Nevada built quickly with five transfers and two Illinois natives
Green is not an official color of the University of Nevada, Loyola's Sweet Sixteen opponent on Thursday.
But "School of Greener Pastures" would be an appropriate nickname. All five of Nevada's starters transferred from other schools. Four of them are playing for the Wolf Pack for the first time this season.
Location: Reno; Enrollment: 20,000
Nickname: Wolf Pack, Transfer U
Coach: Eric Musselman, third season; best known for short stint in NBA coaching Warriors and Kings; removing shirt for locker-room celebrations.
Top scorer: 6-foot-7 junior Caleb Martin (18.8 ppg)
Local connections: Purdue transfer Kendall Stephens, a 6-7 senior, attended St. Charles East High School; 6-7 junior Jordan Caroline is from Champaign.
Best-known NBA alum: JaVale McGee
Last Sweet Sixteen appearance: 2004
All of them essentially gave the same reason -- they thought they'd get a better opportunity at Nevada, playing for former NBA coach Eric Musselman.
Here's a quick fun fact about the coach: Musselman's father is legendary basketball coach Bill Musselman. When he became coach of the expansion Minnesota Timberwolves in 1989, he gave two people their first NBA coaching jobs -- his son Eric, obviously, and former Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, who made the leap from Harvard assistant at the time.
Anyway, a rundown of Nevada's personnel doesn't take long. There are identical twins Caleb and Cody Martin, who transferred from North Carolina State. Caleb is the team's top scorer at 18.8 points, while Cody is third with 13.9 ppg.
Then there are a couple of Illinois natives. One is Kendall Stephens, a St. Charles East grad who played three years at Purdue, just like his dad, Everette.
Stephens slid out of the rotation late in his junior year and decided to sit out last season to play one year at Nevada. He's the Wolf Pack's best 3-point threat, shooting 44 percent.
"The biggest thing is I want to win," Stephen told the Reno Gazette News. "When you win, everybody gets more exposure, more looks. Coach Musselman has already proven he can get guys to buy into his system and produce."
Jordan Caroline has an interesting family background.
His grandfather is former Bears star J.C. Caroline, who played on the 1963 NFL championship team. His mom, Jayna, ran track for the Illini, and his father is longtime NFL defensive end Simeon Rice. After two years at Champaign Central High School, Caroline moved to basketball powerhouse Montverde Academy in Florida and played at Southern Illinois as a freshman before shifting to Nevada.
Caroline told the Reno Gazette Journal he stays in touch with his father, but considers his grandfather J.C., who died in November at 84, as his true father figure.
"I still to this day look up to him more than anybody else," Caroline said.
So with those four guys, all listed at 6-feet-7, Nevada essentially plays positionless basketball, where every player has the freedom to make plays or shoot from the outside.
The formula produced amazing results last weekend.
The Wolf Pack is the first team in NCAA Tournament history to overcome halftime deficits of at least 9 points in consecutive games. But against No. 2 seed Cincinnati, Nevada trailed by 22 with 11 minutes left before launching an improbable comeback.
The fifth starter, point guard Hallice Cooke, transferred from Iowa State. But there is a downside to relying so heavily on transfers. After losing guard Lindsey Drew to a torn Achilles and forward Darius Mitchell was dismissed from the team, Nevada has very little depth.
Four players using up scholarships are transfers who are sitting out this season, preparing to play next year. In the two tournament games, Musselman essentially used six guys, with backup guard Josh Hall the only guy on the floor who went to Nevada straight from high school.
On the Loyola side, the Chicago Sun-Times reported the school has begun talks on a new contract with coach Porter Moser. He signed a five-year extension after last season, but athletic director Steve Watson talked about ripping up the old deal and starting over.
There could be some drama about whether Moser, 49, stays or jumps to a richer program. The Naperville native, who attended Benet Academy, has had other stops. He was head coach at Arkansas-Little Rock and Illinois State from 2000-07.
Moser has talked excitedly about Loyola replacing Wichita State as the Missouri Valley team that competes regularly with teams for major conferences. Then again, if he dreams of coaching at a big school, this might be his chance.
"Everyone knows how I feel about Chicago. I love it. I love the culture of a Jesuit school," Moser said, according to the Sun-Times. "My whole life with my family, my faith has been with this program.
"I've put everything I had into this thing, and to get it to this point and the pride of Chicago, the pride of Loyola University, it means so much."