Blog (1 – 8 of 8)
2009 Jul 24
399 viewsrecent release of the 2010 Big 12 men’s basketball schedule and its attendant TV slate, one thing becomes pretty obvious:
The league, and ESPN, sure doesn’t think much of Nebraska’s chances.
For now, NU will only appear, it seems, on national TV three times before the Big 12 Tournament. One game – that matchup vs. USC in the Big 12/Pac 10 Challenge - may show up on Fox Sports Network. Otherwise, Doc Sadler’s hustlin’ Huskers just aren’t going to get much exposure beyond Big 12 country.
That reflects expectations for the team, which, with nine new scholarship players, probably isn’t that high.
While it’s good to fly under an opponents’ radar, league coaches know too much about Sadler’s coaching skills to take the Huskers lightly. Potentially great wins – unless it’s over Kansas in the first Big 12 home date – might be lost on a national audience.
Which is too bad, because Sadler finally has some size to work with in 2009-2010, and although no one else much expects it in the tough Big 12 – the best four teams on paper (KU, Oklahoma, Texas and Oklahoma State) could all begin the preseason inside the national top 15 – Nebraska intends to make a run at the NCAA Tournament.
We know this much: The non-conference slate is enough of an upgrade over last year (and especially two years ago) that a 8-8 and 7-9 in the second-best – or maybe the best – college basketball league in America might be enough for a tourney bid.
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2009 May 05
Myles Holley, a 6-5 swingman who attends junior college in Virginia but plays basketball for The Heat Academy, will be signing with NU, he told the Lincoln Journal-Star Monday.
Holley was an academic casualty coming out of Booker T. Washington high school in Norfolk, Va.; otherwise, he likely could have been a ACC recruit. He spent the last year playing The Heat Academy, a club team with no college affiliation, to save a year of eligibility for Division I.
The Heat Academy drew national attention for having one of the nation's most coveted, and mysterious, frontcourt recruits, 6-10 Sudanese refugee Ater Majok, who committed to Connecticut in 2008. Majok was deemed ineligible by the NCAA until the end of the first academic semester in 2009, so he declared for the NBA Draft two weeks ago without hiring an agent.
The joint is, well, interesting. Not bad. Just interesting. Here's a story written on it back in 2007 for the Washington Post. The last few paragraphs are a mixture of sadness and unintentional humor, but the overall mission of The Heat Academy isn't a bad one.
Should Holley sign, that means NU is one player over the 13-scholarship limit. At this point, either German import Christian Standhardinger isn't showing up, Ryan Anderson is staying in the NBA Draft or Sadler has to remove somebody from the scholarship rolls. Chris Balham, perhaps?
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2009 Apr 02
Hankins, at 6-8, 230 pounds, is a raw, tough, rebounding power forward. Jeter, five inches shorter but weighing the same as Hankins, is the physical, aggressive point guard Sadler wants for Big 12 play.
But Polk coach Matt Furjanic likes to point out another statistic that binds Hankins and Jeter together.
“You’re looking at 50 wins and two conference championships in two years,” Furjanic said Thursday.
The Polk boys are accustomed to success. And both said it was Sadler’s honesty on a recent visit that lured them to NU.
In the case of Jeter, who averaged 16 points 4.5 assists and 5.6 assists last year, Sadler was blunt: Lose the extra flab, at least 15 pounds.
“He wants to put the ball in my hands, and in order to do that, I’ve gotta lose the weight,” Jeter said. “He was up front. It made me more comfortable with him.”
Originally a football recruit to Cincinnati as a wide receiver, Jeter said he’s never been a little guy. Even in high school, in Beaver Falls, Pa., when led his team to a 102-19 record over four years and was named the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s athlete-of-the-year in 2006.
By the time he enrolled at Polk, he was a little huskier.
“He was 250-some when we got him,” Furjanic said.
In other words, Jeter has some experience shedding pounds already. Jeter said Sadler had him meet the weight staff on his visit, and already begin to craft a weight-loss plan. At NU, he said, the nutritionist is like to become his best friend.
Said Furjanic: “We feed our players, but one day it’s Subway, and one day it’s Wendy’s. So he’s not on a nutrition program with us that he’s going to be on at Nebraska.
Not that Jeter, at 232, carried it poorly, Furjanic said. The point guard was at his best in the open court.
“Fans up there worry about how he’s going to play,” Furjanic said. “But there’s no one better on a fast break than Lance. He’ll go in and dunk on you, he’ll finish strong. He’ll dribble into the paint and bring three people with him.”
Because of that aggressiveness, Jeter is the best, toughest point guard Furjanic said he coached.
Jeter, meanwhile, wanted the challenge of playing in the Big 12. He quickly rattled off the names of the league’s bigger point guards, some of whom took advantage of NU’s incumbent starter, 5-foot-7 Cookie Miller.
