Published Friday, March 8, 2013 at 8:37 pm / Updated at 10:10 pm
basketball
Andre Almeida carries debt of gratitude on balky knee
Nebraska at Iowa
When: 1:15 p.m. Saturday
Where: Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Iowa City
TV: Big Ten Network
Radio: 1110 AM KFAB

Starting lineups

NEBRASKA (14-16, 5-12)
F Brandon Ubel, 6-10, Sr., 11.3
F Shavon Shields, 6-6, Fr., 8.0
F David Rivers, 6-7, So., 6.0
G Dylan Talley, 6-5, Sr., 14.3
G Ray Gallegos, 6-2, Jr., 12.5

IOWA (19-11, 8-9)
C Adam Woodbury, 7-1, Fr., 4.7
F Aaron White, 6-8, So., 13.4
F Melsahn Basabe, 6-7, Jr., 6.9
G Roy Devyn Marble, 6-6, Jr., 14.4
G Eric May, 6-5, Sr., 5.0

Iowa's Gesell out Saturday

Iowa starting point guard Mike Gesell is expected to miss his fourth straight game with a foot injury Saturday when the Hawkeyes host Nebraska.

The freshman from South Sioux City, Neb., was injured in the second half of NU’s 64-60 win against Iowa in Lincoln on Feb. 23. He is scheduled to be re-evaluated next week before the Big Ten tournament, which starts Thursday at the United Center in Chicago.

Gesell not playing and having 6-foot-6 Roy Devyn Marble at the point “changes them a little bit,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said Friday.

“They will be different to guard with Marble at the point,” the coach said. “That will be a challenge, but we’ve got pretty good size on the perimeter so I’m not too concerned about it. But I am concerned about Iowa overall.”

In these teams’ first meeting, Nebraska fell behind by 19 points in the first half and was still down 16 at halftime, but rallied to win by four.

“It will be a game they’ll feel like they owe us,” Miles said. “I told our guys to enjoy our Minnesota game, but the moment they opened their eyes on Thursday they had better be thinking about how to beat Iowa.”

The Hawkeyes are 15-2 at home. The Huskers are 2-9 on the road.

LINCOLN — It was time for Andre Almeida to celebrate.

Nebraska had just closed the Devaney Center with a 53-51 upset of Minnesota. The oft-injured senior center played 18 critical minutes in his final home game, providing difference-making plays in both halves.

Almeida’s mother, after 12 hours on airplanes, had arrived from Brazil to see her son play for the first time on U.S. soil. His girlfriend from Denver was on hand, too.

Just one problem.

Tipoff Wednesday was 8:10 p.m. The game ran long. The fans stormed the court. The postgame media session took longer than usual because of the hubbub.

So what does that leave for fine dining in Lincoln near midnight at midweek?

“The only place open,” Almeida said with a chuckle, “was IHOP.”

If that’s not your idea of a place to celebrate, read on. Because the late-night pancake crowd showered the visitors with good wishes.

“It was really cool,” Almeida said. “Everybody was saying, ‘Good job and thanks.’”

That was a continuation of the good feelings fans first expressed after the game to the gentle giant and all-around good guy of the Devaney Center.

“I was walking out with my mom and some people came up and said, ‘Thanks for sharing him with us,’ and stuff like that,” Almeida said, smiling.

Did that produce a proud-parent smile, too, for his Portuguese-speaking mother? “Oh, yeah,” Almeida said, “after I translated it for her.”

More proof that Husker kindness transcends boundaries.

Not all followers of the program have been so nice to Almeida. Some have groused that he has underachieved or have focused on the what-ifs because of his injury status.

Truth is, Almeida came to Nebraska with two physical strikes against him. The first was a major right knee injury in 2005 at age 16, including a torn ACL. He needed a follow-up arthroscopic procedure in 2007.

“There was a lot of damage,” Almeida said. “The doctor told me my right knee would never be close to as good as my left.”

It was then that he decided to explore leaving Brazil to play basketball in the U.S. — but not for the reason you would expect.

“I had done nothing but play basketball since I was 7 or 8,” Almeida said. “After that injury, it struck me that I needed something to fall back on. I needed a degree, and one from the United States would be great.”

So he found his way to Arizona Western Community College. He was first-team juco All-American as a freshman and third-team as a sophomore after being slowed by more knee trouble.

Then strike two hit, and it had nothing to do with Almeida’s knees.

He played three games near season’s end at Arizona Western with an appendix so diseased that it burst, forcing him into a two-week hospital stay. The long recovery torpedoed plans to arrive early at Nebraska for summer workouts.

As a junior for the Huskers, Almeida showed flashes of strong play, particularly in an upset of No. 3 Texas and a three-point loss at No. 3 Kansas.

But another knee injury in the Big 12 tournament that March led to another surgery, and he sat out last season trying to heal. This season, which has been more about pain management than rehab, he has averaged 4.9 points and 3.6 rebounds in about 15 minutes a game.

Almeida hasn’t started a game in six weeks, and won’t again Saturday when Nebraska (14-16, 5-12 Big Ten) plays at Iowa (19-11, 8-9). But he won’t complain, to the everlasting thanks of NU’s Tim Miles, who has seen grumpy seniors make life miserable for other first-year coaches.

“There is not a better guy than Andre,” Miles said. “There is no better friend or easier guy to get along with.

“Andre is all about the team. There are games I don’t play him and I don’t give him a reason, and he never flinches. I love that about him.”

That’s why there was extra joy after Almeida’s contributions to the Minnesota victory.

“There isn’t a guy that anybody is happier for than Andre,” Miles said.

Almeida will soon leave Nebraska with two bachelor’s degrees (sociology, ethnic studies). He would like to keep playing basketball, but knows that concern about his knees leaves his career in doubt.

What is certain is Almeida will always have a soft spot for Nebraska.

“It’s been an amazing three years,” he said. “I have met so many wonderful people and had so many wonderful experiences. It’s been great, man. The love that Nebraska has shown me is something I’ll never forget.”

Contact the writer:

402-444-1024, lee.barfknecht@owh.com

Contact the writer: Lee Barfknecht

lee.barfknecht@owh.com    |   402-444-1024    |  

Lee Barfknecht has won nine national writing awards from four separate organizations, and is a 12-time winner of the Nebraska sportswriter of the year award. He covers Big Ten football and basketball, Nebraska basketball and other college financial issues for The World-Herald.

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