Dave Hoppen presents Tyronn Lue, left, with his Hall-of-Fame award at halftime Saturday night..
Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

Hoppen, Lue: Big Man Key to Huskersí Future

By NU Athletic Communications

Randy York’s N-Sider

Whether you were in the Devaney Center or watching on TV Saturday night, even the most casual fan could see what the Huskers’ need most … a big man … a true center, a pivot, a post, a rock of Gibraltar like Michigan State has in multiple. We make that statement with all due respect to our favorite hustling Husker, Brandon Ubel, a 6-foot-10 forward who gives everything he has while playing out of position every time he steps on the court. Ubel wants to be a college basketball analyst someday, and he would be the first to tell you how difficult it is knocking heads and staying anchored inside the Land of Big Ten Giants – the most physical and dangerous territory in all of college basketball. Dave Hoppen, Nebraska’s 6-foot-11 center and all-time leading scorer, is not a paid promotional recruiter. He owns his own financial group in Omaha and offers solid gold advice for any big man who wants to dream big, play big and be Nebraska’s next Big Man on Campus.

Ultimate Opportunity: Be on Ground Floor

“If I was a big man right now looking for the right program,” Hoppen said, “I would come to Nebraska, where I can become a cornerstone of what can become a great program. I would rather be on the ground floor of something that can be really explosive rather than go somewhere else – anywhere else – where history and tradition have already been made and established.”

Nebraska is putting together the pieces to what has been a perplexing puzzle, so the Huskers can transcend a commonly held notion that a football school can’t become a basketball school. Of course, the vast majority feel the same way about the odds of a basketball school becoming a football school

At Friday night’s Nebraska Basketball Hall-of-Fame Banquet that enshrined Tyronn Lue, a legend offered a one-word opinion on truths that too many hold to be self-evident: “Baloney!” Tom Osborne said. “I have never believed that and still don’t.”

Neither does Hoppen, who helped the Huskers reach their first NIT Final Four when he played from 1983-86. That, of course, falls far short of Nebraska’s ultimate goal – winning for the first time in the NCAA Tournament after six unsuccessful tries.

Chance to Put Huskers on National Map

“We’ve never gotten that done, so why not come here, where you can make a name for yourself and for the school?” Hoppen asked. “I mean, making history would be a great selling point to me.”

It was, in fact, what sold Hoppen 30 years ago when he said no to Kansas, Kentucky, Notre Dame and Missouri and yes to Nebraska. It was a decision that resulted in an experience that could not have turned out any better, and Hoppen is eager to salute the next Husker big man taking on the opportunity to wake up a sleeping giant.

“Now is the perfect time to come to Nebraska, more than any other time, because of everything that Coach Osborne has helped put in place,” Hoppen said. “I mean, he helped get us in the best conference in the country. He was also behind our new practice facility and played a big role in getting the new arena built. Every recruit will be playing in that arena, and both facilities are among the best in the country.”

Hoppen sees the challenge at a higher level than most of us. “Our next big man," he said, "has the chance to become our biggest legend because he can take us from the ground floor to wherever he wants. The sky is the limit!”

When Hoppen played, the Huskers would draw between 12,000 and 14,000 fans for every conference game over a four-year stretch. “You watch,” Hoppen said. “If we put a good product on the floor, the fans will be there. We’ll sell that new arena out every game. We’ll be right there with the best of them.”

Tim Miles: The Right Man at Right Time

Hoppen and Lue see Tim Miles, Nebraska’s first-year head coach, as perhaps the biggest piece for Nebraska becoming a basketball school. “I think he’s the right guy,” Hoppen said. “When they first hired him, I didn’t know much about him. But after being around him for almost a year now, I definitely think he’s the right one to take us where we want to go. It just proves something we all should know by now – never doubt Tom Osborne.”

Lue certainly does not, especially after seeing Nebraska’s new practice facility for the first time last Friday. “It was just unbelievable,” he said. “My coach, Doc Rivers (head coach of the Boston Celtics, a team Lue now serves as an assistant coach), came to Lincoln last year for a football game and saw the practice facility. He said it was the best he’s seen … ever! I looked at every part of it, and I agree. The new arena will be great, too.”

Lue was a point guard at Nebraska for three years and a point guard in the NBA for 11 years, including two on world championship teams. Since he's well aware that Nebraska successfully recruited the point guard the Huskers sought, I ask Lue if a big man remains the biggest piece to the puzzle.

“Yes, and I believe they will find the right big man,” Lue said. “Anyone who comes and sees what we have here now, how could you not want to become a part of it?”

Likes Miles’ Energy, Passion, Personality

The Lue view sounds strikingly similar to Hoppen’s outlook, so we ask for Tyron’s take on Miles leading the charge.

“Coach Miles is going to get the players to do the things we haven’t done before at Nebraska,” Lue said. “His energy, his passion, his love for the game and his personality will draw them to Lincoln. I see Coach Miles getting Nebraska’s first NCAA win, and when he does that, it’s only the beginning of what will follow.”

Opportunity indeed knocks for big men with courage, confidence and a keen sense of an historical challenge.

“I hear about some of those big guys they’re already brought in and others who might be interested,” said Hoppen, who played six years in the NBA. “I know those big guys are young, but I hope at least one can see himself making history and becoming the cornerstone of what’s going to be a very solid college basketball program for years to come.”

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