“The Big 12 is a physical conference, so they’re looking for a physical point guard,” Jeter said. “That’s what I do.”
Hankins, meanwhile, has a jones for rebounding. He averaged 12.2 of them for Polk this year, and started attracting recruiting attention because of his skill. Having just turned 19 two months ago, Furjanic said Hankins hasn’t reached his peak potential yet. Only recently did Hankins start refining his offensive game.
“He’s developed a good little jump shot,” Furjanic said. “He was our only big man, and we started four perimeter guys, so we needed somebody to stay in there and rebound… down the road, Nebraska will have a guy who can step out and hit a shot, if they need it.”
Furjanic said St. John’s and Seton Hall made strong pushes just in the last two weeks. Hankins confirmed he canceled visits to both schools after committing to NU; some recruiting analysts expected Hankins to return close to his Long Island, N.Y., home.
Instead, he’ll make the trek almost 2,000 miles westward.
“I like that it’s just the school and basketball out there,” said Hankins, who’d like to become a sports agent. “I can’t get in trouble. I’ve got to concentrate on school 95 percent of time.”
It will be nice, Hankins said, to have Jeter throwing some of the entry passes.
“I don’t have to get used to another point guard again,” he said “I’ll have the same one for four years.”
Said Jeter of Hankins: “Chemistry is a big part of success. I already know what he likes and dislikes. I can relate to him.”
Both players, Furjanic said, will be taking two courses in the first summer sessions at Polk to academically qualify, but he expects both to pass those classes and be in Nebraska by mid-June.
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2009 Mar 25
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.
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2009 Mar 25
So I felt a little for Nebraska head basketball coach Doc Sadler Tuesday as he responded to a question about NU’s future non-conference schedules by dragging the Huskers’ home-and-home series with Creighton into the conversation.
“People don’t like to hear this, but as I tell other people: Name another Big 12 school that’s mandated by the state to play a home-and-home with someone like we do Creighton,” Sadler said. “Again: A loss to Creighton hurts us. A win at Creighton – only thing it does is make our fans happy. It doesn’t help you come Selection Sunday. That’s just the way it is.”
Add another log to the fire of unfortunate discord between Nebraska and Creighton basketball fans.
It’s worth mentioning that, in a vacuum, Sadler is right.
CU, after all, didn’t make the NCAA Tournament. The selection committee sat on its hands and handed spots to more-talented-but-underachieving programs like Arizona and Maryland, who in turn justified their anointing by winning games in the Big Dance. The message, at least this year, was clear: Only mid-majors who act like majors in November and December need apply. Creighton did not.
But Sadler doesn’t coach, recruit or woo potential season-ticket holders in a vacuum. He does so in Nebraska, where, especially in Omaha, resident are fans of both teams, rooting for both to reach the NCAA Tournament on their respective paths.
Why choose between them? Both teams had their own flavor and share some of the same leaders. One of NU’s biggest boosters, Howard Hawks, sits on CU’s board of directors. Current Nebraska Athletic Director Tom Osborne worked with Creighton’s athletic department before returning to NU.
With his comments, Sadler isn’t drawing a line in the sand, but he risks alienating CU fans - and their dollars - who normally would have no beef with Nebraska if Sadler wasn’t periodically trying to explain his position. Although Sadler respects Creighton and its coach Dana Altman - and has said so on several occasions - his comments make it seem as though he’d rather eat dirt than play a road game at the Qwest Center, even though NU fans are more than welcome to pack the Qwest when Nebraska travels there.
Yes, the Qwest is a better arena than the Bob Devaney Sports Center. Yes, when filled with fans actually paying attention – and not merely wannabe fashionistas milling around with a beer buzz and a blind date – it’s a daunting venue in which to play a road game. Sadler witnessed as much Monday night when he went to support pal and Kentucky Coach Billy Gillespie as the Wildcats played the Bluejays in the NIT.
“And as you saw (Monday) night, very few teams – I don’t care if it’s Kentucky or if it’s Michigan – they ain’t going into Creighton and winning very many games,” Sadler said. “But nobody cares about that.”
Nobody cares? The fans do. Nebraskans do. Boosters do. The players do. And it’s a good win, too, even if some faceless committee balks at it. How many non-conference road games feature 15,000 hostile fans? Sounds like a pretty good tuneup for the Big 12 slate to me. And, honestly, given the end of the Danny Nee era and the sleep-inducing Barry Collier era, that’s more than enough justification for the series.
Giving it up to better fit some committee profile only works if Nebraska can consistently land home-and-home contracts with high-end major programs. Getting philosophical about Creighton when TCU and Saint Louis are on the docket is a little like pinching pennies in your right hand while you pitch quarters into a wishing well with your left.
