WAC media pick Nevada to win basketball title

Thursday, October 16th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

RENO, Nev. (AP) _ Nevada's men's basketball team is the favorite to win the Western Athletic Conference title this season, according to a poll of sports writers and broadcasters who cover the WAC.

Nevada junior guard Kirk Snyder, a first-team all-WAC selection last year who averaged 16 points and eight rebounds a game, also was selected as the league's preseason Player of the Year in the poll released Thursday.

Of the 21 ballots cast, 15 picked Nevada _ with its four returning starters _ to finish first in the WAC. Fresno State is second in the poll, followed by Hawaii, Tulsa, Rice, SMU, Boise State, Louisiana Tech, UTEP and San Jose State.

Fresno State received five votes for first and Hawaii one.

Nevada Coach Trent Johnson, entering his fifth year with the Wolf Pack, doesn't put much stock in preseason polls. But he said his team will already be ahead of where it was last season when practice opens this weekend.

``How far ahead, we won't know that until we line up. It's the most talented team we've had as far as pure strength,'' he told the Reno Gazette-Journal earlier this week.

``From a physical conditioning standpoint, I have observed we are bigger and stronger,'' he said.

All the players except junior college transfer forward Jermaine Washington and redshirt center Chad Bell spent the summer in Reno, working on conditioning.

``It's a good group of kids. What's different is these kids understand where we are and where we need to go,'' said Johnson, whose squad advanced to the postseason National Invitation Tournament last season, losing at Texas Tech in the first round.

``They understand my patience is going to be less than it was in the past. We lost so many close games,'' he said.

``Our quickness wasn't an issue. Our talent, quickness and skill level, wasn't an issue. It was defense, little things, making decisions on the offensive end. We played on national TV three times and lost all three.''

After a rocky start, the Wolf Pack finished with an 18-14 record and tied with SMU and Rice for third place in the Western Athletic Conference at 11-7.

Kevinn Pinkney, who started the first 16 games at power forward and then was sidelined with a severe thigh contusion for the remainder of the season, also returns as a bigger, stronger player for the Pack.

He's now listed at 6-foot-9, 225 pounds after beginning his college career at 200 pounds two years ago.

``Kevinn Pinkney has probably put on 20 pounds that he'll keep,'' said Mark Fox, Nevada's associate head coach. ``In addition to the weight, he's jumping better. He's gotten more explosive.

``Our strength and conditioning people are unbelievable. They do a good job.''

John Archer, Nevada's head strength and conditioning coach, and his assistant, Matt Eck, work with the players.

Current players have broken most of the team's lifting records that were set by former forward Corey Jackson, who is on the practice squad of the NFL's Cleveland Browns.

``Strongest guys on the team would be a close contest between Garry Hill-Thomas, Kirk Snyder and Pinkney,'' Fox said. ``Our guys like going over (to the weight room). They're committed to going to that room. Hopefully, it will pay dividends during the season.''