Legendary Question: Was Lue Huskersí Best?
Randy York’s N-Sider
Dave Hoppen is a partner in an Omaha-based financial group, so it is no surprise that Nebraska’s leading basketball scorer of all-time poses two important questions before receiving Friday night's 2013 Whitehead Distinguished Alumni Award at the Nebraska Basketball Hall-of-Fame Banquet in Lincoln. Hoppen’s first question: Is Tyronn Lue Nebraska’s best professional basketball player ever? His second question cuts closer to real estate Hoppen has owned for 27 years: If Lue had returned for one more season 14 years ago instead of turning pro, would he be Nebraska’s all-time leading scorer instead of Hoppen?
Hoppen doesn’t definitively answer either question, but if you listen closely to his historical analysis, you conclude that if push came to shove, he would say “yes” to the first question and then another “yes” to the follow-up question. “We’ve wanted to get Tyronn into the Hall-of-Fame for a long time, but he’s just been too busy in the NBA for all these years,” Hoppen said. “He’s still busy as an assistant coach for the Celtics. It’s hard for a guy to get a weekend off during an NBA season. This honor has been a long time coming, and it’s made me think about why.
Hoppen: Lue Arguably Had Best Pro Career
“Tyronn arguably had the best pro career of any Nebraska player ever. It was either him or Eric (Piatkowski)," Hoppen said, acknowledging Lue’s two NBA championship rings with the Los Angeles Lakers and his subsequent stints at Washington, Orlando, Houston, Atlanta, Dallas and Milwaukee. Lue played in 554 games in 11 NBA seasons and averaged 8.5 points and 3.1 assists in 22.7 minutes of action per game. Piatkowski played 14 seasons in the NBA and averaged 7.5 points a game with the Los Angeles Clippers, Houston, Chicago and Phoenix.
“Whether Tyronn was the best or Eric was the best pro player from Nebraska, both had long, productive careers in the NBA,” Hoppen said, “and what they accomplished there is a great reflection on Nebraska.”
Since Lue will be the centerpiece of Friday night’s activities and honored at halftime of Saturday night’s Nebraska- Michigan State game at the Devaney Center, I ask Hoppen for a comment. “By all accounts, Tyronn has been a model citizen,” he said, quickly shifting gears to reinforce his basketball accomplishments as well.
“If Tyronn had stuck around and played a fourth year, I don’t know if I would be the all-time leading scorer right now,” Hoppen said. “Do I think that would be the case? I think if he would have returned for one more year, he probably would be the all-time leader. He was a remarkable scorer, even though he played point guard. I mean, I would have loved the chance to play on the same team with him.”
Digging Into Points for a Hypothetical Answer
Hoppen’s insight was too intriguing to bypass. Lue finished his Husker career in 1999 and ranks No. 8 on Nebraska’s all-time career scoring chart with 1,577 points. The top seven all-time leading scorers all played four years at Nebraska with Hoppen finishing with 2,167 points, followed by Piatkowski (1,934), Jerry Fort (1, 882), Andre Smith (1,717), Aleks Maric (1,630), Jaron Boone (1,609) and Erick Strickland (1,586), who scored only nine points more than Lue’s 1,577 in his three seasons as a Husker.
If Lue could have played a fourth season and replicated his 15.9 career ppg scoring average, he would have fallen about 108 points short of Hoppen’s career total. If, however, he could have increased that average by less than two points per game his senior season, he could have indeed overtaken Hoppen as No. 1 on the all-time chart.
Hoppen is humbled to receive a service award from his alma mater at the same banquet the Rebounders Club is inducting Lue into the Hall of Fame, plus recognizing Nebraska Athletic Director Tom Osborne as the Bud Cuca Special Award winner.
“Tyronn was such a great player, and Coach Osborne has done so much for Nebraska basketball,” Hoppen said. “Coach Osborne has been a driving force behind our new basketball training facility and the new downtown arena we’ll move into. He is such a busy man, yet he came to watch all of our basketball games and attended all of our basketball banquets. When a guy who coached some of the greatest teams in Nebraska football history supports basketball like he has, it makes you feel very special.”
Whitehead Award Humbles NU All-American
An All-American, Hoppen also remembers the Whitehead family’s support of Nebraska basketball. “Bus not only supported us financially, but was very visible at every game – at home and on the road,” Hoppen said. “He was a very big man (6-foot-10), so it was hard to miss him. I also remember him coming to a lot of practices, too. To be a major recipient of an award named after the Whitehead family is very special for me.”
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