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01/08/2017 - From The Press Box: Why Nebraska's Division I Men's Hoops Programs Should Set Standards For In-State Talent

 I don't buy the statement from some people that Nebraska is not a basketball state.

Quite the contrary, there's a rich tradition of basketball in the Cornhusker State but many people reflect the "lack of success" on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Granted, the Husker men's program has seen the dark ages many times, but let's not forget that they did go the the NCAA Tournament in 2014 and six other times in years past.  What about the NIT?  Nebraska won the NIT in 1996 and made the final four of the tournament in 1983 and 1984.  

Creighton has been in the forefront of the state's Division I college basketball success on a consistent basis dating back to Dana Altman's fourth season on the Hilltop.  NCAA tourney appearances in 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2012, 2013, 2014, plus NIT berths in 1998, 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2016.

We certainly can't forget UNO or Omaha, as they are most commonly referred to nowadays.  Derrin Hansen has a great batch of local kids from Omaha and quite possibly could further build his program to be a major contender in the Summit League, just a few years into being a Division I program.

A great batch of local kids?  Will that help all three programs?  Yes and no.

Let's look at things in perspective.

Nebraska, for example, has no iin-state scholarship players on their roster.  Jason Shultis from Grand Island Northwest and Mohammad Elradi of Elkhorn Mt. Michael are walk-ons.

Granted, head coach Tim Miles is looking for the best players to fit into his system no matter where they are from, but it seems that he can't capture that hidden gem from the Nebraska high school ranks.

Omaha South star Aguek Arop, who committed to the Husker program before his sophomore year, suddenly withdrew his commitment last year.  Apparently, he was told to go play at a prep school for a year before coming to Lincoln.

I can tell you this, seeing Arop play in person last year he could be an immediate impact player for a lot of Division I schools.  Instead of playing at a prep school, maybe redshirt him to get adjusted to the system.

Some Husker fans I know highly questioned Nebraska not being able to keep Arop's commitment.  Which raises the question, why does Nebraska overlook the in-state talent most of the time?  How could the Husker program not land those in-state prospects that are rounded up by the likes of Creighton, UNO or other D-1 schools in the region?

Culture of the program could be one reason.  Tradition being another.

Somehow, Danny Nee found a way to recruit Rich King (Omaha Burke), Bruce Chubick, Jr. (Atkinson West Holt), and Erick Strickland (Bellevue West) to Lincoln.  All had great college careers at Nebraska, some went to the NBA.

Barry Collier managed to get Jake Muhleisen (Lincoln Southeast), Jason Dourisseau (Omaha Burke), Andrew Drevo (Lincoln Christian, via transfer from Morningside) and Wes Wilkinson (Grand Island).  

Even both of those coaches still managed to miss out on other good in-state talent who went on to other local or regional D-1 schools.

The days of the homegrown Nebraska kid playing basketball for Dear Ol' Nebraska U have fallen by the wayside, mainly focused on getting what may be a better crop of players.  Are they equally good or better?  I'll leave that to the other critics.  

Creighton and UNO are setting the standards for keeping local kids from leaving the state.

Don't get me wrong, Creighton and UNO have also missed out on their share of statewide prospects.  Lately, though, they've been the more attractive programs for local players to consider.

Seeing Justin Patton at Omaha North in 2014 and 2015, he was still a little raw as a big man but I saw potential of being a huge prospect.  Creighton's Greg McDermott saw that, too, and followed his progress.  Now, Patton has helped the Bluejays to a 14-1 start this season and one of the more premier big men in the Big East Conference.

For Nebraska fans, he may have been the big man that got away.

Khyri Thomas of Omaha Benson also decided to stay in Omaha and play at Creighton.  Another good guard that may have flown under some radar screens.

This isn't the first time in-state talent has been overlooked by Nebraska.

Jimmy Motz and Nick Bahe left the backyard of Huskerland, but only strayed within a stone's throw of Lincoln.  Motz, the all-stater from Lincoln Northeast, ended up at Creighton and after great career at Lincoln Southeast, followed by a two-season tour as a walk-on at Kansas, Bahe found himself back in Nebraska.

Bahe then finished his career at Creighton.

The late Zach Fortune from Bellevue West ended up playing college basketball at Iowa State.  Jon Beerbohm of Fairbury was an impact player at Boston College. Alex Stivrins of Lincoln East started out at Creighton before transferring to Colorado.  Derek Sailors, another East High product, played at New Mexico State.

Both Stivrins and Sailors, who were teammates at East, got away from Nebraska while the late Joe Cipriano was still coaching.  "Cip" still managed to get some good players from the state, like Bob Seigel of Fairbury, East's Curt Hedburg and Tom and Terry Novak of Lincoln Northeast.

After Cip's November 1980 death from cancer, Moe Iba took over the Husker program and in 1982, landed what may have been the school's best in-state recruiting class to that point.  In '82, Dave Hoppen out of Omaha Benson, Mike Martz from Beatrice and Jim Moore from Omaha Burke committed to Nebraska.  Bill Jackman of Grant started out at Duke before transferring to play for the Huskers.

Even with those players at NU, guys like Kerry Trotter and Vic Lazzaretti at Creighton Prep went to Marquette and Ron Kellogg, Jr. left Omaha Northwest to go play at Kansas.  

Moe had two NIT teams and one NCAA tourney team before he resigned in 1986.

After all my long-winded jabber, here's my point.  Find a way to be the better salesman of your program to keep blue-chip players in the state.

Sharing the recruiting battle isn't anything new between Nebraska and Creighton, but with Omaha in the mix, it broadens the importance of why each program has to step up their sales pitch.

For Creighton, the track record for post-season appearances speaks for itself along with the high-caliber competition in the Big East Conference.  Plus, it helps to have local guys like Patton and Thomas playing a lot of minutes.

Omaha will continue to grow as a program and Derrin Hansen has resources connections to bring in the necessary local talent.

As for Nebraska, they are riding high on a 3-0 start in the Big Ten (first 3-0 start at NU since 1975-76).  But how long can the Huskers sustain that?  More importantly, what type of in-state player could sway Tim Miles' interest into offering a full-ride scholarship, not just a walk-on spot and be a practice player.

It's not necessarily about having the token in-state kid playing for Nebraska and wearing scarlet and cream.  For some fans, that may be the thing makes them want to watch a game at Pinnacle Bank Arena.  But if some kid from Omaha, Lincoln, Grand Island, Norfolk or Kearney is drawing Division I attention, Big Red fan automatically wants Nebraska to be interested.  And NU should.

Fundamentally, what today's Nebraska men's basketball team boils down to is getting to the NCAA tourney and putting butts in the 15,000 plus Pinnacle Bank Arena, where money would flow in continuously.  It's that way all over college basketball, including 55 miles up the road in Omaha.  Coaches will search high and low for the right ingredients (players) to boost their program more and more into the national spotlight.

But the key is the final pitch of the deal.  Especially, if a local kid is deciding between School "A", who has tradition and success in the sport.

If you don't, closing the deal becomes 10 times harder.

In a perfect world, Nebraska, Creighton and UNO would have these respected basketball programs that boost fan interest and spur constant conversation about the sport statewide.  And yes you'll have the constant bickering of who's the "state champ" for the year and so forth.  Total conversation topic.

For now, it's just a pipe dream.   Rotellas Italian Bakery

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