Editor’s note: Opinions expressed in Harry Spencer’s column are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Tribune.
The upcoming 2010-11 basketball season at the University of Nevada, Reno will mark the start of the “Carter era” at the school as the head basketball coach will field a team that lists only one player from the Johnson/Fox era in the person of Dario Hunt.
By all accounts the recruiting class for this year’s edition of the silver and blue squad has been the result off the hard work that coach David Carter and his staff have done over the off season –– on paper –– that has ever been assembled for the Wolf Pack.
“On paper” is the operative phrase; however, as it is how the excellent resumés of the incoming class will translate into action on the hardwood. Basketball, no matter the level, is a game that is usually won by the team that has the best teamwork. That point was vividly made this past week in the NBA playoff matchup between the Boston Celtics and the Cleveland Cavaliers in their fifth game of the series. The Cavaliers boast the services of one LeBron James, who, arguably might be the best player in today’s NBA. However, the Celtics illustrated the efficacy of playing “team ball” as they unselfishly distributed the roundball and several of their players shared scoring honors. It is tough for one superstar like James to compete against five outstanding athletes who possess a “team” mentality. Even though James was helped this season by the addition of a fading superstar, Shaquille O’Neal, to the best team record for wins in the NBA, not even two future Hall of Famers were able to keep a well-oiled Celtic quintet in check.
So this is the big test for Carter and his squad this year: find the five-some that works best as a team, develop that chemistry into a winning combine and utilize what promises to be a much stronger “bench” to its maximum potential.
Last season the Nevada coach had to rely on the two-man team of Luke Babbitt and Armon Johnson to carry a large portion of the load all season. Having to play literally the entire game is a drain on the very best of basketball players, particularly when the opposing team is sending in “fresh legs” on a consistent basis. As it was, the 2009-10 squad acquitted itself nobly and gave loyal fans a lot to cheer about. What made last season particularly sweet was that two local players – Babbitt from Galena and Johnson from Hug – were the backbone of the squad. They look to have a good shot in the upcoming NBA draft and it is hard to criticize them for leaving.
As far as local attraction is concerned this season it will be up to a former Reno High School star and Duke scholarship winner, Olek Czyz, to generate a lot of enthusiasm and ticket sales. It should be an interesting season.
One of the most intriguing aspects of tracking old movies on the cable channels is to come across a flick that is three decades old that you never saw or heard about, but that features four actors who had northern Nevada connections. Such was the case last week when a film called “The Domino Principle” aired and in the cast were Gene Hackman, Mickey Rooney, Richard Widmark and Eli Wallach.
Of the four, Widmark was the first I encountered in Reno way back in the 1950s when he was here to film scenes for “Sixty Saddles for Gobi” out in the Pyramid Lake area. He held a large press conference outdoors in the pool area of the Riverside hotel and was an interesting speaker and very adept at answering questions posed by the reporters.
Chronologically, Rooney was the next to appear in Reno when he starred in the Mapes Skyroom and then at the 1960 Winter Olympics Press Club at the hotel. Shortly after the Olympics, Wallach visited here for several months when he starred as Clark Gable’s buddy in “The Misfits.” A blue collar actor, Wallach took his early morning breakfast at the counter in the coffee shop of the Mapes and was a charming and captivating celebrity to interview and just shot the breeze with.
A short while after “The Misfits” filming I got a call from Tommy Shaw, an assistant director of that film, said he needed a seedy bar for a scene in the movie “Scarecrow,” which was to star Hackman, along with Al Pacino. Since Lake Street in Reno in those days was home to several very seedy bars it was an easy assignment. A few years later Hackman was again present here for the world premiere of “The Downhill Racer” in which he starred with Robert Redford. This time he held forth in the posh Skyroom bar of the Mapes. Then, about seven years later, he showed up for the Clint Eastwood Celebrity Tennis Tournament held at Incline Village, Lake Tahoe. On all of the occasions he was exactly the same, an Oscar and stardom never went to his head and that is probably why he is still working to this day.