MWC ShootAround: A big-time Wink for favored UNLV

Updated: August 25, 2008

Marlene Karas/US Presswire

UNLV's Wink Adams will be a preseason favorite for MWC Player of the Year.

Meet a man called Wink

Not even all of UNLV senior Wink Adams' teammates know the story behind his unique first name.

His given name is Jo'Van, but that was replaced by a nickname when he was an infant.

"In my baby pictures, I always had one eye closed for some reason. I really don't know why," Adams said.

A mystery man to most who follow college basketball, Adams might be the best-kept secret out west. He's a leading contender for Player of the Year in the Mountain West Conference, and by the end of this season, the muscular 6-foot shooting guard could be recognized as one of the nation's top seniors.

"I certainly can't imagine a lot of players being more valuable to a team than Wink is to us," Rebels coach Lon Kruger said. "Wink will be on everybody's radar."

UNLV has gone 57-15 with three NCAA tournament victories over the past two seasons, and Adams has been the common thread in the program's success.

The Rebels figure to be the team to beat in the Mountain West, but Adams has an eye on a bigger goal: the Final Four.

"We've got all the pieces we need," said Adams, a sophomore starter on a Sweet 16 team in 2007. "I think this year we can make a real magical run."

Adams can continue to put his fingerprints all over the UNLV record book. He has 1,432 points to rank 14th on the Rebels' career list behind Larry Johnson (1,617). With another strong season, Adams could become the fifth UNLV player to score at least 2,000 points.

In an NCAA tournament second-round loss to eventual national champion Kansas, Adams scored 25 points. He used his strength and quickness to get to the free-throw line, where he hit 15 of 17 shots.

He averaged 22.8 points over his final five games last season, carrying the Rebels to the Mountain West tournament championship and a first-round victory over Kent State.

As a team, we're just not getting the exposure. We're just winning games.

--Wink Adams

But national acclaim has eluded Adams. Not that he cares much. Ask about his game, and he starts bragging about teammates like senior forwards Joe Darger and Rene Rougeau. The lack of national attention isn't personal, he said, but it's more important for UNLV to get noticed.

"The same teams are always on ESPN, and they get a lot of national exposure," he said. "As a team, we're just not getting the exposure. We're just winning games.

"When I got here, the first thing Coach Kruger said [was], 'It's all about the team. We've got to make each other better.' I can't do interviews and always talk about me. I give everybody credit. It's not just me. I want everybody to feel like we're all an important part of this team."

Adams averaged 16.9 points as junior, leading a short-handed Rebels team to a 27-8 finish. Kruger said Adams remains an under-the-radar star because he's not a 20 points-per-game scorer.

Around the Mountain West, Adams is known for his tenacity. He makes his presence felt in big games and displays the defensive intensity of an attack dog.

"I love his toughness," Utah coach Jim Boylen said. "He makes big shots, and he plays both ends of the floor."

In last season's conference tournament title game, Adams scored 14 straight points over a 4 1/2-minute stretch in the second half to lift his team to a 76-61 victory over top-seeded Brigham Young. He was weakened by the flu but was still named the tournament MVP.

If the Rebels are to hold off contenders BYU, San Diego State and Utah this season, Adams' play will be the primary reason.

"Wink can really score, he can really defend, and he competes like crazy," Kruger said, "and those are three great qualities."

Matt Youmans covers college basketball for the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Five things to watch in '08-09

Aztecs welcome back Wade
San Diego State might be the most talented team in the conference. But the Aztecs were in danger of losing 6-6 forward Lorrenzo Wade, when Wade initially made himself eligible for the NBA draft. He eventually withdrew his name and returned for his senior season.

Wade was a first team all-conference player after averaging 14.8 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.6 assists as a junior.

"I feel like I had a decent season, and the adversity our team went through made me a better player," Wade said.

With Wade, San Diego State has a legitimate shot to win the league. Without him, the Aztecs would have been relegated to middle of the pack.

"It's good news for the Aztecs. We are excited about that," coach Steve Fisher said. "It will help us take a big step forward with the team success."

Nevill, Utes pass toughness test
In his first year as Utah coach, Jim Boylen made an impression with his sideline intensity.

"I did not sit down one minute of one game. I felt my team needed that energy and that passion," he said. "I'm hard on my guys, but they know I love 'em. What I am trying to do is create a culture of toughness and accountability."

Boylen's biggest challenge was to toughen up 7-1 center Luke Nevill, who had earned a tissue-soft reputation. Nevill made obvious strides under Boylen's watch. Nevill averaged 15.2 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.6 blocks last season, and he averaged 22 touches per game on the offensive end.

On the defensive end, the Australian was more effective controlling the paint. He helped the Utes improve from worst to second-best in field-goal percentage defense in conference games.

