Lue Had a Chance to Play Nebraska Football
Randy York’s N-Sider
Two weeks from Friday, a Husker legend will be inducted into the Nebraska Basketball Hall of Fame, and another honoree on that same night just might share an interesting tidbit with Big Red fans. He is, after all, the one who thought a point guard, who went on to play 11 years in the NBA, could have been a dandy cornerback and might have had what it takes to play in the NFL, too.
Tyronn Lue recalled Monday his 1996 visit to the office of Nebraska football Coach Tom Osborne, who had seen film of Lue as both a high school quarterback and a major college freshman basketball star. That, in turn, allowed a national championship coach to reach an immediate conclusion. “Coach Osborne told me he knew how much I loved basketball, but he also thought I had the skills needed to become a really good corner, too,” Lue said. “I thought about it. I really did. But I kept coming back to having to play in the rain or the snow, and that was probably the biggest reason why I chose basketball over football.”
Lue and Osborne won’t be the only ones honored on Feb. 15 at Nebraska's 2013 Hall of Fame Induction Banquet. Joining Lue and Osborne, the Bud Cuca Special Award winner, will be Dave Hoppen, NU's all-time leading basketball scorer who will receive the Whitehead Distinguished Alumni Award.
“With Coach Osborne, Tyronn Lue and Dave Hoppen all getting honored on the same night, this will be one of the best and most memorable basketball banquets we’ve ever had,” said Marc Boehm, Nebraska’s executive associate athletic director in charge of men’s and women’s basketball. “This will also be the first banquet featuring Tim Miles as our head coach, so it will be about as entertaining as you can get. That’s why we’re inviting former Husker players from all over and hoping our fans can give Coach Miles a rousing welcome to what we’re envisioning to be a great future.”
Lue Sees Bright Nebraska Basketball Future
Count Lue, an assistant coach for the 17-time World-Champion Boston Celtics, among those who see Nebraska having a bright basketball future. “I work for Doc Rivers with the Celtics, and he was amazed what he saw last year when he went to Lincoln to watch a football game,” Lue said. “He got to see Nebraska’s new basketball practice facility and told me it was the best he’d ever seen – by far. I can’t wait to meet Coach Miles and see that new practice facility, plus see how far along they are on the new downtown arena. That’s going to be a real wow factor and will definitely have a great impact on recruiting.”
Lue knows Nebraska has played in six NCAA Basketball Tournament games without winning, and the Husker wearing Boston Celtic green sees nothing but a Big Red green light in the future. “It’s unbelievable that we’ve never won an NCAA game, but Arkansas outplayed us in the second half and won (74-65),” said Lue, Nebraska’s junior point guard on that ‘98 team that was Nebraska’s last NCAA qualifier.
“Once we get in that new arena, the talent will come,” Lue predicted. “You can have the greatest coaching in the world, but the NCAA still comes down to talent. It’s all about recruiting, and when that comes together with the new facility, I can see Nebraska winning at least one game and maybe even two in the NCAA Tournament sometime soon.”
Lue: Loyal Husker Fans Deserve NCAA Win
Once that barrier is broken, Nebraska just might show it can go deeper into a national tournament. “Nebraska fans deserve something like that,” Lue said. “They’ve always been very supportive, and they’ve always created a great environment. I know how loyal Nebraska fans are, and that’s why I remained loyal to them.”
Lue was heavily recruited at his Raytown, Mo., high school before all but three schools backed off when he didn’t pass his entrance test requirement. “I told everyone I was going to work hard and qualify, and Nebraska believed me," he recalled. "My decision came down to Nebraska, Memphis and Arkansas, even though Missouri, Minnesota, Kansas State and KU all ended up offering me again after I passed the test. By that time, I was all set on Nebraska, and it's still one of the best decisions I’ve ever made because Nebraska taught me how to study and forced me to grow up.”
He had to grow up in a hurry. At Nebraska, Lue stood up with fellow freshman Venson Hamilton (the 1999 Coaches and AP Big 12 Player of the Year) as two rookies who refused to join a 1996 senior-led boycott of their head coach. “I think we showed how men handle the truth,” Lue said. “We had a great team and were 15-4 at one time. Then the bottom fell out. We lost nine straight. It wasn’t the coach’s fault. We weren’t playing well, and I fondly remember what we did for Danny Nee, our head coach, down the stretch.”
The Huskers went straight from that nine-game losing streak to a five-game winning streak to win the National Invitation Tournament at New York’s Madison Square Garden. The Huskers won their last four of five on the road (at Colorado State and Fresno State and beat St. Joseph’s and Tulane in New York City).
Lue Leaves Early, Goes in NBA's Round 1
As a junior, Lue became a first-team All-Big 12 guard and a member of the All-Big 12 Tournament Team. He finished his career as one of Nebraska’s most decorated players ever and left for the NBA a year early as Nebraska’s seventh-leading scorer, third in assists and fifth in steals – enough to convince the Denver Nuggets to draft him in the first round and then trade Lue that night to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Tyronn Lue played in 61 games for Laker teams that won two world championships. He then played for Washington, Orlando, Houston, Atlanta, Dallas and Milwaukee. Overall in the NBA, he played in 554 games, started in 173 and averaged 22.7 minutes per game. He hit .437 of his field goal attempts, .391 of his 3-point shots and .829 of his free throws. He averaged 8.5 points per game and 3.1 assists per game.
“I wouldn’t trade my Nebraska experience for any other, and I wouldn’t trade my NBA experience for any other,” Lue said. “I’ve been blessed to play for Phil (Jackson) and Doug (Collins), coach with Doc (Rivers) and count “Shaq” and “Kobe” among my teammates. My two best friends are Chauncey Billups and Kevin Garnett, and I’m as close to them as I was to Venson (Hamilton) and Cookie (Belcher) at Nebraska.”
Hamilton intends to play one more season in Europe, and Belcher works for the IMG Academy in Florida. “We stay close,” Lue said. “I appreciated Coach Osborne’s interest in me, but I was meant to play basketball. I’m in my fourth year with the Celtics, and I’m doing everything I can to become a head coach in this league someday. Doc is helping me set my goals high and teaching me what I need to know. My goal is to be a head coach in the NBA three years from now.”
Practice Facility, New Arena = New Talent Level
I ask Lue if three years from now is plausible for Nebraska winning at least two games in the NCAA Tournament. “Yes,” he replied emphatically. “I can see all kinds of talented recruits wanting to play in that new facility, and I couldn’t be happier for my alma mater. People are still surprised when I tell them I played for Nebraska. They still call us a football school, and I tell them that’s true, but everything’s about to change.”
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