Monday they will once again be on the road, this time in a nationally televised game against Rhode Island in the second round of the NIT tournament. As usual, all eyes, of both the commentators and the NBA scouts, will be focused on sophomore Wolf Pack player Luke Babbitt.
Having broken Nick Fazekas’ single-season scoring mark in the Wichita game Babbitt will be able to put his new record even further beyond the reach of future Silver and Blue roundballers. But the big issue next Monday will not be how many points Babbitt scores but rather how much closer he will be to being a top recruit in the upcoming NBA draft.
While Nevada coach David Carter and the majority of Wolf Pack fans are desperately hoping for Babbitt’s return next season, there are many reasons why this year might be the ideal time for him to turn pro. First, he is nationally ranked in a number of categories and his physical size is more than consistent with NBA standards. Every time he appears on national telecasts the commentators routinely begin to compare him with past NBA players in order to estimate where he might fit in with various teams. Another strong factor in determining his basketball future is where he eventually winds up as a pick in this year’s draft predictions. Since this is a season of very few college superstars in action his rating could be considerably high in the first round, which guarantees a very lucrative rookie contract.
If he did eschew the NBA draft then he has the rosy option of setting every Wolf Pack basketball record in the books the next two years. His free throw percentage is already at the top and his shooting ability seems almost flawless. The fact that opposing teams seek to double- or even triple-team him at times makes him even more of an offensive threat since he is no slouch at ball-handling and passing.
Having all these attributes at his early age probably means he will even get better as time goes by. Physically he has already bulked up over last season to the point where he is much more effective in the rebounding game and driving through defenses for easy layups. Being left-handed, as is his teammates Armon Johnson, makes him even more difficult to guard.
The former top duo at Nevada was Ramon Sessions and Nick Fazekas, both of whom got NBA contracts. At the present rate the two-man team of Babbitt and Johnson is set to make Wolf Pack fans forget about the former twosome.
One good reason for Babbitt to return to school next year is the fact that coach Carter is sitting on a strong recruiting group for the 2010-11 basketball season. Many have speculated that if the Babbitt/Johnson twosome had a little more offensive help from other starters and the bench this year the Nevada team would have had a breakout season. Another factor that might weigh heavily on any decision Babbitt is about to make will be whether or not Johnson is predicted to go high in the upcoming NBA draft. Like Sessions, who has had a fine career in the pros thus far, Johnson could decide to give up his senior year at UNR. If so, it could destroy the great chemistry between the two stars that was evident in the final minutes of play in the victory over Wichita State.
Babbitt’s loyalty to coach Carter could be another element in the mix as the first-year head coach has gained favor with the shooting whiz since he (Carter) initiated a new “run and shoot” offense for this season. Babbitt is the free-wheeling type of player who can get the ball at any point on the floor, including 3-point range, and score handily. In this respect I believe some of the prognosticating commentators have missed the boat when comparing him to past NBA stars. I believe he most closely resembles the remarkable shooting style of former Boston Celtic star Larry Bird.
Bird was one of the first big men who was adept at hitting the 3-pointer consistently and was a equally devastating when it came to inside play. To Babbitt’s credit I see him as even better dribbler than Bird in his prime.
Whatever the case, it will be a long time before another local, home-grown athlete of Babbitt’s stature will come along and commit to playing for the local university. And, lest we forget, the same can be said of his teammate, Armon Johnson.
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Interestingly enough the former head basketball coach at Nevada, Mark Fox, had a much better than anticipated first season at the University of Georgia than did his former mentor, Trent Johnson, this year in his second season stint at Louisiana State University. When the two met this year Johnson’s team prevailed in a two-point nail biter. Being a former head coach at the University of Nevada, Reno doesn’t seem to hurt either’s chances of remaining at the controls of much larger university programs.
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: Opinions expressed in Harry Spencer’s column are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Tribune.