RENO — Former NBA coach Eric Musselman says one of the things he’s looking forward to most about his new job at Nevada is the opportunity to be a lasting influence in the lives of young men.
“I’m not sure how much of an impact I’ve had on Ron Artest-Metta World Peace,” Musselman joked about the quirky all-star he coached while at the helm of the Sacramento Kings in 2006-07. “But I know I can have a big impact on these guys,” he said after signing a five-year contract worth $2 million this week to try to turn around a program with three consecutive losing seasons.
Musselman, 50, who also coached the Golden State Warriors (2002-04) and has been a collegiate assistant the last three years, said NBA coaches only really have an impact on their players during games.
“For me, the neatest thing is to have an impact on people for the rest of their lives,” he said. “Being with these guys on bus rides and being able to spend time with them talking about social things, whether they have a problem with a girlfriend, or need help academically, or they are homesick as a freshman.”
“It’s really special because I have a son who is exactly these guys’ age so I know what they are going through,” he said. “To some degree, when a parent turns his child over to a basketball program at a university you have to be a parent for them for four years.”
Musselman was an assistant this season at LSU and at Arizona State the two previous years. Nevada becomes his 12th head coaching position in a 26-year-career. He coached the NBA D-League’s Reno Bighorns in 2010-11 and teams in the CBA and the USBL as well as national teams in the United States, China, Dominican Republic and Venezuela.
“I’ve coached at the highest level and I think this is the most excited I’ve ever been to take on a new challenge,” he said. He thinks his regional knowledge will help with recruiting.
“When you’re in the NBA, you know you can only win with horses,” said Musselman, who’s promising a fast-paced offense. “X’s and O’s are great, but it’s players who win games.”
That’s the key, he said, to boosting attendance that has slumped in recent years as Nevada has failed to qualify for the NCAA tournament since 2007, the end of four consecutive trips that began with a Sweet 16 run in 2004. Season-ticket sales have dropped from nearly 10,000 in 2007-08 to about 4,000. Average home attendance at the 11,500-seat Lawlor Events Center fell another 15 percent last season to 5,497.
“Obviously it takes some time,” he said. “But this building has been rocking before. There’s fans who will fill this place, we just have to put a product on the floor.”
Musselman has heard talk of the need for more financial resources to compete in the Mountain West Conference and thinks they’ll make progress toward building a new practice facility.
“But we have what we need to win here,” he said. “All we need is two buckets and 94 feet and we are ready to rock and roll. I say that with all sincerity. If you look at my background, sometimes courts in Venezuela aren’t 94 feet and it’s hard to get two buckets sometimes.”
“It’s the perfect-sized arena for us. What we’ve got to do is get some more people in there. That’s my job.”