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Greatest show under the big top, on Reno hardwood
by Harry Spencer - Tribune Columnist
Mar 06, 2009 | 959 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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Tribune/John Byrne - Armon Johnson is one of the offensive weapons that will help lead the Wolf Pack into next week’s WAC Tournament.
Crunch time has finally arrived for the University of Nevada, Reno basketball team to prove its mettle. With two games played this week the Wolf Pack will ascertain its seeding in the upcoming Western Athletic Conference (WAC) tournament at the Lawlor Events Center next week.

Encapsulating the season for the Pack roundballers was their performances against Fresno State and Utah States. After a close loss to Fresno, the cellar-dweller of the WAC, to the surprisingly dominant win over the WAC regular season champion, Utah State, the local have established the fact that they can play well enough to beat the best and poorly enough to lose to the worst.

To the Silver and Blue’s credit, they turned in a marvelous performance against nemesis Utah State, leading at one point by as many as 23 points and shooting better than 51 percent.

As Nevada head coach Mark Fox has noted many times during the current season, “This is a team that is learning and should get better as time goes on.” This statement came to fruition in the Utah State game when a red-hot Armon Johnson got off to a sizzling start and ended up with 28 points to lead all scorers.

When it comes to raw talent, the Wolf Pack probably has more than any other fivesome in the WAC, but the secret for Fox is to find that magical blend of five reliable players on the floor at the same time. When it comes to shooters, he has a plethora of “hot hands,” led by the current state high school basketball scoring champ Luke Babbitt and the immediate past state scoring champ in the person of Armon Johnson.

Scoring-wise, Babbitt added another jewel to his crown when he surpassed the freshman season scoring record of the legendary Edgar Jones of some decades ago.

Abetting Johnson, a sophomore, and Babbitt, the freshman, are Brandon Fields and Joey Shaw. These two are explosive performers who can take high point honors on any given night.

In the middle, Malik Cook is probably the strongest and is a demon when it comes to shot blocking.

Fox has some good personnel on the bench but most armchair coaches think he should leave the aforementioned top five in the game for longer periods of time so that the mysterious ingredient of “chemistry” will get a better chance to form.

With several speedsters on the floor, this year’s edition of the Pack should probably be more of a “run and gun” squad with many more fast breaks and dominating transition offense than they have shown so far.

What the WAC has proven to be this year — expect for Utah State’s dominating season record — is that it is a wide open league where any one team can beat the other on a given night.

And that should make for the most exciting WAC tourney ever.

Celebrity Corner

For all the circus movies made in Hollywood, Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Greatest Show on Earth” that starred Jimmy Stewart, Charlton Heston, Cornel Wilde and a host of others has pretty much been acknowledged as top dog. However, “Trapeze,” which starred Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis, both doing most of their highwire stunts themselves, has always ranked a close second. Joining the aforementioned pair is a little-noted film, “Jumbo,” which aired on the Turner Classic Movies channel recently.

In “Jumbo,” the most fascinating character was Jimmy Durante, an entertainer I had the pleasure of working with when he used to appear regularly at the Riverside Hotel showroom in Reno.

Never having been much of a Durante fan myself, I was more than pleasantly surprised at the depth of his timing and how he could perform certain songs that seemed to have been written specifically for him. His immediate rapport with even the toughest audiences gave credence to his burlesque-days background.

In “Jumbo,” which also starred Doris Day and Stephen Boyd (best known for his chariot race with Heston in “Ben Hur”), Durante was the owner of a fly-by-night small circus whose biggest attraction was a monster elephant named Jumbo. As the owner, Durante also doubled in brass as the ringmaster, clown and Jumbo’s trainer. In many respects, “Jumbo” actually presented a more realistic, gritty picture of circus life than did “Greatest Show,” which seemed to be covered in a Hollywood patina of relative beauty.

Best known for her singing, Day displayed some pretty fair acrobatic ability in “Jumbo” and was strong as the person keeping her father’s circus rolling along, despite the fact that most of the profits from the show disappeared in the dice games that her dad frequented.

Boyd did a double agent sort of role as he posed as an itinerant circus performer and roustabout, when in reality he was trying to take Jumbo over for his father, who owned a much larger circus.

All in all, “Jumbo,” “Trapeze” and “The Greatest Show on Earth” make a nice trifecta of life under the big top.

Harry Spencer is a freelance writer in Reno. His column about the past and present of northern Nevada appears weekly in the Tribune.

Editor’s note: Harry Spencer’s column is sometimes a mix of reporting and opinion. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Tribune.
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Greatest show under the big top, on Reno hardwood by Harry Spencer - Tribune Columnist


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