ST. LOUIS — Kirk Snyder wowed plenty of college scouts with his versatility and athleticism as a high school star in southern California.

His spotty transcript scared most of them off.

"As soon as things didn't look too bright, some of the other schools stopped recruiting me," he said Thursday. "I was kind of a knucklehead."

Nevada coach Trent Johnson was one of the few who didn't give up. He diligently kept up the phone calls and letters, hoping that Snyder would eventually make the grades.

Johnson has been rewarded many times over for his patience.

Snyder has become the centerpiece of Johnson's rebuilding effort in Reno, leading Nevada to its best season in nearly 60 years, the WAC tournament championship and into the round of 16 in the NCAA tournament.

"Kirk wasn't a risk at all," said Johnson, a former assistant at Stanford. "He's matured a lot as an individual over the past few years. He's been everything I thought he'd be."

The Wolf Pack (25-8), the lowest seed left in the tournament at No. 10, hopes to continue its improbable ascent when they meet third-seeded Georgia Tech (25-9) on Friday in the St. Louis Regional semifinal.

Snyder, a 6-foot-6, 225-pound forward, is now one of the nation's best players and a potential NBA first-round draft pick — an anomaly at a program that has produced only a handful of pro prospects in more than 90 years.

He openly acknowledges he might have done it at a Pac-10 school had his grades been better.

Instead, Snyder went to a school with only two NCAA tournament appearances in its history, losing in the first round in 1984 and '85. Nevada had spent much of its mediocre past in the shadow of its more celebrated in-state rival — UNLV, about 450 miles southeast of Reno.

Johnson, who went 19-38 in his first two seasons there, desperately needed a recruit like Snyder to turn things around.

"The thing that sold me was that coach was in the recruitment process," Snyder said. "He truly seemed like he cared. . . . He stuck with me and everything paid off."

Almost immediately.

After sitting out the first 10 games of his career to get academically eligible, Snyder helped lead Nevada to its first winning season under Johnson and made the WAC all-newcomer team.

He didn't make many friends on the team, however, with his tendency to hog the ball and gloat about his numbers.

"He was so offensive-minded and didn't want to pass the ball," senior forward Sean Paul said. "It was almost like the Kirk Snyder Show out there sometimes."

Snyder eventually learned to tone down his selfish play — most likely because the teammates around him got better. Johnson has surrounded Snyder with athletic forwards in Kevinn Pinkney and Nick Fazekas, and a pair of steady, tough guards in Garry Hill-Thomas and Todd Okeson.

With that lineup, Nevada rolled to its best season since 1965-66.

"People don't give Kirk enough credit for his understanding of the game and his willingness to buy into . . . (making) other people around him better," Johnson said. "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that in my position, when you have a guy like that that can make plays, I am going to let him make a few."

The Wolf Pack generated a little national buzz with its closer-than-expected 14-point loss at then-No. 1 Connecticut in November and a 14-point win over then-No. 6 Kansas a month later.

Regardless, Nevada was mostly thought of as nothing more than a one-man gang entering the NCAA tournament despite winning 11 of its last 12 games.

That all changed after the Wolf Pack's win over Michigan State in the first round followed by a 91-72 rout of second-seeded Gonzaga.

"I watched the Connecticut game . . . they were a very impressive team," Georgia Tech Paul Hewitt said. "I mean, they hung right with them until the end. That same type of confidence that I see in that team now is what I saw back in November."

Still, there's no question that Snyder is the driving force behind the resurgence of Nevada's long-suffering program.

He's even got the Wolf Pack believing they're more than the typical NCAA tournament 10-seed wonder like Auburn last year and Kent State the year before.

"At first we were just happy to be in the NCAAs," he said. "The first game we got under our belt, and after that we have a little confidence. That's all you need."