"I spent the whole year on it, and I spent the whole summer on it," Boylen said of working with Nevill. "I believe in throwing the ball inside. What I've asked Luke to do is take ownership of the wins and losses, and not just how he plays."

Five seniors in league of their own
The competition for player of the year should be among five seniors -- Brigham Young's Lee Cummard, UNLV's Wink Adams, San Diego State's Lorrenzo Wade, Utah's Luke Nevill and Wyoming's Brandon Ewing.

Cummard shared the honor last season with New Mexico's J.R. Giddens, a first-round pick of the Boston Celtics. Cummard also entered the NBA draft but returned to school before the deadline to withdraw.

BYU won the regular-season title, which is why Cummard got a piece of the award. Expect the conference champion to have the player of the year this season, meaning Adams, Cummard and Wade are the favorites in what should be a close race.

Christian new at TCU
Last summer, the storyline in the Mountain West was the arrival of five new coaches. This summer, the only newcomer is Texas Christian's Jim Christian, who takes over a depleted team that should finish in the league's bottom three.

Christian already has been rudely introduced to the conference. UNLV routed Kent State, which was Christian's old team, 71-58 in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Christian was highly successful at Kent State, winning at least 20 games in each of his six years, but he will find the climb a steep one in Fort Worth, Texas. His predecessor, Neil Dougherty, finished 33 games under .500 in six years.

"TCU's tremendous commitment to having a successful basketball program and its first-class facilities are what made this position so attractive to me," Christian said after being hired.

In reality, TCU has arguably the league's least attractive arena (Daniel-Meyer Coliseum) and its average home attendance (3,529) ranked eighth in the nine-team league last season.

Flexing its schedule strength
There are some marquee nonconference games awaiting Mountain West teams this season. Brigham Young, with the nation's longest home winning streak at 47 games, hosts Wake Forest at the Marriott Center on Jan. 3. The Cougars also face Arizona State in a neutral-court game at Phoenix on Dec. 20.

UNLV goes on the road to play at Nevada on Dec. 6 and at Louisville on New Year's Eve.

Utah has a long lineup of strong opponents. The Utes host Oregon (Dec. 3), California (Dec. 10), Gonzaga (Dec. 31), and LSU (Jan. 6), and they'll play Oklahoma (Dec. 13) and Utah State (Dec. 22) on the road.

"We've got the best schedule by far," Utah coach Jim Boylen said.


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2008-09 Team Capsules

By Matt Youmans
Special to ESPN.com

Mountain West
Air ForceAir Force
Second-year coach Jeff Reynolds returns three starters, but that number is deceiving. Senior guard Andrew Henke, the team's sixth man, was second on the team in scoring at 11.3 points per game. Henke must fill the shoes of departed guard Tim Anderson, one of the conference's toughest players. Senior forwards Anwar Johnson and Matt Holland combine with Evan Washington, a 6-4 sophomore guard, to give Reynolds a few building blocks. The Falcons will probably drop a couple spots from their fifth-place finish last season.

BYUBYU
There is enough talent returning for the Cougars, 27-5 in the league the past two seasons, to win another title. Lee Cummard, the co-player of the year, averaged 15.8 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists as a junior. Jonathan Tavernari, a 6-6 junior forward, averaged 13.1 points and is never afraid to shoot. Jimmer Fredette, a 6-2 guard, was impressive as a freshman and soon will be one of the conference's top players. But what BYU lost -- center Trent Plaisted and guards Ben Murdock and Sam Burgess -- probably will be too much to overcome. Coach Dave Rose has a team likely to finish second or third.

Colorado StateColorado State
The Rams will be better, which is not saying a lot. They finished 0-16 in the conference regular season before upsetting Wyoming in the first round of the tournament. Senior guard Marcus Walker, a lightning-quick string bean, was second in the Mountain West in scoring at 17.1 points per game. He returns with three other starters -- senior guard Willis Gardner, sophomore guard Josh Simmons and sophomore forward Andre McFarland. The Rams lost four conference games by three points or fewer in coach Tim Miles' first season.

New MexicoNew Mexico
Despite losing co-player of the year J.R. Giddens (a senior who was picked 30th overall in June's NBA draft), the Lobos could crack the top four in the MWC standings. A big key will be 6-5 senior forward Tony Danridge, who averaged 12.5 points as a junior but missed last season with a broken leg. Coach Steve Alford returns four starters, including senior guard Chad Toppert, who has 184 3-pointers in his career, and gritty junior forward Roman Martinez. The inside will be anchored by Martinez and 6-9 senior center Daniel Faris. Sophomore Dairese Gary returns at point guard. Alford has recruited well and this team has the potential to develop into a contender.

