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There’s Symmetry to This Nebraska Basketball Season

February 25, 2019

Amazon lists a copy of “Huskers on the Hardwood” for $7.50. “Only five left in stock – order soon,” the entry says. Another seller lists a copy for $13.98 plus $2 shipping.

Seriously.

The paperback covers the history of Nebraska men’s basketball from the first game in 1897 through the 1993-94 season. It was published by the Lincoln Journal Star in 1995 and distributed exclusively by the Nebraska Bookstore. I wrote it and have considered buying the rights from the Journal Star so I could write an update, as well as fix some minor mistakes not caught in the editing process.

A women’s section was edited out for length and publishing-expense considerations.

It was a scramble at the finish because I left the newspaper in August of 1995.

The men’s program had what appeared to be some stability then. The 1993-94 season was Danny Nee’s eighth as head coach. Only Joe Cipriano (17) and Jerry Bush (9)—yes, Fred Hoiberg’s maternal grandfather—had coached longer. Cipriano succeeded Bush in 1963.

Cipriano lost an 18-month battle with pancreatic cancer in November of 1980. He was succeeded by assistant Moe Iba, who lasted six seasons before resigning following the 1985-86 season.

Iba knew his contract wasn’t going to be renewed.

Remember two things about his resignation. It followed his sixth season as head coach and Nebraska’s first “official” NCAA Tournament appearance.

Those old enough to remember (a number that has diminished dramatically) were adamant the Huskers’ loss to No. 2-ranked Oklahoma A&M in the NCAA District at Kansas City in 1949 was the first NCAA Tournament appearance. But the tournament was structured differently then.

In any case, Nee would have six more seasons after the last chapter in “Huskers on the Hardwood,” which includes Nebraska’s fourth-consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance, coming on the heels of the Huskers’ first Big Eight Tournament championship. As with the trip under Iba, however, all four resulted in first-round losses—as did a fifth appearance under Nee in 1998.

Nebraska wouldn’t make another NCAA Tournament trip until Tim Miles’ second season, 2013-14. Again the Huskers were eliminated in the first round.

After the news conference to introduce Miles, in late March of 2012, long-time friend Lee Barfknecht, now retired from the Omaha World-Herald, and I left the Devaney Center Complex together, discussing the hire by then-Athletic Director Tom Osborne.

“How long before we’re doing this after the next hire?” I asked.

“Six years,” Lee said.

Miles has made it to a seventh, one more than the prediction, one more than his predecessor, Doc Sadler, and one more than Sadler’s predecessor, Barry Collier.

Back-to-back sixes . . .

I haven’t been in favor of any of the firings, really, going back to Iba’s. Near the end, the Journal editor instructed me to write a column about Iba. My sense was he expected the point to be that Athletic Director Bob Devaney should fire Iba. But I was allowed my own contrary opinion.

Athletic Director Bill Byrne’s firing of Nee was more complicated. There had been a players’ walk-out in 1996, and the Huskers had lost nine of their last 10 in 1999-2000. Plus, it seemed some Husker fans had never accepted Nee because he was from Brooklyn—why that mattered, I don’t know.

There were also complaints Nee’s final team didn’t include any in-state players on scholarship. For sure in-state players had contributed significantly to his success.

Ten of Nee’s 14 teams played in the post-season, five NCAA Tournaments and five National Invitation Tournaments, winning the NIT in 1996. Some even disparaged that. In addition, the fact Nee-coached teams couldn’t win in the NCAA Tournament was a major complaint.

It should be noted, the issue of first-round losses in the NCAA Tournament was solved by Nee’s firing. If you don’t get to the NCAA Tournament, you can’t lose in the first round.

Collier had a losing record, including 36-60 in Big 12 play, in his six seasons. Plus, he declined to give out his home phone number, something for which some reporters took offense.

Sadler’s teams were above .500 overall (.532) but 34-64 in conference play. His final season was Nebraska’s first in the Big Ten.  The Huskers lost nine of their last 10 games, the same as in Nee’s final season. There’s symmetry all around Nebraska men’s basketball.

I’m on the Husker basketball periphery now. Jacob Padilla and Derek Peterson are the in-the-know writers for Hail Varsity. But I don’t think Miles should be fired, a minority opinion it seems.

I have my reasons. As I said, though, I’m an observer these days, unlike with Miles’ predecessors.

On one of the NIT trips, when the Huskers reached the semifinals, I stayed where they stayed in New York City, the Marriott Marquis I think it was, at a sizeable NIT media discount. I walked with Nee and the team to Madison Square Garden for practice. No sooner had we left the hotel and stepped onto a crowded sidewalk, than someone said, “Hey, Danny.”

What are the odds? It was a buddy from back-in-the-day Brooklyn.

Anyway, I’m pretty sure the last time I checked “Huskers on the Hardwood” it could be had for 19 cents. And maybe that’s what the seller would have credited you if you paid the postage.

As copies dwindle though, I guess, the price climbs. It originally sold for $12.95.

Maybe that’s a sign of good things to come.

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