For a team with national championship aspirations, cupcakes are not recommended for the preseason schedule. With the Pac-12’s Washington as the first exhibition-game opponent, Nevada doesn’t need to worry about a noncompetitive game.
The Wolf Pack will host the Huskies at 3 p.m. Sunday at Lawlor Events Center in Reno. Coach Eric Musselman expects a dog fight.
“This is more than a big-time challenge for us,” said Musselman, entering his fourth season at the helm. “They have more returners. It’s a great way to see a barometer of where we stand.”
One challenge is that Washington is expected to play a zone defense, and Nevada hasn’t spent much time preparing its zone offense, the coach said. Another is that the talented Huskies are projected to make a run at the Pac-12 title.
Washington went 21-13 last season in coach Mike Hopkins’ first year. Virtually the entire team returns, along with three highly recruited freshmen and a local player who stands 7-foot-4.
Returners include David Crisp, Noah Dickerson, Matisse Thybulle and Jaylen Nowell, who combined for an average of 54.3 points, and Dom Green, who shot 43 percent from the three-point line.
But that’s fine with Musselman’s veteran team, which is coming off a school-tying 29-8 season that extended to the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16.
“It was a long summer of our guys playing really hard,” Musselman said. “They are ready to play somebody new.”
The Wolf Pack has nine seniors and four juniors, so other than five-star recruit Jordan Brown it might be difficult for freshmen to earn playing time during the regular season. This year’s freshman class includes two players who signed early with the Pack last November: 6-10 forward K.J. Hymes of Phoenix, who also had numerous offers from Division 1 schools, and Vincent Lee, a 6-8 forward from Texas, a strong rebounder appearing physically ready for college competition.
Then there’s a local player, 6-7 Jalen Townsell, the Nevada North 4A Player of the Year who averaged 21.2 points and 7.4 rebounds for Spanish Springs.
Townsell was invited to try out for the team as a preferred walk-on, meaning he is not on scholarship. He said he had scholarship offers from UC Davis, UMass, North Dakota and South Dakota State but decided to try to earn a spot with Nevada. After he elected to go with the Pack, his high school coach received a dozen text messages from other schools asking about his availability, he said.
“This has been a real eye-opener for me,” Townsell said. “It’s like a real-life NBA team. It’s been a big adjustment, but I’ve adjusted pretty well.”
Townsell said he played all five positions in high school. So far with Nevada, he’s being used at the shooting guard and small forward positions. He displayed an excellent long-range shooting touch during Thursday’s practice, which was open to the media.
Townsell’s father, Tony, was an outstanding distance runner for Reed High School. He also played basketball and was part of the 1991-92 squad that lost to eventual state champion South Tahoe. That Tahoe squad included Brian Bruso and Jerod Haase, who played at Kansas and is now the head coach at Stanford.
“I was focused on soccer until the end of my sophomore year,” said Jalen Townsell, whose uncle JoJo played wide receiver for the New York Jets.
Spanish Springs won the Northern Nevada Championship last year. It lost to eventual state champs Bishop Gorman in the semifinal after leading most of the game. Townsell had 18 points and eight rebounds in the contest.
An interesting component to Saturday’s game is Washington’s freshman forward Jamel Bay, who played for Gorman and turned down a scholarship from Nevada to play with the Huskies.
Washington has two other four-star recruits, Brian Penn-Johnson, a 6-10 center, and point guard Elijah Hardy from Bishop O’Dowd in Oakland, California. And there’s the 7-4 skyscraper Riley Scorn.
Nevada will answer with Brown, the school’s first five-star player recruited out of high school. The Roseville, California, native is the Mountain West’s preseason Freshman of the year.
“He plays more mature than a freshman,” said Cody Martin, one of four all-conference players who return to the Wolf Pack. “He is a great listener who picks up things real quickly.”
Coach Musselman agreed, saying Brown has “a high, high ceiling.” That’s good because he’s 6-foot-11.
“My dad taught me post moves,” said Brown, an 18-year-old marketing major. “He (Dion Brown) played power forward in the pros overseas. He was probably the best overseas players who never played in the NBA.”
One player who will not see action is Wolf Pack point guard Lindsey Drew, a senior who injured his achilles tendon last year when he attempted a half-court shot against Boise State. He missed the last nine games of the season.
“He’s 60 percent right now,” Musselman said. “We hope to get him in full practices in late November or early December and have him ready to play in early January.”
In the meantime, Cody Martin will remain at point guard.
Nevada also will host an exhibition game on Friday against San Francisco State. It opens the season on Nov. 6 in Reno against Brigham Young University.
“I feel like they are ready to get back on the court, but we need all the way until BYU to get the rhythm down,” Musselman said.
Conference play begins Jan. 2 against Utah State.
According to Nevada’s media services, funds raised from the charity game with Washington will go to the Northern California Wildfire Relief fund through the California Community Foundation and will be directed specifically to victims of the Carr Fire this summer in Northern California. The UW game is not part of the season ticket package.
All seating is general admission for the game. Adults are $15, youth tickets (8th grade and under) are $10, seniors over 65 are $10 and college-age students, including Truckee Meadows Community College students, are $10. Students must present their college ID at the door when purchasing a ticket.
Cirque Paris, which is entertaining at the Eldorado Resort Casino, will perform at halftime.
— Tim Parsons