Shatel: Hoops dreams creating a buzz around state's basketball programs - Omaha.com
Published Saturday, November 3, 2012 at 4:48 pm / Updated at 12:32 am
BASKETBALL
Shatel: Hoops dreams creating a buzz around state's basketball programs

Are you sitting down? Good. This is one of the craziest things I've ever written.

I think we're on the verge of a college hoops boom in Nebraska.

No, I haven't run square into a Gregory Echenique screen. And I'm not talking about Creighton, Nebraska and UNO in the same Final Four.

The point here is attention paid to the game of baskets. The elements are in place for a perfect storm of interest like never before in that other winter sport, besides football recruiting.

Rare has been the time when the planets and the local teams have been aligned. It seems that when Creighton is good and making the NCAA tournaments, Nebraska's down or in the NIT. When the Huskers were up under Danny Nee, the Jays were down and out.

What if both programs ever got it going at the same time? And then you throw in UNO trying to make an NCAA run?

Dreams, dreams, dreams. Here's reality: The stage is being set for us to care more about basketball than ever before.

That's at least a step.

Start with Creighton, the logical starting point for college hoops in our area code.

The Bluejay Bandwagon is well-documented. CU packs them in at uncanny rates at the 17,000-seat CenturyLink Center.

But with the Doug McDermott Era in full swing, Bluejay Basketball has hardly maxed out.

Even if they can't get a ticket to a game, casual fans still pay attention. That's what having a preseason All-American and a bonafide national player of the year candidate will do for you. That's what having a nationally ranked team looking to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament can do for local impact.

Doug McDermott is the superstar next door. He's humble, hard-working, not full of himself. Look up and you might be sitting next to Doug or any of his family members, out at the store or getting a bite to eat.

We love our superstars from Nebraska, especially when they represent the home turf so well. Doug McDermott is a kid you root for, a kid you feel like you know, even if you don't know him.

The Jays figure to take care of business on the court. That winning, plus a Doug McDermott doing his thing, takes non-basketball fans and puts them into the game. If there's two more years of Doug, then multiply the attention and buzz in this area.

Whatever Creighton does during the McDermott Era, it's sure to grab headlines, dominate your TV screen and appear in chat rooms or at the old proverbial water cooler.

That's basketball buzz.

Speaking of buzz, let's head down to Lincoln and meet Tim Miles.

The new Nebraska men's basketball coach is a live wire. In the several months leading up to this season, Miles appears to have a battery pack attached to his back. He's here, he's there and he never, ever stops selling himself or his program.

This is exactly what Husker Hoops needed. Can Miles coach? Yes. Can he recruit to Lincoln and the Big Ten? That, we don't know.

But he has already separated himself from the last two coaches in his chair. He seems to get the whole AAU recruiting thing. And he's always sunny-side up.

Miles is funny. He's a social media hound. He entertained the media at Big Ten basketball media day.

The coach has two jobs: One, recruit players. Two, recruit fans. The two are intertwined, no doubt, but I think Miles' attitude and enthuisasm will be infectious. I think he will create interest.

We've already seen that. Miles' recruiting exploits have had more followers in the first few months than any Husker Hoops coach I can recall.

To read more from our 2012-13 college basketball preview, click here.

Throw in a brand-new arena in downtown Lincoln, and you have more hoops buzz. If Miles can recruit and win at any successful rate early — make or chase an NCAA tourney — it won't take much to fill that building and keep it filled.

Now, back to Omaha for our good friend Derrin Hansen.

The coach for UNO men's hoops is a veteran of Nebraska small-college gyms. From North Platte to Kearney to Omaha and every high school gym in between, Hansen is well-versed in the state of Nebraska high school basketball.

Why is that important?

Because I think it will give Hansen a chance at an angle that could give him an edge, and make his building job a little easier and a lot more interesting.

Maverick Hoops is a tough gig. There's the Creighton shadow in Omaha. There's tradition but it's Division II. Now you're starting a D-I program in a league you don't know.

You have a shot at the NCAA tourney if you win your league tourney, but UNO isn't eligible for the NCAAs for a few years yet.

Surrounded by the Creighton machine and Nebraska/Big Ten hoops, I think Hansen has a chance to create a niche for his program and find a spot on the local hoops map.

Hansen will recruit nationally. He'll recruit jucos and find his spots where he has contacts and go back to that well when necessary.

But there are Division I players in Nebraska high schools, kids who maybe aren't big or quick enough for the Big Ten or the Valley. Maybe kids who can't make the academic cut at Creighton.

UNO can get those kids. Hansen can sell the dream to play D-I hoops in Nebraska, at UNO.

And Nebraska kids, supplementing a roster of other playmakers, are good enough to compete and win in the Summit League.

You know how Omaha and Nebraska are: show them their local high school heroes and they'll embrace them. They'll show up to watch.

Will UNO play to packed houses and make the NCAAs every other year? That's the dream. That's also a long shot.

But can Hansen create his own buzz, with Nebraska kids, playing on a team of road warriors who have the reputation of taking on Michigan State, Wisconsin or Texas Tech every year?

Why not?

Contact the writer:

402-444-1025, tom.shatel@owh.com; twitter.com/tomshatelOWH

Contact the writer: Tom Shatel

tom.shatel@owh.com    |   402-444-1025    |  

Tom Shatel is a sports columnist who covers the city, regional and state scene.

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