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02/08/2015 - From The Press Box: Nearly 15 Years Later, Willie Still Impacts Teammates, Friends
 Willie Craft was a kid from northeast Lincoln, who was intelligent, clean cut and loved to play sports.

I knew Willie from the time I entered junior high, until the day he passed away nearly 14 years ago.  Everyone liked him.  In my recollection, Willie was never mean to anybody.  

He played football, basketball and baseball growing up, he played on the 1997 Lincoln Northeast boys basketball team that won the Class A championship for an unprecedented three-straight years and was on the squad during the previous title run in 1996.  He was an outstanding baseball player, too.

Sports wasn't always what kept Willie busy in high school.  He was involved with Northeast's music department and was among the top scholars in the class of 1997.

Willie Craft

After graduation, Willie went on to attend the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where he was a Regent's Scholar.  A member of Sigma Chi Fraternity, Willie was a Spanish major who also minored in Math.  He spent a semester in Chile, returned to Lincoln to finish up his senior year.  

On October 24, 2001, Willie came home to grab a quick nap before going to work.  He never woke up.  James Willard Craft was 22-years-old.

This past Saturday night, the 1997 boys basketball team was inducted into the Lincoln Northeast Athletic Hall of Fame.  Many of Willie's former teammates made it back to Lincoln to be there to receive the recognition and have a special tribute paid in his honor. 

Northeast boys basketball coach David Mercer, who was on the '97 team, and former teammate Derek Engelbart came up with an idea to give Willie's family his old basketball jersey.  He wore No. 43 his senior year, coincidentally the same number I wore in my final three years at Northeast.  

When Engelbart and Mercer presented the black jersey to Don and Cindy Craft, their son, Noa, and daughter, Jordin, it drew a standing ovation from a teary-eyed room full of people at the Havelock Social Hall.  

It wasn't just a special night for the team and four other individual inductees.  The Crafts had their time to be recognized for having such an outstanding person for a son, which made the evening more special, in my opinion.  

What the '97 team did was pure class.  True Rocket spirit.  

Godspeed, Willie Craft.  Once a Rocket, Always a Rocket!

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Norfolk sophomore Lane McCallum heaved a three-quarter court shot that went in at the buzzer heading to halftime on Saturday night against Lincoln High.  However, there's some dispute over whether the ball hit the rafter over mid-court before it swished through the net.

Lincoln High coach Dan Noble, who drew a technical foul off his protest, claimed the ball hit the ceiling and shouldn't have counted.

The Omaha World Herald obtained video taken by radio station KUSO of Norfolk of McCallum's shot.  You decide.

Click here to see the video.

Norfolk remains our No. 1 team in the Union Bank Top Ten.  The Panthers defeated the Links 63-52 on Saturday.


We'll find out in the next couple of weeks where teams stand in the district playoff picture.   Check back here on to see our broadcast listings for boys and girls district basketball.

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