It’s 10:17 p.m. in the Virginia Street Gym in Reno, Nevada. But the sounds of swishes through the net still drones on.
Coming off a dominating 85-60 exhibition victory for the Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball team over San Francisco State, a player stands alone on the court wearing his game shorts and white undershirt shooting high-arching shots behind the three point line.
The player is freshman forward Jalen Townsell, joined by graduate assistant Robert Edwards, who keeps feeding him shots after Townsell runs to his destined spot on the floor. They’ve been shooting since the game ended an hour earlier.
The gym is completely empty, what was once a sold out crowd hours before has turned into custodians sweeping the bleachers. Still, Townsell keeps trying to improve with the help of Edwards. One shot at a time.
This has become a routine for Townsell — he and Edwards get shots up after every practice, scrimmage and game. Coming from Spanish Springs high school, nine miles from the university, Townsell has grown accustomed to the extra workload. His competitive drive hasn’t bathed in the spotlight just yet.
“Jalen has gotten a lot better about the grind to make it in the college level,” Edwards said. “He works out every single day to consistently improve his shot and his overall game and it shows on the court. It may not show on the game court, but he shines off the court in practice.”
Townsell’s senior season at Spanish Springs placed him among the top high school players in all of Northern Nevada. He received dozens of full-ride scholarship offers from schools such as Air Force, Cal State Northridge and several other prominent East Coast schools.
Townsell instead took upon a new challenge and decided to walk on for his hometown team this season.
“It wasn’t an easy decision by any means, but I just wanted to stay closer to home,” Townsell said. “I just felt like coach Musselman and the rest of the staff built a really solid program here and it’s only going to improve me as a player. I didn’t get that vibe from the other schools who wanted me.”
This isn’t the first time Townsell proceeded down a tougher road in his basketball career. His first obstacle came during his freshman season with the Cougars.
“Walking on here was like starting over when I was a freshman trying to get on the varsity team,” Townsell said. “But In the end I made it and that experience brought me to where I am now.”
Townsell’s on-court production speaks for itself. He averaged 21.1 points on 54 percent shooting from the field, 7.4 rebounds and added 2.0 steals last season, leading Spanish Springs to their first Northern 4A Region championship. Townsell uses his bulky 6-foot-7 frame and fluid handle to create space inside, but his game also extends out to the perimeter with a silky smooth jumper.
Edwards has taken notice of Townsell’s offensive repertoire early this season.
“I’ve noticed that Jalen is a really smart player,” Edwards said. “And once he catches fire, I try to talk to him as little as possible and just keep giving him the ball so he can focus on his shot.”
Effort on both ends of the floor has come into question with the Wolf Pack following an embarrassing 91-73 loss against Washington. Senior forward Caleb Martin addressed this frustration in a press conference Oct. 21.
“We’ve got guys who don’t practice hard,” Martin said. “There are guys who have bad practice habits and they act like it doesn’t translate to the game. As a team, we don’t practice hard enough.”
Townsell doesn’t fit that bill, and his drive to earn some playing time in the rotation is taking his game to new heights.
“I just have to keep working every day in order to prove myself,” Townsell said. “As a player, you have to get used to working harder than anyone else to earn your spot. But I feel like I can compete with all of these guys and I’m ready to take my game to the next level.”
Despite his size, skill and local ties to the community, it is Townsell’s work ethic that ultimately will make an impact for Nevada men’s basketball this season.
Isaiah Burrows can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @SagebrushSports.