LINCOLN — Tyronn Lue has played basketball, as his mother once said, since he was old enough to hold one.
Even now, at age 35, the latest inductee into the Nebraska basketball Hall of Fame steps away from his assistant coaching duties with the Boston Celtics when time permits and plays 6:15 a.m. pick-up games at Harvard University.
In other words, the competitive fire from his 11 years and two championships as an NBA point guard following three stellar seasons as a Husker still flickers.
But proof that Lue has officially transformed from player to coach came when the Celtics lost All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo to a season-ending knee injury a few days ago,
In the past, Lue would have pleaded to be activated as a replacement.
“No way,” he said by phone from Boston. “I ain't got it. I might if I was in shape. But it would take me a month to get in shape and two more weeks to get past all the soreness.”
Lue said he never imagined himself as a coach until current Celtics head man Doc Rivers planted the seed when Rivers coached him near the end of Lue's playing days in Orlando.
“Doc said he thought I could be a great coach some day, and when I was done playing I could be on his staff any time,” Lue said. “When I was done I called him, and he had a job for me in three days.”
Now, Lue sees coaching as his long-term career path — though probably not in college.
“I talked to a lot of guys who have coached college and in the NBA,” he said. “Coaching in college, you deal with the parents and the AAU coaches and making sure kids are going to class and getting their grades.
“In the NBA, it's all basketball. And people are telling me I can be a head coach in the NBA in two or three years. So I'm going to stay on this course for now.”
For someone whose list of friends and former teammates includes Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and LeBron James, Lue says friends he met and time he spent at Nebraska haven't been forgotten.
Despite leaving a year early for the NBA, Lue has finally finished his bachelor's degree.
“I really liked it at Nebraska,” he said. “They got on me early in recruiting and stuck with me. I almost went to Memphis at the last minute. A whole bunch of schools came after me late, but I stayed with Nebraska.”
Nebraska liked him back, especially head coach Danny Nee.
“Tyronn's the best. He's a tremendous person,” Nee, now the coach at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, said from Kings Point, N.Y.
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With Lue, basketball was serious business.
“Tyronn told me alcohol would never touch his lips,” Nee said. “I didn't have to worry about him smoking or drinking or doing drugs. He was a character and leader guy all the way.”
Lue started at NU from Day One. In his second college game, he hung 30 points on Oregon — a freshman scoring mark that still stands.
“I had to pull him aside after that game,” Nee said, chuckling. “I said, 'Hey, kid, it's not going to be like that every night.'”
For all the huge games the first-team All-Big 12 pick had in his three seasons, the thing Lue remembers most is sitting in a ballroom in Kansas City on NCAA Selection Sunday after the 1998 conference tournament ended.
Nebraska had beaten Baylor in the quarterfinals, then lost in the semifinals 91-59 to No. 4 Kansas, jumbling the Huskers' NCAA tournament hopes.
But when the bracket was revealed, NU had a first-round tourney date against Arkansas.
“Just to see the excitement from everybody — players, coaches, staff, trainers — was a big thrill,” Lue said. “I'll never forget that.”
Unfortunately for Nebraska fans, that was the school's most recent NCAA tournament game.
“I know,” Lue said. “That's not good. Ever since I left, I've pulled for them.”
Lue has stayed closest to former Nebraska assistant Jimmy Williams, now at Memphis, and talks to Nee occasionally.
“I had a great relationship with coach Nee,” Lue said. “I liked Doc Sadler a lot. He welcomed the ex-players. Tim Miles reached out to me as soon as he got the job. I never heard from (Barry) Collier. I didn't care for him.
“But I don't hold a grudge. I hope we can get the program moving and win a game in the NCAA tournament.”
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