Wolf Pack Season Basketball Preview

By: SCOTT SONNER - AP Email
By: SCOTT SONNER - AP Email

RENO, Nev. (AP) - First-year Nevada coach David Carter knows at least one thing about the Wolf Pack team that returns a pair of first-team all-Western Athletic Conference picks from a year ago in forward Luke Babbitt and guard Armon Johnson.

"We will not have a problem scoring this year," said Carter, who after 10 years as a Nevada assistant replaces Mark Fox, now the Georgia coach.

"I don't think that is going to be an issue," he said. "Our issue is going to be defending and rebounding. That is how you win championships - defending and rebounding."

The Wolf Pack is picked second behind defending WAC champion Utah State after finishing 21-13 last season while starting two freshmen and two sophomores. The young Nevada squad ended its season by losing in the first round of the postseason College Basketball Invitational.

Carter said he expects even more scoring opportunities this
season for Babbitt, a 6-foot-8 sophomore who finished third in the WAC in scoring (16.9 points per game) and rebounding (9.4) while
being named the WAC's freshman of the year. He's the conference coaches' preseason pick for most valuable player this year.

Johnson, a 6-3 junior who averaged 15.5 points and 4.3 rebounds last year, will be joined in the backcourt by Brandon Fields, a 6-foot-4 senior who previously came off the bench to average 9.4 points a game.

Babbitt, Johnson and Fields all "have confidence that they can score at any time," Carter said. He said swing men Joey Shaw, listed as a 6-foot-6 forward, and Ray Kraemer, a 6-4 guard, also have been shooting the ball well.

"So that is really not a concern for me," he said.

Carter said he thinks the good team chemistry he senses may be partly due to the time the players spent together playing a half dozen games in Europe last spring. He said that was when he "really saw the potential for this team offensively."

"My goal is to make sure we are the best defensive team we can be every night," he said.

That's one of the reasons both the men's and women's basketball teams are asking Wolf Pack fans to begin a new tradition by remaining standing and cheering after the tip-off until the opposing team scores a basket.

"Not when we score, because I expect us to score fairly quickly," Carter told about 200 boosters at a recent luncheon.

"Stand until the opposing team scores," he said. "Hopefully it is eight or nine minutes."

Carter said he's making a few changes from last year, including trying to deny passes around the perimeter, putting more pressure on the ball, emphasizing an up-tempo game and phasing in a full-court press.

"I think we have very good quickness in the backcourt which should allow us to do that," he said, adding that he expects to use man-to-man defense about 75 percent of the time.

Carter said he's been pleased that the team has limited its turnovers in practice.

"When you play fast you have a tendency to throw the ball away," he said.

One of the biggest question marks on the team has been the lack of big men. The best returning front-line player is Dario Hunt, 6-foot-8, who as a freshman last year started all but seven games. He averaged 3.6 points and 4.5 rebounds while leading the WAC with 67 blocked shots.

Carter showed he has a sense of humor when a fan asked the rookie coach last week why Hunt often passed up open shots last year from 10 to 12 feet away.

"He's not going to shoot this year either," Carter said to laughs. "I tell him when you catch that ball at 10 or 12 feet, look for No. 5 (Babbitt) and No. 23 (Johnson)."

"He doesn't have a lot of confidence in shooting the jump shot. That's not his strength. He knows that. He may shoot one," the coach said.

A pleasant surprise has been the strong play of Marko Cucic, a 6-foot-9, 240-pound freshman from Serbia who likely will see significant playing time.

"Marko is a good rebounder if he doesn't foul and stays in the game. He's going to be an important piece for us," Carter said.

Carter said he put Cucic in the last five minutes of a recent scrimmage game against St. Mary's to cover Omar Samhan, a 6-foot-11 center who Carter said is an all-America candidate. During that short span, he said Cucic had 12 fouls.

"I told him, 'Marko that's two games. You fouled out of two games and half of another,"' he said.

"But it was a good experience for him. We broke down tape. He didn't realize he was fouling so much. He thought it was good defense. This week he did much better," Carter said. He said he expects his team to continue to improve throughout the season.

"It's how you play in March, not November," he said.


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