When Will Nebraska See a Return on Its Basketball Investment?Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on October 25th, 2013
Most college basketball fans haven’t been paying attention to what’s happening in Lincoln. And honestly, unless they know a Cornhusker personally, why would they? The Nebraska program has been mostly abysmal since its inception. In its 118-year history, the basketball team has only made the NCAA Tournament five times and has yet to get past the first round. It’s won only 20 games once in the last decade and hasn’t been ranked since 1994 when part of something completely foreign called the Big 8. Despite all that, fans may want to start paying attention to the team in the state not named Creighton; otherwise they may miss the story arc of a program rising from the ashes. How’s that? Well, largely because the boosters and athletic department in recent years have decided to finally start investing in basketball.
It started four years ago with the decision to build an $18.7 million, 84,000 square feet practice facility. Next, the administration green-lit the construction of a brand new $179 million, 15,000 seat arena which will open this year. Nebraska fans have responded in kind by selling out the Cornhuskers’ first season in the shiny new building. And last year, the program hired a young and well-respected head coach in Tim Miles from Colorado State. They were able to lure him to Lincoln by offering a competitive Big Ten salary – he is set to make $1.5 million this year. But perhaps more importantly, they promised Miles he would have the resources to pay his assistant coaches competitive salaries as well. True to their word, the university has stepped up. Currently, all three assistant coaches make $200,000 or more, which, in terms of college basketball, is on the high end for an assistant coach.
The pay increases helped Miles steal assistant coach Kenya Hunter away from Big East heavyweight Georgetown. Hunter has a record of identifying and recruiting NBA-caliber talent like Roy Hibbert, Greg Monroe, and Otto Porter. And Miles is going to need that kind of recruiting prowess to bring Big Ten talent to Lincoln and have any hope of taking Nebraska basketball to places it’s never been before. Miles’ first season was predictably forgettable as the Huskers went 15-18 on their way to finishing 10th in the Big Ten. And things probably won’t get a whole lot better this season. The squad lost its leading scorer, Dylan Talley (13.7 ppg), leading rebounder and third-leading scorer, Brandon Ubel (6.7 RPG, 11.5 PPG), to graduation. This team may only go as far as senior Ray Gallegos, the team’s second leading scorer and leader in minutes, will take them this year. To be competitive, he and the rest of the backcourt will have to get to the line more often. The Cornhuskers ranked 325th in free throw attempts last season, so this will be especially key given Nebraska’s thin frontcourt, thanks to the losses of Ubel and Andre Almeida.
In all likelihood, this is not the year Nebraska starts to see progress. They’re going to need more recruits like Tai Webster to turn the ship around. The good news for the Cornhuskers is they’ve invested in all the areas that attract high-level recruits — assistant coaches who know their way around the recruiting trail and state-of-the-art facilities. They also have a rejuvenated and interested fan base along with an athletic department dedicated to winning. These are things coaches say they want from their fans and employer. But with money invested comes even more pressure to win, and win soon. Winning basketball games has never been easy for Nebraska, but at some point, the boosters and university will want to see the return on their investment. And if Miles can’t do it, and do it soon, he won’t have a lack of resources as an excuse.