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Erick Strickland is the athletic version of a renaissance man. The first post-1994 player who will be inducted into the Nebraska Basketball Hall of Fame, his interests range from being an entrepreneur to his desire to attend divinity school and become a traveling minister with his wife, so they can take their “Power of Purity” message to both married couples and singles across the country.
His broad range of interests and knowledge is matched only by his versatility as an athlete. At Bellevue West High School, he was an all-state football, basketball and baseball player. At Nebraska, he excelled both in basketball and as a minor league baseball player.
But to this day, Nebraska Tight End Coach Ron Brown has no doubt that Strickland would have had a National Football League career at least equal to his productive, 501-game, nine-year career in the National Basketball Association, primarily with Dallas and Milwaukee with shorter stints at New York, Boston and Indiana.
“Erick is definitely one of the best all-around athletes, if not the best all-around athlete, I’ve seen in all the time I’ve been at Nebraska,” said Brown, who will never forget Strickland’s 1996 spring practice “tryout” with the football team after he’d finished a college basketball career that still ranks him second all-time at NU in steals, third in games played, fourth in three-point field goals and fifth in assists. Over four years, he also averaged 12.5 points a game.
The one-time college football shot was fun for Strickland, who remains as avid a Nebraska football fan as he is a Husker basketball fan.
“It was awesome to wear Nebraska’s football uniform, pads and helmet with the N on it and finally get the chance to grace Memorial Stadium turf with the first-team offense,” Strickland said. “Throughout my four years of playing basketball at Nebraska, every time I saw Coach Osborne in the academic center, he would ask me the same question: ‘When are you coming, Strick? When are you coming? We’re still waiting on you.’”
Five Years of No Football, and He Still Wowed Brown
When that momentous day finally arrived, Osborne and Brown had designed every play during that particular practice time just for Strickland, who hadn’t played football since his junior year in high school. That’s why Nebraska’s coaches, who had an agreement with then Nebraska Basketball Coach Danny Nee, made sure “Strick” would be classically positioned for success, even though defenders were told to let the live bullets fly.
“It was truly amazing,” Brown recalled. “In a short amount of time, he caught seven or eight balls, and he didn’t even know how to do it in terms of technique. He didn’t know the plays. He didn’t know what to expect. We just diagrammed them in the huddle and told him where to go. Yet he made huge catches. He would have been a great college – and NFL – receiver, safety or outside linebacker. He was that gifted, that physical.
“There’s no question about it,” Brown said. “He would have been a dominant, aggressive, tough guy whenever he went into contact. He had such great power and explosion. He could jump. He could catch. He could hit. He could do everything. It was so much fun watching him that day. My mouth was wide open. Anyone who’s been around him – in football, basketball or baseball – knows he’s a very special athlete with tremendous skills and multiple abilities. I’m not the only one who puts him in the upper echelon of any athlete who’s ever been on this campus.”
Osborne agrees. So does Nee, who once wondered if baseball might have been Strickland’s best sport when he signed a professional contract. “Fortunately, for us,” Nee said, “when Erick began concentrating solely on basketball his junior year, you could see he was NBA material. He goes off the Richter scale as a senior. He got hot at the right time and just carried us on his back for five games, all the way to the NIT championship.”
Nee saw Strickland “fight like the devil” just to see if he could still play football. Nee also knew that Nebraska’s football coaches welcomed Strickland with open arms.
“Clester Johnson, who played running back for us, was one of Erick’s best friends in high school and still is now,” Brown pointed out. “That’s why Strick would hang out at our spring practices for years. He watched, and probably imagined what he could do. You could tell. There was just something there. That’s why we’d kid around about it so much. Then, that was it. After that one spring practice, Erick got it out of his system. It was over. He decided he didn’t want to play for us that next fall.”
Word Got Around, and NBA Scouts Were Not Enthused
Actually, it wasn’t that simple. Even though his basketball eligibility had expired, and he could have played one season in football, word got around about Strickland’s raving review in one spring football practice. “A couple of NBA scouts called me and told me if I ever wanted to play in the NBA, I better get off that football field fast,” he recalled.
So discretion became the better part of valor. Interestingly, Strickland wasn’t drafted in the NBA, probably because teams assumed anyone who would put on pads and catch footballs in heavy traffic at Nebraska isn’t all that serious about life in the NBA.
Nevertheless, he earned a spot as a free agent with the Dallas Mavericks, whose owner, Mark Cuban, took a particular liking to Strickland’s hustle, style and team-oriented approach. Cuban, in fact, once said the toughest decision he ever made was to trade Strickland because he’d helped him more than anyone else connected to the franchise in his first few years.
The two continue to talk and text each other frequently. Not surprisingly, Cuban was instrumental in Strickland becoming the color analyst for Maverick games on television. “I was doing so many other things, including taking some of my preliminary classes to go into the ministry, that I had to give up announcing,” Strickland said. “But I still represent the Mavericks in the community and do a lot of speaking engagements at games and in schools and churches all over the area.”
Strickland is a co-founder of luxuryboytoys.com, which sells everything from yachts and helicopters to real estate and expensive jewelry. He’s the spokesman when you hit the buy button. “I’m not involved in day-to-day operations,” he said. He is, however, actively involved in following the Huskers. “I’m very happy with what Doc Sadler is doing in basketball and what Bo Pelini is doing in football,” he said, adding that both programs are trying to get back to where they once belonged.
From 1993-96, Strickland played on teams that won 79 games and competed in two NCAA Tournaments as well as two NITs. “We had some great players, and we had great fans,” Strickland said. “I’m surprised and humbled with this Hall of Fame honor. So many elite players have come through the Devaney Center. I’m excited to come back and see Coach Nee and Kent Pavelka, who are also being honored.”
Strickland Says Doc is the Right Coach at the Right Time
The Jan. 16 Nebraska Basketball Hall of Fame banquet is important, but Saturday’s game against Kansas State will mean more. “Nebraska basketball fans were so rowdy and so supportive when I played,” Strickland said. “Doc needs the same kind of support. He’s the right coach at the right time. He speaks directly to recruits’ hearts. He’s real, and he tells it like it is. There’s no fluff. He challenges players to be their best. I’m so thankful for everything Nebraska was to me. It’s a tremendous school, and I would recommend it to anybody. I had great years there, great friends and met a lot of great people.”
Ron Brown, a man who can influence Strickland’s interest in the ministry, is one of those great people. Was Erick Strickland the most multi-talented athlete he’s ever seen?
“I can only think of three or four others in that echelon,” Brown said. “Scott Frost was a gifted football player and a champion hurdler. He was a quarterback who played safety in the pros. Johnny Mitchell was a tight end who could throw a football 80 yards with a perfect spiral with his right hand and throw one 60 yards with a perfect spiral with his left hand. Kenny Walker, who played in the NFL despite being deaf, was also a great basketball player. And, of course, Tommie Frazier could do anything and everything well.”
Told about Brown’s belief in him as a football player, Strickland offered up a poignant hypothetical question.
“My specialty in football and basketball was defense. I would have been a better safety than I would have been a receiver, even though I could have played wingback or wide-out,” Strickland said. “Who knows? If I would have taken advantage of that one year of eligibility, maybe I would have tackled Priest Holmes on that fourth-down pass Texas threw against us in the Big 12 championship game in St. Louis.”
There’s a slight chuckle. “The way I read offenses, I’d like to think I wouldn’t have been fooled on that play,” Strickland said. “Maybe we could have won national championships in ’94, ’95, ’96 and ’97.”
Oh, the power of a positive-thinking athlete. Wouldn’t that have been something?