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The 2014 Big Ten Conference Men’s Basketball Coach of the Year and 2014 Jim Phelon National Coach of the Year has a last name that appropriately begins with the first five letters in the word MILEStone. The interesting part about that for Tim Miles is not where his second team has just been, but where his third team, which returns all five starters, wants to go in 2014-15.
Forget about the Huskers’ first NCAA appearance in 16 years and their highest number of conference wins in 48 years. Forget about the 15-1 record in its inaugural season in Pinnacle Bank Arena, Nebraska’s best home-court winning percentage in 31 years and the best in the Big Ten this season. Forget about a school-record attendance that averaged 15,419 fans per game, a 5,067-fan increase per game over 2012-13 and the largest attendance leap for one NCAA team in five years.
Forget also Nebraska’s wins over two top 10-ranked teams – No. 9 Michigan State, which reached the Elite Eight, in East Lansing, and No. 9 Wisconsin, which reached the Final Four, in Lincoln. You can even forget about Miles being Nebraska’s first conference coach of the year in 23 seasons and Terran Petteway becoming the Huskers’ first individual conference all-games scoring leader in more than 65 years, not to mention the first individual conference scoring leader for league games in 34 seasons.
Miles: We Want to Accomplish a Lot More
Forget about every single milestone Nebraska achieved in Miles’ second year as Nebraska’s head coach. Instead focus squarely on the once unimaginable places he really wants his team to go. “We want to go out and accomplish a lot more than we accomplished this year,” Miles told nearly 300 Monday night at Nebraska Basketball’s 2013-14 Postseason Banquet inside Pinnacle Bank Arena.
"We want to be one of the best defensive teams in the country and one of the best defensive teams in the Big Ten," Miles said. "We want to raise the bar at Nebraska. I don’t want to win just one game in the NCAA (NU’s ever-elusive milestone). These guys don’t want to win just one game in the NCAA. They want to get into the second weekend or the third weekend of the NCAA and be one of those Big Ten teams (that advance in the tournament). I’m not afraid to talk about it. We have a saying in the locker room: ‘If you’re not here to help us win in the Big Ten, then you’re in the wrong place.’”
Has Winning the Big Ten Become Top Goal?
If my read on Miles Monday night was right, Nebraska’s top goal has transitioned from winning the school’s first-ever NCAA Tournament game to winning the Huskers’ first regular-season Big Ten men’s conference basketball championship…heady stuff for what many consider to be the nation’s toughest men’s basketball conference. Even headier stuff when you realize the Husker men last won a conference regular-season basketball title more than six decades ago when they were members of the Big Seven Conference.
Miles was his entertaining self Monday night, hop-scotching through a series of topics that included his family, the “brotherhood” of his team and his love and compassion for four Huskers moving on – longtime friend and assistant coach Craig Smith (now head coach at South Dakota, forcing Miles to become a fan of a once bitter rival), plus three players, Nathan Hawkins (Texas-Arlington), Sergej Vucetic (Evansville) and Tim Wagner (Winona State), as well as highlighting 2013-14 seniors Ray Gallegos and Mike Peltz.
What probably would have been awkward situations for most programs became a sincere goodbye and good luck from a head coach who figured out a way to turn his second Nebraska team into something few, including Miles, saw coming. After defensive struggles forced the Huskers to limp through their non-conference schedule and lose five of their first six conference games, the Huskers experienced an extreme makeover and finished fourth among 12 Big Ten teams.
A Nebraska Version of the Places You’ll Go
The more I listened to Miles describe his team’s trials and tribulations before the Huskers adjusted their sails and moved forward, the more I thought Nebraska’s first men’s basketball National Coach of the Year could have used some Dr. Seuss lines from Oh, The Places You’ll Go! – the popular kids’ book that transcends generations. Here are just a few verses that would fit Nebraska this past season:
“You're on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…”
Miles: “Maybe that (thinking Big as in winning the B1G) is too ambitious. Somebody will say, ‘We haven’t done that around here.’ Well, you become what you think about."
"You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”
Miles: “This team taught me a lot. I never imagined we’d be a great defensive team. That’s what these guys decided they wanted to do and they did it.”
"I’m sorry to say so but, sadly, it’s true that bang-ups and hang-ups can happen to you.”
Miles: “I don’t like the way this season ended (in the Big Ten or in the NCAA). I still have the Ohio State game stuck in my craw. We didn’t give Baylor our best shot either. I’d play those guys every day of the week if you’d let me. We’d do shirts and skins at camp baskets. I’d play them right now!”
"Oh the places you’ll go! There is fun to be done! There are points to be scored. There are games to be won. And the magical things you can do with that ball will make you the winning-est winner of all."
Miles: “We have everything we need to be successful here, and the overall administrative support cannot be any better. We have all the resources for student-athlete welfare – academics, life skills, nutrition, strength and conditioning…it’s incredible…our guys get their papers done three days in advance…we have people who come in at 5:30 in the morning to shoot baskets…it’s just amazing…it’s a great place to be and a great place to work…our fans are second to none…people say There is No Place like Nebraska…the word is out there…this is a special place.”
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Voices from Husker Nation
Great article. Doris and I missed the postseason banquet this year but reading your coverage story made it feel like we were there. Nice job!! Larry Andrews, Elkhorn, Nebraska