Do I understand protecting one’s self-interest? Sure. Sadler is one of the Big 12’s best defenders, and loyal to trying building Nebraska into “the” state program. Good. He should. Sadler was right about the Big 12, too, this year. Eight teams in postseason. Six in the Big Dance. All of them won their first round games, and three remain in the Sweet 16. Baylor, meanwhile, seems poised for a NIT Championship. Sadler’s teams fought and scrapped all through the Big 12 season.
Is Doc afraid of CU? No. Afraid is the wrong word. More like he’s aware of how a loss is perceived.
But protecting one’s self-interest sometimes comes at the expense of one’s self-interest. If the Creighton series is inevitable anyway, it’s fair to ask: What’s to be gained, at this point, by even mildly objecting to it?
See also: NU Wraps Up Successful Season
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2009 Mar 18
It was a style, pace and score unfitting of the way Nebraska played basketball most of the season.
New Mexico generated offense on command vs. NU in the first round of the NIT, hitting 51 percent of its shots – and 53 percent of its 3-point attempts – in an 83-71 victory at The Pit in Albuquerque, N.M. The game’s tempo and fluidity marred somewhat by 49 called fouls and 63 free throws, UNM was able to overcome 19 turnovers by repeatedly feeding the ball to forwards Daniel Faris and Tony Danridge, who combined for 46 points and 17 rebounds.
When they weren’t scoring with baby hooks and five-foot jumpers, they were kicking out to open marksmen Phillip McDonald and Chad Toppert for 3-point attempts. McDonald and Toppert made three treys each. That inside-outside balance was too much for Nebraska (18-13) to overcome.
“They got it up to 19 (point lead),” Nebraska coach Doc Sadler said on his postgame radio show. “We really had a difficult time with Faris inside. We couldn’t stop him.”
The Lobos (22-11) seized control of the game after halftime by extending a 39-34 lead to 19 with a flurry of treys from McDonald. From there, NU turned up the heat on its press and began to force more turnovers, but couldn’t hit the outside shots to climb all the way back in the game. The Huskers got as close as seven when a Ryan Anderson trey rimmed out with just under two minutes left. New Mexico grabbed the rebound and closed out the remainder of the game at the free throw line.
Nebraska took 10 more shots than UNM, but made only 37 percent of them. Senior forward Ade Dagunduro, nursing an injured knee, had a rough night, making just 2 of 13 attempts. Anderson wasn’t much better, hitting 2 for 11. Sek Henry led all Huskers with 13 points, but the team’s best work probably came from center Chris Balham, who finished with seven points and three rebounds in 11 minutes.
The loss ended NU’s season, one that Sadler will remember fondly. Billed as “the smallest team in America,” Nebraska still won eight games in the Big 12 Conference and returned to the postseason for the second straight year.
“It’s so difficult to address the team the last time these guys will be together. At least we can leave the locker room – and I don’t know how many teams can say this – that there wasn’t a selfish bone in the locker room,” Sadler said. “We’ve overachieved.”
Sadler said NU “raised the bar” for future teams by embracing a culture of hard work, tenacious defense and selfless offense. What the Huskers need now, Sadler said, is a little more height and talent.
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2009 Mar 16
New Mexico’s University Arena – better known as “The Pit” because it’s built 37 feet underground – is a classy, old-school hoops joint, and, according to Sadler, “truly one of the best places to play in college basketball – if you’re the home team.”
It’s also where 18-12 Nebraska must try to win its opening-round NIT game Tuesday night.
“It’s a lot like Memorial Stadium,” Sadler said of the famous arena, which was named one of Sports Illustrated’s Top 20 Sporting Venues of the 20th Century. The 21-11 Lobos routinely drew more than 16,000 for Mountain West Conference games in Albuquerque, where basketball is followed with the same passion as Nebraskans show for football.
Sadler’s history at The Pit doesn’t include a win; he said Monday he’s 0-3 there. But he also happened to be present for the arena’s most memorable moment – the 1983 national title game in which North Carolina State upset Houston’s “Phi Slamma Jamma” duo of Clyde Drexler and Akeem Olajuwon 54-52 on alley oop at the buzzer.
In the 9 p.m. game televised by ESPNU, not much of that history will matter. But the Cornhuskers will have to contend with a hostile crowd and an altitude that’s higher than Boulder, Colo. Not necessarily easy for a team that lives on fierce man-to-man defense like NU.
“Oh my goodness gracious,” senior forward Ade Dagunduro joked Monday before practice. Dagunduro hadn’t been aware just how high in the sky The Pit was until a reporter told him.
NU’s leading scorer at 13 points per game, the 6-5 Dagunduro said he’ll be ready for UNM despite nursing a knee injury he suffered in the Big 12 Tournament, when he collided with Baylor 7-footer Josh Lomers.