SDSUSan Diego State
On paper, the Aztecs appear capable of winning the conference. On the floor, however, they have often underachieved. They bring back five starters and their top eight scorers. San Diego State returns 96.3 percent of last season's points scored (2,122 of 2,204) and its returning players have a combined 321 career starts. Veteran coach Steve Fisher's four-man frontline features three seniors -- Lorrenzo Wade, Kyle Spain and Ryan Amoroso -- and 6-8 sophomore Billy White. The point guard spot will be handled by sophomore D.J. Gay and senior Richie Williams.

TCUTCU
The honeymoon phase will be brief for coach Jim Christian, who inherited a mess and is busy giving his roster a makeover. The good news is 6-8, 243-pound senior forward Kevin Langford, who led the team in scoring (13.3) and rebounding (5.3), is back to plant himself in the paint. Junior guard Jason Ebie is the other returning starter. The Horned Frogs will miss departed guard Brent Hackett and his ability to make big shots. Christian has added five players, including three junior college transfers, but can he keep this team out of the basement?

UNLVUNLV
Expectations could not be higher for Lon Kruger's fifth team. The Rebels won two conference tournament titles and went 3-2 in NCAA tournament play the last two seasons. They lost point guard Curtis Terry but will be led by three seniors -- shooting guard Wink Adams and forwards Joe Darger and Rene Rougeau. Sophomore point guard Tre'Von Willis, a transfer from Memphis, should be a major impact player. The middle will be manned by 6-8 Darris Santee, a junior college transfer, and 7-foot redshirt freshman Beas Hamga. Kruger expects to see benefits from his team's two-week summer exhibition tour of Australia.

UtahUtah
With five returning starters and a deep bench, the Utes might be the most improved team in the Mountain West. Coach Jim Boylen said 7-1 center Luke Nevill has the ability to be a first-round NBA draft pick. Shaun Green and Lawrence Borha also return as senior starters. Junior Luka Drca and sophomore Tyler Kepkay will share time at point guard. The team's one significant personnel loss was Johnnie Bryant, second in the team in scoring at 14.2 points in 33 games off the bench. Boylen is a great motivator and his players know effort on defense is mandatory.

WyomingWyoming
It all starts with senior guard Brandon Ewing, who led the league in scoring (17.2) and minutes played (38.0) last season. The Cowboys lost guard Brad Jones, but there is talent surrounding Ewing. Junior forward Ryan Dermody and 7-foot sophomore Mikhail Linskens are returning starters, and senior forward Tyson Johnson is rugged in the post. The most important newcomer will be senior guard Sean Ogirri, a talented scorer who transferred from Wichita State. The first year for coach Heath Schroyer was a struggle, and the success of his second year will depend mostly on Ewing, Dermody and Ogirri.

If I were the Mountain West commish …

By Andy Katz
ESPN.com

The television package has to change. Going exclusively with CSTV has limited the national reach of the conference. Scheduling is also an issue, too. Not all of the member schools can afford guaranteed home nonconference games. The MWC didn't want to get involved in the annual BracketBuster event, but the beauty of it is guaranteed home-and-home games. The MWC is caught in a middle ground, believing it is better than other so called mid-major conferences. But some of the MWC schools struggle to get quality home games. Scheduling alliances with other conferences would help.

2007-08 MWC Standings

Overall record MWC record
Brigham Young* 27-8 14-2
UNLV* 27-8 12-4
New Mexico^ 24-9 11-5
San Diego State^ 20-13 9-7
Air Force 16-14 8-8
Utah# 18-15 7-9
TCU 14-16 6-10
Wyoming 12-18 5-11
Colorado State 7-25 0-16
*NCAA tournament
^NIT berth
#CBI berth

For all the Mountain West news and notes, check out the conference page.

Top returning scorers

Player PPG
Brandon Ewing, Wyoming, Sr. 17.2
Marcus Walker, Colorado State, Sr. 17.1
Wink Adams, UNLV, Sr. 16.9
Lee Cummard, BYU, Sr. 15.8
Luke Nevill, Utah, Sr. 15.2

Top returning rebounders

Player RPG
Luke Nevill, Utah, Sr. 6.7
Ryan Amoroso, San Diego State, Sr. 6.5
Lee Cummard, BYU, Sr. 6.3
Rene Rougeau, UNLV, Sr. 6.2
Ronnie Aguilar, Colorado State, Jr. 6.1

Final Shots

• Three Mountain West teams made the Prestige Rankings' Top 50, but UNLV was the stunner at No. 8. Prestige Rankings

• The MWC was a two-bid NCAA league last season. Joe Lunardi predicts the conference will get two teams into the tourney again next March. Which two MWC teams will be in the Dance? Bracketology

• Missed the other conference breakdowns? Click here to check out the ShootAround archive.