Yesterday was the final Nebraska basketball game at the Bob Devaney Sports Center before the team moves to the new downtown Pinnacle Bank Arena.
All week, I’ve been reading and hearing memories, interviews with coaches and players, and other nostalgia over the closing* of the basketball arena.
*I wrote “closing” mainly so I could address a pet peeve: The Bob Devaney Sports Center is not closing, nor will it be demolished, abandoned, or used as a giant storage facility. It is being renovated for other sports – mainly, women’s volleyball, along with wrestling, gymnastics, etc). Heck, with the Nebraska High School boys state tournament starting tomorrow, we are guaranteed another three days of basketball. Talking about the BDSC “closing” really takes focus away from the exciting news that some of these smaller sports will be getting some pretty fancy digs next year.
I was asked if I was going to jump on the nostalgia train and give my favorite memories, best games I attended, random concerts and other events I attended there. My response?
It’s not that I don’t have fond memories of the Bob. My years as a Nebraska student (1993 – 1997) were on the tail end of the most successful stretch in school history – with “successful” being a term I use very loosely considering NU is one of three BCS schools without a win in the NCAA tournament.
But given the horrible basketball stench that has emanated out of the Bob for most of its life, and especially for this century, talking about cherished Devaney Center memories is kind of silly. Put it this way: when Baylor football moves to a new stadium, I doubt they will waste a lot of time reminiscing about all of the great years at Floyd Casey Stadium.
Instead, I’m going to write about the symbolic nature of the last basketball game at a place that has been referred to as the “Lincoln Library” and “Dead Dog Alley” for the lack of fan enthusiasm. For me, this final game at the Bob means one thing:
There are no more excuses for Nebraska being a below average (if not down-right horrible) basketball team.
Throughout the Devaney Era, there have been a number of excuses trotted out by coaches, players, administrators, fans, and media; all trying to explain why the basketball team has rarely been a winner. But team’s departure from the Devaney Center means that all of the excuses that have surrounded this program for years, if not decades, are gone.
- Inferior facilities? Not anymore. Nebraska’s facilities (arena and practice gym) will be among the best in the country. As it is, the Hendricks Center is widely described as one of the finest basketball facilities in the nation – college or pro.
- Apathetic fans? The first few years in the new building will have good attendance as folks come out to see the new arena and all that the Haymarket area has to offer. More importantly, Nebraska fans are hungry for a winner. If the team starts competing at or near the top of the Big Ten, the crowds will pack the area for years to come.
- No home court advantage? In the college game, the student section sets the tone for rest of the fans. If the students aren’t into the game, nobody else will be either. I’m thrilled that the students will be getting some prime real estate (behind the benches and under the baskets) as well as their own entrance into the building.
- A coach over his head in a power conference? Nebraska has struggled to find the right coach since Danny Nee left. Barry Collier and Doc Sadler each had good traits, but neither was capable of building a program in the Big XII/Big 10. I’ll admit that I wasn’t sure about the hire of Tim Miles, but I think he understands what needs to be done. More importantly, I think he’s capable of doing it.
- A roster devoid of talent? To be a winning program you must have NBA-level talent. Nebraska’s talent level since the late 1990s has been closer to the local YMCA than the NBA. Recruiting will always be a challenge here(little home-grown talent, zero tradition, Lincoln can be a long way from home), but it can no longer be an excuse. Between the new facilities and the recruiting abilities of Tim Miles and his staff, an influx of talent is coming.
- Lack of administration support. Basketball was neglected (if not completely ignored) during most of the 2000s, but the facilities and increased resources for Miles and his staff show that administration cares about producing a winning program.
I’m not saying that NU will finish in the top half of the conference in 2014, or will get to the Sweet 16 in 2015. They won’t. The talent level is still lower than it should be, and it will take time for the rebuilding efforts to come to fruition – likely multiple seasons of slow, but steady, growth.
But the bottom line does not change: There are no more excuses for why this program cannot be successful. Any remaining baggage should be left at Devaney and not moved to the new arena.
*Okay…I can’t resist. When else am I going to have the opportunity to do a bullet point list of my obscure Devaney Center memories that will only be interesting/relevant to me:
- During college, my buddy Marcus and I used to sit behind the opposing team’s bench (back when students were able to do such a thing). By our junior year, the ushers working the section would save our seats for us.
- Those seats gave us prime opportunity to heckle opposing players and coaches. I recall giving Kansas center Scott Pollard crap about his painted finger nails, asking him who did it for him. His girlfriend (who was sitting right in front of us) turned around and said “I do”.
- During the 90’s, NU had a remote controlled blimp that would circle the upper levels. We always hoped it would crash and burn, Hindenburg style, on the cables supporting the baskets.
- During one game, I was picked to shoot a half-court shot for a chance to win a pizza a week for a year. I air-balled. Badly.
- Back when the Devaney hosted concerts, I saw the Eagles (great show), Weird Al Yankovic (not a great show), and Carrot Top (better than you’d think).
- I sat next to Danny Nee and his family for that Weird Al show.
- During a blowout loss to Kansas, I asked coach Roy Williams if I could coach out the rest of the game for him. He declined my offer.
- I forget what I said, but during a game against Texas, I was a little scared that coach Tom Penders was going to come over the bench and wring my neck.
- Back when NU would start the season with exhibition games, they played a team from somewhere in Russia. During introductions, they introduced the entire team – even the guy who drove the bus. He received the biggest applause.
- After halftime, two janitors would come out and sweep the floor. One of them had the most glorious mutton chops you have ever seen. We lovingly referred to him as “Chops”. I’d see him every so often riding his bike around campus, with his mutton chops flowing in the breeze.
- For a season or two, Nebraska had a promotion with a formal wear store and these poor janitors would have to wear tuxedos to sweep the floor.
- I went with my dad to the 1988 upset victory over Kansas, who went on to win the National Championship. That was a lot of fun.
- Back when they had the outline of the state on the court, Eric Piatkowski made a ridiculously long three point shot from somewhere around Hastings.
- The long and pathetic parade of no-talent schlubs who came off the bench for Nebraska. Too many to mention.
- During one of the Kansas games, a fraternity brother of mine was sitting a few rows behind us. He spent the entire game heckling KU star Paul Pierce. To this day, I cannot watch Pierce play without hearing Smitty yelling “PIERCE!!! I’m coming for you!!!”
- This may a complete shock to today’s students, but there was a time when you had to get to the Devaney early to get decent seats (2 hours for most games, 3 or more for big games).
- On the flip side, there were several non-conference games where the P.A. announcer would invite fans to move down to a better seat.
- Hey Guy, Nacho Lady, and the Woosh-Red guy who smelled like kitty litter.
- Going from rarely missing a game over five seasons to barely attending a game in the last five seasons. Yes, I am the embodiment of Nebrasketball fan apathy.
- The talent of the Danny Nee teams being matched only by their lack of discipline.
- The non-conference opponent who was so ticked with his team’s lack of effort that he made them run lines before the second half started.
- Frozen malt cups, with that tongue depressor spoon.
- And so many more…