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  1. 2009 Mar 25

    MBB: NU, Sadler Wrap Up Surprisingly Successful Season

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    By SMcKewon

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    (Photo courtesy of zimbio.com)

    Now that Nebraska’s basketball season was over, head coach Doc Sadler could admit two things in his Tuesday press conference.

    First, that NU’s Tiny Mighties, with their 18-13 campaign, “far exceeded” what Sadler envisioned they could do last fall.

    “We can talk about our size not being a factor, but (the season) is over with now,” Sadler said. “It was a huge factor.”

    Second, this year was one hell of a grind. For the players. And for Sadler himself.

    “It was probably the hardest year physically on me, because we just had no room for error,” he said. “Even the preseason games were difficult. You could never really sit there and know. I can’t say there was a game we went into and I said ‘Wow, we’re going to win that basketball game no matter what happens.’”

    A season without freebies is a bear. Especially when “Bear” Jones, a true freshman shooter, goes down with a foot injury in the first week of the season. Or when Alex Chapman transfers before playing a single second of NU basketball. Or when, through eligibility and/or transcript problems, Roburt Sallie never shows up, and Christopher Niemann and Brian Diaz are forced to sit out.

    Sallie, you might recall, saved Memphis’ hide from first-round disaster in the NCAA Tournament with 35 points and ten 3-pointers. Think he might have helped a Husker squad that often struggled from beyond the arc?

    Sadler even talked Sallie one day after the game. Sallie’s message?

    “He said ‘You know, coach, I still want to be at Nebraska,’” Sadler said.

    No, Doc hasn’t been dealt the best circumstances. He signed a few lemons - Chapman and Shang Ping come to mind – and the NCAA has left a few limes on his doorstep, too. From the moment Sadler arrived at NU, he hasn’t coached or recruited like Barry Collier and the results thus far – with some of Collier’s recruits – has been better, frankly, than expected. Especially this year.

    That’s because Sadler is a superior coach. You watch practices and games and you see, at the very least, a team with a winning plan, given its talent. Nebraska might not have had any freebies this year, but it wasn’t out of a lot of games, either. Sadler’s bunch consistently won the turnover battle, which can be worth 10-15 points per game. The Huskers couldn’t block Blake Griffin’s shot. But they could strip him of the ball.

    Sadler’s not one to toot his own horn, but he’s outcoached some of his Big 12 counterparts, especially Texas’ Rick Barnes, who feasts on some of the nation’s best talent and finds himself in starving match every time the Longhorns play NU. The Huskers had Oklahoma scouted beautifully; only missed free throws kept them from an upset in Norman. And despite the meltdown in Columbia, it’s hard to dismiss Sadler’s track record against Missouri, a Sweet 16 participant in 2009.

    If success in college basketball was built merely on coaching acumen, Sadler and Nebraska would have been in the Big Dance the last two seasons.

    But Sadler has to be a coach and a general manager. Current player personnel? Sadler. Recruiting? Sadler. Earlier this season I asked for the primary handler of NU’s non-conference schedule. Again, Sadler. Some teams have coaches who delegate a lot of drill-by-drill practice duties to assistants. At one of NU’s workouts, you hear one consistent voice for two hours. Sadler’s.

    He’s not a figurehead. The man earns his paycheck. And Sadler the coach has a proven track record.

    For now, Sadler the GM is still polishing the resume. It could look very good next fall if 6-foot-11 Diaz and 6-foot-10 Niemann step in and win starting jobs. They could be two of NU’s top offensive options, and Sadler may be able to use a trapping zone defense if Diaz can defend the basket and block shots.

    “In some ways they’re not freshmen,” Sadler said. “They got a chance to sit there and look at it. I think Brian really understood and got a chance to see how much he really needs to work in the weight room. Not everything’s going to be new for them, and that’s a positive.”

    But Sadler craves speed, and he’s still on the lookout for fast, and preferably physical, guards. Like Oklahoma State’s quintet, for example, or even Colorado’s Dwight Thorne and Cory Higgins. Five-foot-seven Cookie Miller is a sparkplug, giving the Huskers key energy bursts throughout the game, but he’s simply not strong or big enough to trade blows with the best for 40 minutes. Sadler wants a beast on the perimeter, a guy with size and rebounding skills. That’s not Miller, or the slender Sek Henry.

    If he can find that piece, and keep Niemann and Diaz healthy through the summer, NU can again compete for a top four finish in the Big 12. The Huskers were just a game out of that slot this year; next season, if the chips fall right, 10 or 11 league wins isn’t out of the question.

    And Doc is due for some good fortune.

    Tags: mens basketball, doc sadler, brian diaz, chris niemann, cookie miller, sek henry

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