LINCOLN — First-time visitors to the United Center in Chicago often stop at the building's front entrance for a picture-taking session.
The attraction is a 17-foot-tall statue of Hall of Famer Michael Jordan, who played at the arena for the Chicago Bulls. The one-ton bronze sculpture is considered a premier tourist stop.
Nebraska freshman Shavon Shields grew up a Jordan fan, even admitting he liked the movie “Space Jam.”
But when the Huskers arrive in Chicago ahead of Thursday's first round of the Big Ten men's basketball tournament, you won't find Shields fighting for position among the sightseers at the statue.
“It will be cool to see it walking in,” he said Tuesday. “But this is more of a business trip than a tourist deal. We want to get a couple of wins.”
Tenth seed Nebraska (14-17, 5-13 Big Ten) plays No. 7 seed Purdue (15-16, 8-10) at 5:30 p.m. Thursday.
To continue their season, the Huskers likely have to win the tournament for the NCAA automatic bid that goes with it.
Though the NIT has no requirement of at least a .500 record for an invitation, a tournament official said Tuesday “the committee wouldn't look favorably” on teams with losing records.
And NU coach Tim Miles repeated Tuesday that he's not interested in becoming the first Big Ten team to play in either the College Basketball Invitational or the CollegeInsider.com Tournament.
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So win and advance is what Shields wants the Huskers to do.
Since moving into the starting lineup 17 games ago, the 6-foot-6 wing has averaged 9.5 points and 5.8 rebounds a game.
Twice, he was voted Big Ten freshman of the week. He had a career-high 29 points in a win at Penn State, and 19 points and 13 rebounds against then-No. 8 Michigan State.
Shields didn't make the league's all-freshman team, partly because of the strength of the class. Among others who didn't make it were Michigan starting forward Mitch McGary, a national top 10 recruit.
“There were probably seven or eight of us who could have deserved it and easily been on that list with those guys,” Shields said. “I think every single team has a freshman who started or played big minutes.”
Shields' chances weren't helped by missing five of Nebraska's first six games because of elbow surgery to clear up an infection from a ruptured bursa sac.
The elbow is still bothersome. Rest after the season is the only cure.
“I've got to play through it,” Shields said. “I'm glad we got it out of the way at the start of the season instead of having it trouble me throughout the season and miss more games.”
The move from Olathe (Kan.) Northwest High to Big Ten basketball, Shields said, was “as advertised.”
“Every night is a dogfight,” he said. “Every night is physical. Every night you're probably going to play an NBA player. It's fun to compete against the best people.”
But Shields isn't putting any of his opponents on a pedestal — nor will he have his picture taken in front of a pedestal.
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