“It’s nothing adrenaline won’t take care of,” Dagunduro said, adding that NU’s NIT berth gives him and his teammates “new life” after a disappointing 65-49 loss to Baylor in the Big 12 Tournament.
The Lobos had a similar exit from the Mountain West tournament , losing the first round to Wyoming just days after beating the Cowboys on the road. UNM had finished 12-4 in the Mountain West and had a real shot at the NCAA Tournament until the loss.
Coached by former Iowa sideline general and Indiana legend Steve Alford, New Mexico scores effectively and shoots well, utilizing the motion offense that Alford’s former coach, Bob Knight perfected over his 40 years of coaching.
“They’re a lot like Texas Tech,” Sadler said. “We’re likely to see a little more Pat Knight than Bob Knight.”
Sadler said Alford has “done a great job” of resurrecting the UNM program in the last two years. The Lobos finished 24-9 last year, losing in the NIT first round to California-Berkeley.
The quick turnaround between finding out its opponent and traveling to Albuquerque – Monday morning, Sadler wasn’t quite sure when NU would be departing for the game – leaves NU a bit uncertain as to just how the game will play out. Sadler expects Nebraska to benefit from an opponent that doesn’t know its every offensive move, especially on set plays. Conversely, the Lobos get to stay home and possibly overwhelm a Husker team that thrives on energy and defensive conviction.
Should NU win the game, it faces the winner of UAB and Notre Dame. Down the road lurks a possible quarterfinal matchup with Creighton, which is a No. 1 seed. Should the game occur, CU would host NU in the Qwest Center for the right to travel to New York for the NIT semifinals.
“I hope we get the chance to play Creighton,” Sadler said. “That means both teams won two games. That can’t be anything but good for the state of Nebraska.”
Said Dagunduro: “We want the chance to play them. It’d be great for the state.”
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2009 Mar 05
For nearly a half, Nebraska’s 77-61 win over Iowa State looked like a scary replay of the Cyclones’ victory in Ames. ISU forward Curtis Brackins was shooting over the top of the smallish Cornhusker front line, and guard Lucca Staiger was draining 3-pointers straight out of a P-I-G contest.
But on NU’s Senior Night, two Huskers senior fittingly turned a 31-29 deficit into a 34-31halftime lead in a matter of seconds. Guard Steve Harley banked in a long 3-pointer as the shot clock was nearing expiration. Then, his defense helped force a steal that turned into an Ade Dagunduro layup just before the halftime buzzer.
Nebraska’s press then melted ISU in the first ten minutes of the second half, giving coach Doc Sadler a rare opportunity to clear his bench and get each senior a standing ovation from the more than 9,000 fans in Bob Devaney Sports Center.
Following a three-game losing streak , it was hard to imagine a more therapeutic win for the Huskers last home game of the regular season.
“For some reason our energy wasn’t what it needed to be to start that game and Coach told us we had to find a way to get some energy,” said Dagunduro, who continued his late-season tear with a career-high 24 points. “So we took it upon ourselves to boost our energy. We got a couple of scramble plays and that gave us some momentum going into the second half.”
Although NU (17-11 overall and 7-8 in the Big 12 Conference) gave up two Staiger treys to start the second half, the defensive tone had been set, and the Huskers then went on a 17-6 run, forcing a glut of turnovers in a row, and 17 for the game. Repeatedly guards Cookie Miller, Sek Henry, Harley and Toney McCray trapped the Cyclones (14-16 and 3-12) on both sides of the half court line, forcing a travel and two over-and-back calls.
Aside from the tall, possibly NBA-bound Brackins (25 points) and Staiger (17), ISU’s entire roster scored just 19 points, many of those coming after the game was out of reach.
“A lot of them are just hurried mistakes and not taking our time and not reading the floor,” Iowa State Coach Greg McDermott said. “When we read the floor, we attacked the pressure and got layups. It’s unfortunate, but we kind of melted down against their pressure.”
NU, meanwhile, got a balanced scoring performance to compliment Dagunduro’s work. Miller scored 14, rattling home two treys. Forward Ryan Anderson, having nailed almost 50 percent of his 3-point attempts over the last eight games, hit three more to finish with 11 points. Harley chipped in ten and didn’t force many jumpers outside of the scope of the offense.
“If Steve can get into double figures for us, especially down this stretch, and we’ll have a chance to win some games,” Sadler said. “But we have to get Steve into double figures and he did that tonight.”
Senior Night gave Sadler the opportunity to start Dagunduro, Harley, Paul Velander and Nick Krenk, all of whom were honored before the game with a video and a framed jersey. Dagunduro said NU battled nerves in the opening minutes; it showed when ISU jumped out to a 5-0 lead.
“I would have been devastated if we went out with a loss,” Dagunduro said. “But that’s a credit to our guys, they wouldn’t let us seniors down and they did a good job rallying.”
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