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(Information in this team report is as of October 1.)
COACH AND PROGRAM
After the season his team put together in 2005-06, Nevada coach Mark Fox deserved a few quiet weeks worth of the off-season to rest and ruminate.
That wasn't to be. Fox spent part of the spring and summer negotiating a new contract, wondering if star player Nick Fazekas (21.8 ppg, 10.4 rpg) would stay or bolt for the NBA and then being courted as a candidate for the vacancy at Nebraska.
The lure of having four starters back from a team that advanced to the NCAA Tournament his first two years as head coach was too much for Fox to pass up. Granted, his contract negotiations last spring were stressful. It wasn't easy to secure the new five-year deal, despite a 52-13 record he produced his two previous campaigns in the program.
But once he signed on the dotted line in April, then received the news two months later that Fazekas had opted to return for his senior season, all signs suggested that staying in the biggest little city in the world was the right thing to do. Fox said no to Nebraska, which was then able to raid UTEP for Doc Sadler. Everyone went away happy, even UTEP, which quickly hired Memphis assistant Tony Barbee.
Nevada rewarded Fox's loyalty by adding $100,000 a year to his four-month-old contract. Nebraska could have paid him a lot more than the $500,000 Nevada is shelling out this season, but school administrators believe in their man, and Fox appreciates their support.
"I felt like my future was still in Nevada," Fox said. "While Nebraska is a great university in a terrific conference, Nevada is also a special place. My happiness in Nevada and the commitment to my players were the main reasons for me staying."
It also didn't hurt having an established starting lineup and a cast of young, talented players clamoring for some stage time of their own. Remember, in April, when these top recruits committed to Fox, it appeared Fazekas was bound for the NBA.
"Nick is going to have to fight for his job just like everyone else," Fox said. "We've got a lot of experience with our five returning starters, but we've got a lot of young guys, too, who want to contribute. It's a good atmosphere to build a winning program."
As well as Nevada has done since Fox stepped in for current Stanford head coach Trent Johnson, some wondered if Fox benefited from Johnson's talented recruits. It was a little surprising Nevada was ousted in the first round of last year's NCAA Tournament by Big Sky rival Montana, putting pressure on Fox to go a few steps farther this season.
Getting back the WAC Player of the Year for one more tour of duty doesn't hurt Fox's disposition. The 6-11 center declared early for the NBA as a junior but didn't hire an agent in case he didn't hear what he wanted.
Undoubtedly, Fazekas would have been selected in the first round, but where was more important to him. If he wasn't going to be among the top draft selections, he thought another year in college couldn't hurt his chances next summer.
What Fazekas needs to demonstrate is the ability to carry a team when things go bad. An example was the 87-79 first-round loss to Montana last year that not only hurt the Wolf Pack, but the overall fragile image of the WAC as well.
Fazekas scored 24 points and grabbed 12 rebounds against the smaller Grizzlies, but he couldn't get those struggling around him into the game. Nevada had only two players in double figures in that disappointing loss that should serve as a motivational tool for the returning players.
There isn't a better frontcourt man in the WAC as Fazekas returns to wreak more havoc on his league counterparts. In his three-year career, Fazekas has scored 1,812 points and grabbed 900 rebounds. The two-time WAC Player of the Year ranks in the top 10 of every major team statistic, including first in blocked shots with 144 and second in scoring.
"Getting Nick back makes us better right away," Fox said. "But he knows he can improve his game and I believe will set a great example for the rest of our team, including the young guys. He knows he has to work even harder to get to where he wants to be as a player."
Fazekas was selected third-team All-American by the Associated Press last season. But he'd trade all his individual honors if he could lead the Wolf Pack deeper into the NCAA Tournament.
"That's what it's all about as a player," Fazekas said. "To see how you match up against the nation's best. Our team is young, but that could be a good thing. Sometimes when you're young, you don't know any better. We want to do well in the regular season and hopefully that will lead to good things in the postseason."