Jarod Lucas, Nevada's leading scorer and one of the Mountain West's best players last season, told NSN on Wednesday he will return to the Wolf Pack for a second senior season.
Lucas' return will give Nevada one of the West Coast's most potent backcourts with fellow standout Kenan Blackshear previously saying he was returning for a second senior campaingn. Lucas and Blackshear both earned All-Mountain West honors last season.
Lucas was an instant-impact add for Nevada who averaged 17 points per game en route to winning MW newcomer of the year. After spending his first three college seasons at Oregon State, Lucas will get a fifth college season thanks to the COVID-19 2020-21 campaign not counting against eligibility.
Lucas could have turned pro or grad transferred to another school this offseason but will instead stick in Reno, buoying the Wolf Pack's roster for 2023-24.
"It was almost a no-brainer," Lucas said on NSN Daily. "You kind of have to take a look at everything. But I'm going to come back to Nevada for a fifth and final year, so I'll be looking forward to it, and it was pretty easy when it came down to it. You can take a look at playing professionally because I was somebody who played four years of college basketball. Three at Oregon State, where I played pretty good minutes, and then coming here to Nevada and playing some good minutes. It was a point where I was thought, 'Do I want to potentially go and play professionally or look at some other options?' But I love Reno, I love the fans, I love everybody I've met out here in Reno, and I think this might be a place where I want to live once I'm done playing basketball."
Lucas helped propel Nevada's turnaround 2022-23 season as the Wolf Pack rebounded from a 13-18 record the year prior to win 22 games last season and make the NCAA Tournament, where it lost a "First Four" game to Arizona State. In the process, Nevada helped bring a buzz back to the men's basketball program.
The Wolf Pack won back-to-back home games against ranked teams for the first time in school history, which included a nine-point victory over then-No. 22-ranked San Diego State, which advanced to the national championship game. Nevada also went 14-1 at home and built attendance from moderate levels at the start of the season to a sellout for the regular-season finale against UNLV, an overtime loss that marked the team's only home defeat.
Before the start of the season, Lucas said filling the stands at Lawlor Events Center was one of the team's goals, which it accomplished.
"It's great," Lucas said. "It shows the work you're putting in on a daily basis is being seen by the community. As somebody who's seen Lawlor Events Center packed on video many times when (Eric) Musselman was here and obviously this past year, it's a hard place to play. We obviously had a rough finish to the season, but we were one game away from being 15-0, undefeated at Lawlor, and it is a very hard place to play. It always means a lot when we get fans in there. We're hoping to not only have one sellout but multiple sellouts next year, especially with the team we have coming back. It will be cool being able to walk out there and really feel the love with 10,000-11,000 screaming for us."
While Nevada has lost three players to the transfer portal this offseason — Will Baker (to LSU), Darrion Williams (to Texas Tech), Trey Pettigrew (to Bradley) — the returns of Lucas, Blackshear and role players like Tré Coleman, Hunter McIntosh, Nick Davidson, Daniel Foster, Tyler Powell and K.J. Hymes should make the Wolf Pack a formidable foe in the MW. Nevada has three scholarships remaining to continue building its roster this offseason.
Lucas said Blackshear's return "was a big reason for me coming back" as he wanted to play one more season with his backcourt-mate. Lucas said he's excited to continue expanding his game, too, after tallying career highs in points (17.0), rebounds (2.6) and assists (1.4) while shooting 41.3 percent from the field and 37.8 percent from three.
"I'm really looking forward to being a leader," Lucas said. "I feel like I did a really good job this year of being a leader for this team in year one. And now hopefully we'll get into the transfer portal, get some freshmen as well to help build a really good team around a really good group of players we had this past year and get back to the NCAA Tournament."
Nevada's high point last season was its win over SDSU, which advanced further than any team in MW history in the NCAA Tournament. The Aztecs moved all the way to the national championship game, where it lost to UConn. Lucas, who took an official visit to SDSU last spring before signing with Nevada, was rooting for SDSU to win the title because it hailed from the MW. He said the Aztecs' run showed what MW teams are capable of doing on the national stage one year after the conference went 0-4 in the 2022 Big Dance.
"It just kind of set a tone for the rest of the country," Lucas said. "Two years ago, I think it was four teams and nobody wins a game. And then San Diego State, being the national runner-up, just kind of sets the tone that the Mountain West is the real deal. Having a team go to the national championship game and a team that we beat on our home court, that was a memorable night. Being able to have the game that I had, but also the fans storming the court, I know there are some people in the past that mentioned, 'Why storm the court?' And now you look, there might have been a good reason for it against a team that was the national runner-up. We're hoping next year we're that team to beat."
Despite its highly successful season, Nevada ran out of gas late last year, losing its final four games while going 2-5 over its last seven contests. Next year's Wolf Pack will be fueled by that poor finish and by the fact it wasn't able to cut down any nets despite achieving a lot.
"I think our next step is cutting down the nets at the end of the Mountain West regular season and then hopefully going into the Mountain West Tournament and doing the same thing," Lucas said. "That's something we've written down, being able to cut down nets, and it'll be motivation against all the teams we play this season."
You can watch Jarod Lucas' full NSN Daily interview below.