by Steve Weinman, NBA D-League.com
It wasn’t about the business. Eric Musselman wants to make sure you know that.
Musselman’s first draft pick as the new head coach of the Reno Bighorns happens to be a local product, a four-year starter for the University of Nevada. But that isn’t why Nick Fazekas became the first overall selection of the 2010 D-League Draft.
“The biggest thing that interests us is the fact that he’s a proven player in this league, having averaged 20 and 10,” Musselman said. “It’s hard to find players that can score with their back to the basket and can also face up. We tried as a staff to continually take out of the equation that he’s from here, but it’s an added bonus.”
A 6-11 forward, Fazekas went 34th to the Dallas Mavericks in the 2007 NBA Draft. He appeared in 26 NBA games (four with the Mavs, 22 with the Los Angeles Clippers) and 28 more in the D-League (all with Tulsa) in 2007-08 before heading overseas the following season. After an ankle injury cut his 2009-10 season short, Fazekas has returned to the United States in hopes of making it back to the NBA.
“I feel like I just need to play the way I was playing when I was in Tulsa,” Fazekas said. “I feel my game is definitely NBA-ready. For guys like myself and other guys who play in this league, some of it can be luck and some of it can be timing. It’s just about trying to find the perfect situation and the right time.”
Fazekas averaged 20-plus points per game in each of his last three seasons at Nevada and was a 20-10 player as both a junior and senior. He can play on the blocks or pick-and-pop for mid-range jumpers. One of Musselman’s goals for Fazekas this season is the expansion of his jump-shooting into NBA three-point range.
Along with the scoring touch, board work and passing vision that made him Musselman’s choice atop the draft board, Fazekas also brings an intriguing family anecdote with him: his grandfather’s innovative escape from a POW camp in Hungary in 1947.
“He was taken captive, and he had to find the best way to get out,” Fazekas said, “and he lit his leg on fire and caused a bunch of chaos in the hospital and was able to get away.”
This isn’t new news. As Fazekas noted, ESPN the Magazine built a feature on him around this story during his junior year at Nevada. But his take on the effect that story had bears note, if only as further proof that the ways we build our opinions of others never cease to amaze.
“It kind of helped me because everyone was like ‘Nick Fazekas isn’t tough enough,’ and then they read that and…‘He’s gotta be tough, look what his grandpa did,’” he said. “I honestly think it did. It probably didn’t change everybody’s perception, but some people read that article and thought, ‘Well, this guy’s got to be a tough dude then.’”
Be it through his family lineage, his expanding range or simply the fact that he promises to be close to full health, Fazekas plans to catch the eyes of observers and get himself back in an NBA uniform soon. In the interim, the homecoming party begins in Reno on Saturday night when the Bighorns host the Utah Flash.