wolf Pack
squad the coaches of the Western Athletic Conference picked as the
preseason favorite to win the league title it has owned or shared
each of the last five years.
Sophomore Armon Johnson was picked as the preseason WAC player
of the year and freshman Luke Babbitt the newcomer of the year, but
neither of the stars from Reno has lived up to expectations so far
this season. Johnson is shooting 37 percent from the field while
Babbitt is making 42.5 percent on a team that is making only 40
percent of its field goals.
"I'm not in a good mood. I'm usually not this time of year.
We've started a little slow," Fox said, before recalling that last
year's team also started 3-4 before making its fifth straight trip
to postseason play.
"It is evident we have two freshmen and two sophomores in the
starting lineup. We've had a lot of inconsistency. We've had some
good moments but we need to string together more good moments to
succeed as a group," he said. "One thing we just can't give this
team is experience."
Nevada hosts Sonoma State, a Division II team, Tuesday night,
and Southern Illinois on Sunday. The Wolf pack played four of their
first seven games on the road, which Fox said he thought would pay
off in the long run.
"We have so many young faces, so many expectations for a young
team, that may or may not be fair," Fox said.
"I think adversity is real good for you. its good for your
team, its good for your players. you don't want to have an overdose
of it, but that is something that will help your players," he
Fox said he and Johnson talked about the toll on the Wolf Pack
from the early departures to the NBA the two last seasons by Javale
McGee, who left after last year's sophomore season to become the
Washington Wizards' top pick, and Ramon Sessions, who left after
his junior season a year ago and is now playing with the Milwaukee
McGee's absence has especially hurt because Nevada has no
returning big men with significant playing time.
"We just aren't going to dominate you with our talent and
strength," Fox said. "We're going to have to make sure we show up
Fox said his team has played good defense during the first half
of most games while they are defending the basket in front of
Nevada's bench. But like in Saturday night's loss to UNLV and an
earlier loss to Pacific, the defensive effort fell off the first
part of the second half when they were too far away to hear
instructions from the coaching staff.
"An inexperienced team doesn't do very well defending away from
your bench," Fox said. "When they are within earshot, they can be
coached during the possession. I think that's been a real issue
with this team. That's a real sign of inexperience."
"We need a coach-on-the-floor type of player but we don't have
that player," he said.
Fox said he sees some candidates for team leader, including
senior guard and defensive stopper Lyndale Burleson, who "took
control of our team (in a win at Colorado State) and made sure we
left Fort Collins with a victory."
"We don't have an elected team captain. I don't believe in
that. I think that when adversity hits, leaders will step up and
rise to the occasion," he said.
"We are starting to see some leadership, but you know, I don't
think we've seen all the adversity we're going to see because I'm
going to give them some more today" at practice.
"This entire season is a marathon, it's not a sprint. This is
about the big picture," Fox said.
"We'll have some growing pains and I might be all gray and bald
by the end of the year... but we're going to have a good team."