Caleb Martin powers No. 6 Nevada to another 8-0 start

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Nevada’s bus pulled into Loyola of Chicago’s arena and the Wolf Pack made their way to the locker room. Even behind closed doors, one of college basketball’s most derisive chants rang in their ears: “Over-rated!”

Of course the Ramblers’ fans laid it on thick last week. Nevada nearly derailed the team’s storybook run in the NCAA Tournament last season.

“We’re getting used to this,” coach Eric Musselman said.

No. 6 Nevada has matched its 8-0 start from last season, winning its games by an average of 20 points.

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“We’ve had this number next to our name preseason before we even played a game, and we hadn’t proven anything, so we’re just trying to continue to validate who we are as a basketball team,” Musselman said.

Last season, Nevada went 29-8, won the Mountain West regular-season title and earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. They beat Texas and Cincinnati to reach the Sweet 16 before losing to Loyola of Chicago 69-68.

Last week, the Wolf Pack avenged that heartbreaking defeat with a 79-65 victory.

They play 20th-ranked Arizona State on Friday at Staples Center as part of the Basketball Hall of Fame Classic tripleheader. It’ll be Nevada’s second trip to Los Angeles in a week, having beaten Southern California 73-61 last Saturday.

Back home in Reno, the Wolf Pack are a popular draw, averaging 10,330 fans in their first four home games of the season.

The 23-year-old Martin twins are a big reason for that.

Caleb and Cody Martin seriously considered leaving early for the NBA draft in June but took until the final hours before the deadline to decide that they would return.

The biggest factor in Caleb’s decision was his injured left foot. He sprained it in a game against Colorado last February and played through the injury to lead Nevada to the Sweet 16. After the season, his foot remained in a boot and affected his workouts during the pre-draft process. Returning to school meant he could give his foot time to heal instead of playing at a disadvantage while trying to make an NBA roster.

He spent last summer alternately resting his foot, staying in shape and expanding his game.

“I definitely wanted to become more of a facilitator,” Martin said. “Obviously, my job here for the most part is to score, but really just make reads quicker and do things to get my teammates more involved since we do have so much more talent this year.”

Cody Martin, whose draft stock was lower than his brother’s, also decided to come back.

Their return ensured the Wolf Pack would field one of the nation’s most experienced lineups. They start five redshirt seniors: the twins along with Jordan Caroline, Tre’Shawn Thurman and Trey Porter. The roster includes eight transfers.

“It’s a weird mix but it’s a good mix at the same time,” Caroline said. “We’re experienced but we haven’t been together for the longest time. Our whole team is really close.”

Caleb Martin averages a team-high 19.9 points and 4.8 rebounds. Caroline is the second-leading scorer at 18.5 points and 10 rebounds, and the Wolf Pack is 31-2 when he posts a double-double. Cody contributes 8.7 points and four rebounds a game.

“Caleb is so versatile,” Musselman said. “Defensively, he continues to get better and he takes bigger assignments this year than he did in the past. As an off-guard, he’s a phenomenal rebounder as well.”

Two years ago, the twins transferred from North Carolina State, where they reached the Sweet 16 and played two hours from their hometown in Mocksville, North Carolina. They started over at Nevada in the lower profile Mountain West.

“Totally the right move. I don’t regret it one bit,” Caleb said. “I don’t regret going there either because I had the experience in a big-time conference (ACC). I still have relationships at the school.”

If they’d known coach Mark Gottfried would be fired months later, Caleb said it might have caused them to reconsider the move a bit more. At the same time, if he’d known how well things would work out at the next stop, Caleb said, “I would have definitely left.”

College represents what may be the twins’ last chance to do everything together, whether it’s playing basketball or video games or living under the same roof.

“We know exactly what each other is thinking before we say it,” said Caleb, born a minute after Cody.

They use hand signals with each other on court and when one of them makes a mistake they’ll say “I know” before the other can point it out.

Standing 6-foot-7 and weighing 200 pounds, the twins sound alike and sport the same styles with their hair and beards. Caleb is quick to lower his head to reveal a distinguishing feature: a zigzag pattern in his cut.

Musselman can tell the difference between them.

“Cody doesn’t smile as much as Caleb and Cody is more serious,” the coach said. “Their mom, when she’s away from them a little bit, she struggles.”

Caleb corrected his coach: “My mom definitely knows unless she gets mad and she blurts somebody’s name out.”

Caleb would love to hear his name called next June on NBA draft night, preferably for the Charlotte Hornets. Although they don’t talk about it much, Cody wants to be right there, too.

“That would be awesome if we were able to play every single level our entire life together,” Caleb said.

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