The Dauminator drops in on Baxter Arena Thursday. He’s here to put on one last show in his home state before the Larry Bird of Nebraska takes his small-town story to the NBA.
Depending on which side of the arena you sit, you can thank or blame former NFL coach Jerry Glanville.
The Mike Daum story is equal parts country road, hard work, deep family roots and a twist of fate for good measure. More on Glanville in a moment.
This story begins in Murdo, a small town in central South Dakota, where Nick Daum was a farmer. He moved his family, including sons Mitch and Mark, to Kimball, Nebraska, in 1974.
The Daum farm was between small town Kimball and the village of Dix. About 15 miles from the Wyoming border and 10 from the Colorado border.
The brothers grew up on the farm and football fields. Mark would play linebacker for Nebraska, alongside Mike Knox, from 1982-84. Mitch went to Wyoming, where he played in a two-tight end offense with a guy named Jay Novacek.
Mitch, a blocking tight end, got an invite to the Seattle Seahawks training camp. He dislocated a finger and was waived on the final cut. Mitch went back to school in Laramie, and waited until the next season to try out for the Houston Oilers.
He made the team as a backup (to former Husker Jamie Williams). Then came the twist of fate: an NFL strike in 1987.
Mitch said Oilers quarterback Warren Moon, the team’s union rep, told the players to hang tight and not cross the picket line. That everything would work out.
Mitch followed along. He didn’t cross the line. And when the strike ended after four weeks, he was cut by Glanville, the Oilers coach.
“If I had crossed the picket line, I could have started five games,” Mitch Daum said. “But that’s hindsight.
“When you’re a backup, you’re expendable. Glanville couldn’t look me in the eye when I asked for an explanation. He said it’s a business. He’s right.”
Thus ended Mitch Daum’s playing career. The Kimball boy went back to begin a life as a farmer. He reconnected with his college girlfriend, Michele Hoppes, and they married. And had a son.
A bouncing baby Dauminator.
“I’ve told Mike that story,” Mitch said about his son. “Mike said if you had crossed the picket line and they would have kept you on, you would have kept playing and wouldn’t have come back and married mom. I’m glad you didn’t cross the picket line. I wouldn’t be here.”
With apologies to UNO coach Derrin Hansen and the rest of the Summit League coaches, I’m glad he’s here, too.
It’s been a fun and incredible journey watching Mike Daum grow up and into a special basketball player. From the tall and gangly farm kid, to a 6-9 forward who plays the court like a king on a chessboard. Anywhere he wants.
He’s a senior now, with the rèsumè that includes twice honorable mention All-America (no small feat for his league level) and twice Summit League player of the year. Daum enters Thursday averaging 25.0 points and 11.6 rebounds, and he’s hitting 51 percent of his 3-pointers and, better yet, made 50 of them.
His timing couldn’t be better. After this season, he will show up on the NBA’s doorstep as a big man who can run the floor and shoot the 3 at a time when this kind of player is all the rage in the league.
How does this story happen in Kimball, Nebraska?
» With parents who don’t push their kid into a sport. Mike played Pop Warner football for his dad until junior high. He was growing up, but he couldn’t keep the weight on. He was too lean. Mitch told his son he shouldn’t go with football.
» When there’s a hoop legend in the house. Michele Daum is in the Wyoming athletics hall of fame and played professional women’s basketball in Australia and Germany. She taught Mike the high arc, high release that reminds many of Larry Bird. That’s how her father taught her to shoot it.
Michele spent hours in the gym with her son and would drive him the 100 or so miles to Fort Collins, Colorado, to play on the nearest AAU team.
As a farmer, Mike was a heck of a power forward.
“I’m so busy on the farm, seven months out of the year,” Mitch said. “She’s the one who got him on the right track. I didn’t get much work out of him on the farm. But it’s one of those things, you get one opportunity at this athletic thing.
“That window is open so slightly. You have to take your shot.”
» It’s well documented that Nebraska and Creighton did not recruit Daum, though Hansen did. There’s no grudge on the Daum end.
For one thing, Daum had a lower profile, playing in small-town western Nebraska and an AAU program in Colorado.
“It’s hard to say,” Mitch said. “He was a gangly, tall kid. Had a little bit of baby fat left on him at end of high school. The coach that recruited him from South Dakota State (Scott Nagy) saw a block of clay. He said, ‘We can mold this kid into exactly what we want. He can shoot.’
“Coaches see different things. He didn’t get much exposure out here. A lot of schools thought he didn’t have the talent, didn’t have this, didn’t have that. But look at him now.”
» It’s all hindsight. And Daum would look good in Creighton coach Greg McDermott’s offense as a big man floating around in space.
It’s no coincidence why Daum thrives in SDSU coach T.J. Otzelberger’s system. Otzelberger was an assistant at Iowa State with McDermott and Fred Hoiberg, and has Daum watch tape of Doug McDermott and Georges Niang roaming the floor and creating mismatches.
Credit Nagy, Otzelberger’s predecessor, who had the block of clay vision for Daum. You can make the case that SDSU was a better place for Daum to develop, redshirting and growing in the Summit without the expectations and intensity of the Big Ten or Big East.
But now that he’s become the Dauminator, Mike had no interest in seeing how he would do in a big boy league. He never considered a grad transfer last year.
The SDSU atmosphere and Brookings fit the small-town boy to a tee. And he couldn’t leave teammates that are “my best friends, going to be my best friends until the day I die. They’re going to be who I see forever, who I have a million funny stories with when we grow old one day. Leaving them wouldn’t have been the right thing to do.”
He did stick his toe into the NBA draft pool last spring, and was hoping for an invite to the NBA combine in Chicago, where he could work out, get evaluated and see where he stood. He didn’t get that invite, though it will come soon enough this spring.
That’s for later. There’s more pressing business now, like a serious UNO team that could stand in the way of SDSU winning the Summit and returning to the NCAA tournament.
The Daum family knows not to look ahead. They know about life’s curveballs. During his high school career, Mike was doing a CrossFit training regiment, where he had a band around his waste. He ended up lacerating his spleen and liver.
“He almost bled to death,” Mitch said. “He ended up spending seven days in the hospital in Cheyenne. The spleen and liver finally closed up and healed.”
Today, the Daums will make the six-hour-plus drive down I-80 to Baxter Arena. Piece of cake. They’re used to the nine-hour trek to Brookings: four hours up to Rapid City, then across I-90 the rest of the way. Good thing the speed limit up there is 80.
That’s a lot of driving, and plenty of time to think about the overall journey, the hard work, fate and the present. Not the future.
“We’re very proud,” Mitch said. “But it’s like being an old farmer — you look out there and say that field of wheat looks pretty good. Then you look out and see those clouds building out to the west, and you say, ‘Uh oh.’ That hail storm is possibly there.
“You always want to think positive, think big. But what happens, happens. Good lord willing, if he plays (NBA), great. If he doesn’t, we’ll figure something else out.”
Thursday, it’s UNO that has to figure something out.
Thanks, Jerry Glanville.
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