Shatel: Hoppen sees reasons for hope in NU hoops

Dave Hoppen is NU's all-time scoring leader

It's not hard to find the Dean of the Devaney Center.

Minutes before a Nebraska men's basketball game, Dave Hoppen will arrive at his perch, in the second row of Section B, next to the press tables and across from one of the huge banners that reads “Hoppen.”

Hoppen doesn't know how long he's had those seats — since he left the NBA 17 years ago, he figures. No matter. Hoppen is quite a historical figure in the building, the legend you can touch, the way Henry P. Iba used to be when the legendary Oklahoma State basketball coach watched OSU games from the same seat in the upper deck of Gallagher-Iba Arena after he retired.

Next year, Hoppen will have to find a new seat, in the new arena. This is the last go-around for the building where he made, and then sat back and watched, a lot of Husker hoops history. The game has changed. The league has changed. The coaches keep changing.

But not Hoppen's belief that Nebraska basketball is on the verge of making bigger history.

I caught up with NU's all-time scoring leader at work on Wednesday, the morning after Nebraska's loss to Illinois. He and his partner, Dale Engskov, were in their offices at Cornerstone Financial Group out west on Dodge Street. They'll plan your financial future. They look like they could also take you in a pickup game. Hoppen is 6-foot-11. Engskov, a former Omaha Northwest and Midland College player, stands 6-8.

Good thing their office has tall doorways.

Hoppen opened up about Tim Miles, Moe Iba, how he could have ended up at Creighton or Missouri, how he thinks Omaha Central stacks up to his old Benson team, how Doug McDermott reminds him of Wayman Tisdale and his favorite Devaney Center memories. And when he thinks Nebraska will finally win that elusive first NCAA tournament game.

Q: So, is Tim Miles finally the guy?

A: Initially, when they said here's a guy from Colorado State, I wasn't doing cartwheels. But having met him and watched his team play, I think there's definitely hope. The next two recruiting classes are huge. Monumental.

Q: How is he different?

A: Barry Collier didn't have the passion for winning. Doc (Sadler) thought he could bring guys in and coach them up, average athletes, get them to play hard. You can't do that in the Big 12 or Big Ten.

Q: Was the move to the Big Ten good for hoops?

A: I thought it was a great move. Texas, Kansas and Missouri are going to try and run you out of the gym. You had to score 85 a night to keep up. You don't have that in the Big Ten. It's more about quality players and toughness.

Q: Will you miss the Devaney Center?

A: I understand the move, from a recruiting standpoint. They wanted a change, trying to get out of the malaise we're in.

Q: Would you do anything different from the Devaney in the new place?

A: I'd put the students in some of the good seats down low, by the court. I understand that's where the big money people go, but they aren't the ones who make noise and make it hard for the other team.

Q: Favorite Devaney memory as a player?

A: Final game, my freshman year. We go to the NIT final four. You hear the music “New York, New York” and confetti coming down, the fans on the court. We thought we laid the foundation for something that season. But we went to two more NITs and then the NCAA tournament.

Q: Best memory as a fan?

A: I missed some of the Danny Nee years, the good ones, when I was in the NBA. Probably watching Kevin Durant when he came here with Texas.

Q: Speaking of that NCAA tournament game your senior year, have you spoken with Moe Iba recently?

A: Yes, within the last five years. He is still pretty upset with Nebraska. They have invited him back for golf functions and dinners, but he is still upset with the way things were handled.

Q: Iba was forced to resign after you had some illegal preseason practices, right?

A: I would have been glad not to practice, because we were just doing defensive drills. It was over at Mabel Lee Hall. A reporter from the Daily Nebraskan found out and (Iba) got in trouble with the university. They did not support him, and he was upset about that.

Coach (Bob) Devaney was not going to fire him, but Moe had already made up his mind (to resign) because he felt he hadn't gotten the support from the university that he should have.

Q: As a guy who grew up in Omaha, what's your take on what Creighton basketball has become?

A: I have a lot of respect for Bruce Rasmussen, the coaches he's brought in, the move to the (CenturyLink). He fashions their schedule in a certain way, they put their necks out there but not too far. When coach (Tom) Apke was there, I was a big Creighton fan. I probably would have given real strong consideration to going to Creighton if he had still been there.

Q: What are your thoughts on Doug McDermott?

A: Great college player. The thing I really like about him, the way he posts up and works for the ball, reminds me a little bit of Wayman Tisdale. When I guarded Tisdale, he was calling for the ball every time down, posting up hard, thought he was open every time. Doug is a little that way, relentless in pushing it every time down.

I don't know what he can do as a pro. He is not that fast to go around screens all game. He's not big enough to post up. He's got determination, ability. I think it would be best if he stuck around next year, but I don't know that he will. If they (NBA people) say he's a top 10 pick, then he probably ought to go.

Q: How much has basketball talent improved in Nebraska over the years? Will this state ever produce more Division I prospects?

A: It seems in the last 15 years, we've taken the AAU and select teams to a higher level. But if you watch high school basketball, it's not to that level. I think part of it is, these select teams play three or four games a week instead of practicing. You improve your skill in practice.

Q: The Central team would be an exception, though. You hear a lot of old-timers say that might be the best high school team the state has produced.

A: We had Benson, Northwest and Creighton Prep. Myself, Kerry Trotter and Ron Kellogg. That was a pretty good time to play high school basketball. My senior year (1982), there were seven guys in the city who got Division I scholarships.

The game is so different now. The pace is different. The numbers don't equate. Back then, you could literally hold the ball for a quarter. We were a running team at Benson. Central is very good. They could compete back then, but I think we would compete now.

Also, back then, you couldn't go anywhere (to another school) except in your own neighborhood. People ask me now if I would have wanted to pair with Kellogg and Trotter and have a dynasty like they have at Central. I say heck no, I wanted to kick their butt, not join up with them.

Q: When the special kids do come along, what's it going to take to get them to Lincoln?

A: The kid from Chadron (Elliott Eliason) who went to Minnesota, I thought there's a kid who should have pride in Nebraska and want to come here. It really hurt that we didn't get (Mike) Gesell from South Sioux City. Akoy Agau is going to Louisville to play for a national championship and one of the great coaches in basketball. He's not going to do that here in the next four years. But Iowa and Minnesota, I know they're a level above Nebraska, but not that much.

I don't think kids here know what it's like to stay at home and have fans cheer for you. It's going to take winning. Producing.

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