Randy York's N-Sider
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Don't look now, but one day before the long awaited Red Out Around the World marquee football matchup with Texas, Coach Doc Sadler and the Nebraska men's basketball team begins practicing for its final season in the Big 12 Conference.
Coach Yori and her women's team began practicing Oct. 4 for that same opportunity.
Personally, I wouldn't buy into any preseason polls because coaches voting have no way to measure what Sadler's men or Yori's women have up their sleeves, let alone in their hearts and minds.
Sadler and Yori aren't the type to oversell their teams, but spend some time with them in their offices at the Devaney Center, and one thing becomes crystal clear - both believe their teams will be better, perhaps even much better, than their fellow coaches believe.
"We're older, we're deeper, and we finally have some size," Sadler said. "It's going to be a much better situation than it's ever been since I've been here. When March rolls around, I think people are going to be really, really excited about what we have going here."
Yori is a realist. The Big 12 and National Coach of the Year lost three first-team All-Big 12 players and five of her top eight players from the most successful team in Nebraska history, but she hasn't lost talent. "I feel like our talent - just purely speaking - is similar to what it was last year," she said. "It just hasn't been fully developed yet."
Both Teams Are Strong Works in Progress
Both coaches use two words - work ethic and character - to describe their teams. So they're both works in progress hoping to fill in the blanks as the season progresses with all the other traits that define a successful team - mental toughness, love, respect, effort, discipline, togetherness, communication, pride, fun and the one that counts most in the win column - competitive excellence.
"Our biggest strength is in numbers," Sadler said. "More than anything, we have nine or 10 players where there's not a whole lot of difference in them. Whenever you have nine or 10 guys who can hold each other accountable, you have the type of young men that the people of Nebraska are going to want to support and cheer on all season long."
Believe it or not, the first chance for Nebraska fans to do just that is right around the corner.
Wednesday, Nov. 3, has been designated Fan Appreciation Night at the Devaney, and the Huskers' men's coaches, players and staff will be out in full force, welcoming everyone to an exhibition game against Peru State.
"We're moving this game up from 7 to 6:30 p.m., so fans have time to get autographs after the game," said Nebraska Executive Associate Athletic Director Marc Boehm. "This is a great time for fans to get up close and personal and really get to know all of our players. This will be a family kind of appreciation where Doc will talk to the fans, and fans can talk to Doc and the exciting new coaching staff that he's put together."
The night is also designed for fans who are considering various ticket options to see what's available, so they can pull the trigger on something that will work for them and their families. Whether they envision buying season tickets that night or purchasing one of two mini packages - the Scarlet Package or the Cream Package - fans can get in on the ground floor of a team determined to compete at the highest level.
"We're going to be a hard-working team, and we're going to be a team that will do it the right way," Sadler said. "I believe that with all my heart. This group is going to give it all they have, and they're going to be fun to watch because they understand what they have in each other, and they know how they can pull for each other and support each other."
Husker Women Open Oct. 31 with Pittsburg State
Yori's team won't play its first exhibition game until Sunday, Oct. 31, when it hosts Pittsburg (Kan.) State University at 2:05 p.m. at the Devaney.
"If I can make one statement about this team, I know we're not going to win 30 games in a row this year," Yori said. "That's just not going to happen. At the same time, we're going to do what we do every year - focus on the process and make sure this program gets better as the season goes on.
"For me, and for last year's senior class, the reward is the process, not just the end result," Yori said. "We know you can learn a lot from a win, and we know you can learn a lot from a loss. Our job every day is to make sure we keep getting better."
According to Yori, Nebraska's fans will continue to play a pivotal role in the winning process. "Averaging more than 11,300 fans at home last year for our Big 12 games was a huge factor in two different ways," Yori said. "First, it's a huge boost for recruiting, and secondly and not necessarily less importantly, it helps you in a big way on game day. When you have fans that active and fans that can create the kind of atmosphere we had, it absolutely makes a difference. It helps you win."
Sadler and Yori are both Nebraska football fans and believe strongly that sellout crowds give Nebraska a well documented competitive edge.
"Look at Nebraska volleyball," Yori said. "Usually, they just reload every year, and they use their fan base to sell recruiting - just like football can. We're hoping we can maintain the kind of consistency it takes to keep that edge in recruiting and to build on that support on game day."
For Both Coaches, Focus Strictly on the Big 12
Neither Husker head basketball coach is using Nebraska's last year in the Big 12 as any kind of motivational incentive.
"Our kids know how tough the Big 12 is and how much they have to focus in to compete like we want to compete," Sadler said. "They know that seven Big 12 players were drafted in the first round of the NBA draft this year. This is a tough league, and we're looking forward to the challenges we'll face night in and night out."
Yori said the Big 12 has enhanced Nebraska's ability to recruit and compete. "We've sold recruits on the opportunity we have competing in the conference with the best RPI," she said. "But we can also use the Big Ten footprint to reach some players from the East in addition to the Midwest, West Coast and South players we've been recruiting. We can get our foot in the door on some higher-level players, but we have to make sure we finish first in those situations. You can't afford to finish second or third."
Sadler and Yori share one more strong belief. Both relish the commitment Nebraska is making in basketball - now and in the future.
"The commitment to Nebraska basketball by the fans and by Nebraska's athletic administration is second to none," Sadler said. "Coach (Tom) Osborne and the administration want a top basketball program here. They are 100 percent behind everything we do and are willing to make the investments that can help us recruit and compete on a more even level.
A Chance to Make Husker Basketball History
"Let's be real about everything," Sadler said. "Nebraska (men's) basketball has never won an NCAA Tournament game, and Coach Osborne knows what kind of commitment is needed to take the next step. With the new practice facility and the new arena, we have a chance to do something we've never done here before, and we're all very excited about that opportunity."
Yori, whose team carved its place at the top of Nebraska's history books last March, agrees with Sadler.
"We're on a level playing field now with the schools that we compete against," she said. "Our new practice facility and the new arena are both going to be phenomenal. The commitment level we have at Nebraska now is very clear to everyone. Once people see where we're going in basketball, they come to a pretty quick conclusion - we're not just a football school anymore."