David Carter still has a lot of work to do.
The Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball team not only hasn’t gotten any better from its demoralizing 12-19 season this past winter when it finished last in the Mountain West at 3-13, it is, as we stand here today, a worse basketball team.
A much worse basketball team.
Leading scorer Malik Story is gone. The entire starting frontcourt of Kevin Panzer and Devonte Elliott is gone. Bench players Patrick Nyeko and Keith Fuetsch are gone. Valuable role player Jordan Burris is gone.
The Wolf Pack, right now, would be lucky to win a dozen games in 2013-14. It’s mail would be delivered to the basement of the Mountain West again. They were the worst team in the conference last year and so far nothing has changed.
Thank goodness the season doesn’t start next week.
The next six months, though, will be crucial to the Wolf Pack’s immediate future in the Mountain West. It will also likely determine how long Carter remains as coach of the Pack.
Things are changing at a rapid pace up on north Virginia Street. New president, new football coach, new athletic director, new conference. New athletic directors don’t necessarily like the old athletic director’s coaches. Just ask Cary Groth.
So Carter needs to win. Soon. He’s had two losing seasons in the last three. Does he get another year if that trend becomes three out of four? It’s not 1965 anymore. Coaches make huge money these days. With huge money comes huge pressure to win.
Carter can coach. He’s smart, experienced and tougher than he lets on. That”s not the issue. Whether a coach gets another contract or not has nothing to do with his ability to coach. It has everything to do with his ability to win games.
The new breed of athletic director know absolutely nothing about coaching. You wonder if any of them can tell the difference between ESPN and CNN. All they know is how to make money. That is how they are judged. And they judge coaches solely on their ability to win. And, right now, Carter isn’t winning.
Carter went 21-13 with his first team. But that really wasn’t his team. It was Mark Fox’s team. It had two NBA players (Luke Babbitt, Armon Johnson) on the roster. It was filled with seniors (Brandon Fields, Joey Shaw, Ray Kraemer). On some levels that Pack team underachieved.
Carter’s second team was filled with freshman. It went 13-19. It was a transition year. He had a ton of built-in excuses. His third team won a ton of close games, won 16 in a row and went 28-7. Yes, it gagged in the Western Athletic Conference tournament. But it was the greatest Wolf Pack team in history that never went to the NCAA Tournament.
And we all know what happened this year.
This past year was a disaster. Nobody picked the Pack to win the Mountain West but everybody picked them to be competitive. The team didn’t play hard, it didn’t even compete on most nights. The core group of juniors that were the heart and soul of Carter’s first recruiting class in the spring of 2010 simply stopped improving. On most nights they simply stopped playing. And by the end of the year most of them had regressed as college basketball players. And, now, three of them (Panzer, Elliott, Burris) are no longer with the program.
Who’s to blame for what has happened in the last six months? Is it Carter? He had no clue on how to stop the bleeding. With each passing game, it appeared his team quit on him. But those things happen. Don’t blame Carter. Not yet. A lack of effort says more about the players in question than it does about the coach.
So, right now, Carter deserves the benefit of the doubt. If it happens again, well, Wolf Pack fans aren’t very patient with losing coaches. And athletic directors listen to fans.
Why should anyone feel excited about 2013-14?
Last year the Pack couldn’t rebound or defend the paint. And they lost their two best post players (Panzer, Elliott). Last year the Pack couldn’t score. And they lost their best scorer (Story).
Yes, we understand that Deonte Burton is coming back for his senior season. Burton is a wonderful player, one of the greatest in school history. That’s not the issue.
Let’s not forget that Burton was on the team last year. And that team fell apart worse than any Pack team in recent memory. Burton, like Carter, couldn’t stop the bleeding. He couldn’t make any of his teammates better. Heck, just about all of them got progressively worse. And Burton didn’t get any better either.
He somehow lost his ability to put his team on his back and will it to victory in the final minutes. Burton, who used to go from a good to great player in the final minutes of games, seemed to wilt under the pressure last year. He barely shot over 30 percent from 3-point land. He was seen in crunch time more often than not passing the ball to guys who didn’t even want it.
His decision making didn’t get better. His shot-making ability didn’t get any better. He never seemed to understand when to take over games, something that he should have mastered by his junior year. Those things are the reason why he is coming back to the Pack for his senior year.
He also has work to do.
Burton, though, also deserves the benefit of the doubt. Last year’s team seemed to simply wear him out. It definitely wore Carter out. It devoured the entire basketball program. Odds are Carter and Burton will be reborn next year.
That’s the hope, at least. Right now it’s the only hope.
But, make no mistake, Burton is not a savior. He’s a very good Division I basketball player. He’s not a guy who can win games by himself. Let’s also not forget that in two of his three seasons, the Pack has had a losing record.
That doesn’t mean that Burton is not a winner. It only means that, like most point guards, he needs to be surrounded by winners. It’s not a coincidence that in his lone winning season at Nevada he was surrounded by two tremendous senior leaders in Olek Czyz and Dario Hunt.
Burton will not have any senior leaders around him in 2013-14. He will be the only senior leader. He will be passing to an energetic but erratic sophomore in Marqueze Coleman. He will be passing to an inconsistent sophomore in Cole Huff. He will be passing to a junior that hasn’t played in over a year in Michael Perez. He will be passing to a freshman named D.J. Fenner.
He will be passing to Jerry Evans, a senior who still plays without any confidence. He will be hoping and praying that someone on the roster doesn’t curl up in the fetal position once they get into the paint. Right now the paint has a vacany sign hanging on it at Nevada.
The bottom line is that Burton is a solid piece to a competitive team. He can even be the leading piece. But that’s it. The Pack needs more pieces. A lot more pieces.
Nick Fazekas is the greatest player and winner in Wolf Pack history. But Fazekas would have just been an awkward big man who couldn’t jump, run or defend, and he certainly wouldn’t have gone to any NCAA Tournaments, without Kirk Snyder, Kevinn Pinkney, Ramon Sessions, Jermaine Washington, Kyle Shiloh, Gary Hill-Thomas, Marcelus Kemp and, well, you get the idea.
It’s not Burton’s fault that he needs help. All players need help.
It’s up to Carter to find that help.
Carter has three roster spots with which to add valuable pieces in the coming weeks. All three of those piece better be able to rebound, score in the paint and add toughness to a soft team.
Those three pieces just might be the most important recruits in Carter’s head coaching career. Another losing season and, well, he might not have a head coaching career. Carter doesn’t have to hit three home runs and find another Fazekas, Pinkney and Snyder with those three signings, but he better get at least two doubles and a walk.
Carter’s track record as a recruiter is a bit suspect right now. Burton is his shining moment by far. Panzer, Elliott and Burris are gone. Jordan Finn didn’t even play last year because there just wasn’t any minutes for him and there would seem to be even fewer minutes for him this year. Story and Czyz fell into his lap. Huff and Coleman are promising but are they pieces to a championship puzzle?
There simply has been just as as many misses as hits in Carter’s recruiting classes.
He needs three hits in three at-bats in the coming weeks.