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04/08/2018 - From The Press Box: Changes To Northeast's Boys Basketball Team, Nebraska Native Helps Irish To National Title

David Mercer has experienced the highest of highs and lowest of lows with the Lincoln Northeast boys basketball program.

Like myself, Mercer got exposed to Northeast basketball at a very young age and remained a huge part of his life.  He grew up a fan, then played in the program four years and played on three state championship teams. 

Mercer returned to Northeast after his playing days at Nebraska Wesleyan and served as the JV coach from 2004-10 before taking over the head coaching job when Steve Bartek shifted over to become the Rockets' girls coach.

In eight seasons, Mercer guided Northeast to three-straight state tournament appearances between 2014 and 2016.  His 2015 team was the best of his tenure, going 21-5 and finishing in the state semifinals to eventual state runner-up Omaha South.

The 2016-17 team showed signs of greatness but stumbled out of the gate.  There was an abundance of talent back from the previous season's state tournament team.  All five starters returning....a recipe for a major run through the regular season and another trip to state seemed to be circled on the calendars of Rocket fans, players, coaches, former players and alumni alike.

That season of greatness never actually got off the ground the way it was supposed to and Northeast fell in the district finals.

Discipline issues hit early in the year and midway point of the season.  Injuries became a problem, especially for 6-9 center Trace Tupper, who missed the rest of the season just before districts.

Had that Northeast team been healthy and groomed the way it was supposed to be that season, there may have been another banner hung up in the Ed Johnson Gym, ending a near 20-year drought of not winning a boys basketball title.  It would have been a rematch with Norfolk 30-years in the making, perhaps with the Rockets gaining redemption.

Never to happen.....just merely to speculate the coulda, woulda, shoulda aspect of what may have been a great run.

Fast forward to this past season.  You could tell this was going to be a long winter for Dave and his staff.

A brand new team with one returning letterman.  All but one player had varsity playing experience and the immaturity showed.  However, in the four games I saw with them this past season, those young sophomores and juniors showed they were working hard to compete with each team. 

Shots couldn't fall, turnovers were abundant.  Close games twice with Southeast and one at home against Millard West.

A district semifinal loss to overall top seed Omaha Central ended the Rockets season at 0-25.  It marked the first time in Northeast's 77-year history that a boys basketball team went winless in a season.

It had been a long season and no one doesn't want to go out that way.

For Mercer, it was 
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