Wolf Pack fans have been adjusting to the news that Coach Eric Musselman has accepted a new position in Arkansas and Steve Alford has taken his place. The local basketball community gathered Friday to welcome the new coach. KUNR’s Stephanie Serrano was there to capture reactions to this surprising series of events, which unfolded pretty quickly.
Close to 1,000 people showed up at the Lawlor Event Center to welcome Steve Alford, who was named the Nevada men’s basketball head coach during a public announcement. The Wolf Pack Marching Band opened the event while community members took their seats in the arena, staring down at the basketball court, which had a layer of blue and white confetti sprinkled on top of it.
The crowd was a mix of longtime fans and students, including C.J. Christensen, a junior at the university. He says he is optimistic about the new coach, given Alford’s prior experience at UCLA, where he led the Bruins to four NCAA Tournament appearances, taking them all the way to the Sweet 16 three times. Christensen says attending games in the student section is what he’s looking forward to.
“Muss was great, but he’s [Alford] going to be right there with Muss and maybe not take his shirt off after we win the Mountain West but still be trying to win Mountain West Tournaments,” Christensen said. “I’ve been to the Super Bowl, I’ve been to everything and there is nothing like being front row at the Nevada student section, screaming your head off, yelling at the referees, getting excited about a dunk; there’s nothing like it.”
Musselman’s departure left some Nevadans surprised and disappointed, but Brian Park-Li says it is evolving into an opportunity for people to come together.
”It hurt, and I think it was a little bit bitter for a while, but I think people are rallying around him leaving, like we all feel it together, ‘Hey, he left all of us, not just the team,” Park-Li said.
Musselman is gone, and Alford has inherited a basketball program that has reached a new level of success over the last few years, winning the last three Mountain West regular season titles.
“I know today with all the fireworks and festivities, today is a lot about me, and I hope that’s it,” Alford said. “It’s great, it's enthusiastic, and I'm excited about it, but my coaching style is about us. It’s not about a single player; it’s not about a single coach. It’s about us doing this together. I want the team to be the focal point. They have a lot of work to do here in the spring, summer, and fall. We have a great schedule I’ve already put in place.”
In the past few years, Musselman created community involvement within the basketball program, re-energizing the local fanbase. In his first speech, Alford pledged his commitment to do the same.
That's important for fans, like Dale Clark, who has been a loyal supporter for 15 years. Under Musselman, the public was able to sit in on open practices, which gave Clark the opportunity to build a personal connection with the team.
“It’ll be interesting to see what coach Alford’s philosophy is," he said. "Musselman was very open and let the community in, and, frankly, that’s pretty rare in the basketball world, so I don’t know if coach Alford will have that same kind of open door philosophy, but I hope he does. I love going to those practices.”
Alford comes with a suitcase of experience having coached at five universities. He's also a gold medal Olympian with experience playing in the NBA. As a college head coach, he’s led his teams to the NCAA Tournament in 14 different seasons, 11 times at the Division I level. He’s also coached 11 NBA draft selections, and seven of those players were chosen in the first round.
Alford says he chose Nevada for three reasons: the fans, the players and the climate. The coach says he’s excited to build the team’s culture and identity in order to out-work and out-think the competition.