Randy York’s N-Sider
Before you read another word, focus on the photo above. Look at No. 3, a sophomore guard who is listed at 5-foot-9 on Nebraska’s official basketball roster, but is probably two inches shorter in his socks. The photo shows Benny Parker’s legs fully stretched and adequately anchored Sunday to Pinnacle Bank Arena’s first-year floor. His left arm appears to stretch right into the heart of A.J. Hammons, Purdue’s 7-foot center, who looks a bit surprised to me. Parker was 2012 Kansas City Metro Player of the Year after averaging 24.8 points, 6.2 assists and 3.9 steals on a 19-4 Sumner High School team.
Yes, Tim Miles says Benny has “jets” but in no way was he referencing an Elton John classic. Nebraska’s second-year head coach was describing Parker’s speed, quickness and all-out effort to do whatever he can to help his team. Parker comes off the bench more now than ever because he’s an important part of Nebraska’s lockdown defense. The Huskers are calling their PBA basketball home “The Vault” because players like Benny protect their home court like it was pure gold, not solid hardwood.
To anyone who watched the Huskers roll past Purdue, Benny proved why social media users call him “Energizer Benny” instead of Benny Parker. If Walter Pitchford can be called “Walt P for 3” and Terran Petteway can be labeled “Terranosaurus”, why can’t the sparkplug of the Huskers off the bench go by Energizer Benny? Who else would stick his nose into a 7-foot center and still hold his ground, even though he’s a good foot-and-a-half shorter? That's energy...that's Energizer Benny! Husker Assistant Coach Chris Harriman may have described Nebraska’s “David” against Purdue’s “Goliath” best, tweeting that “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight but the size of the fight in the dog!”
Parker’s Battle with Hammons Sent a Competitive Message
Miles would agree. “When Benny went in there and just took the ball (from Hammons), that was like a message sent,” he said. “Like, ‘We’re here; we’re gonna be here all day. I’m 5-foot-whatever and I’m gonna be here…I think that held ball, I think it was Benny, from the get-go, sending a real good message that ‘this is gonna be hard on you.”
In his postgame comments, Miles elevated Energizer Benny and put him right up there with another Husker who’s now getting his just due after spending seven complete games on the bench during the Big Ten Conference season. No, it wasn’t Terranosaurus, who scored a game-high 29 points. It wasn’t Shavon Shields, who chipped in 18 points and 10 rebounds for his first double-double of the season. It wasn’t Walt P, who finished with 10 points and five rebounds. It wasn't Tai Webster either, even though the freshman from New Zealand is starting at point guard. The redeemed player is David Rivers, who has sprung himself from painful bench duty near a head coach who was only trying to teach him an important lesson. Rivers’ transformation from the pine to primetime is an interesting twist in Nebraska's sprint from an 8-8 overall and 0-4 conference start to being just a half-game behind the conference’s top four teams, which will earn first-round byes in the Big Ten Men’s Basketball Tournament in Indianapolis March 13-16.
Miles’ Mom and His Wife Wanted to See Rivers in Lineup
In trying to explain the reasoning behind benching Rivers, Miles mentioned a conversation he had with Ezell Rivers, David's dad. "He told me that David played on a state champion high school team, and his AAU team won the national championship at the AAU Showcase,” Miles said before adding that Rivers’ dad also pointed out how his son “always seemed to find a way to contribute to a winning team.”
Miles shared that others were equally perplexed that Rivers rode Nebraska’s bench for so long. “My mom’s always wanted me to play him. My wife has always wanted me to play him. I was just mad because he wasn’t rebounding,” Miles said.
With Kent Pavelka and Matt Davison laughing at Miles' candor, Nebraska's second-year head coach shared the most positive thought of all on his postgame radio show. “The thing about David is he didn’t pout and he didn’t moan and when he got a chance to come in, he made an impact and he continues to build off that,” Miles said. “You have to commend David because that’s not coaching. That’s just a kid waiting for his opportunity, staying mentally strong and then doing a heck of a job to take advantage of it.”
Energizer Bunny Spent Summer Shoring up Weaknesses
Parker’s been in the same doghouse before earning his way onto the floor. Miles told Benny he’s always been defensively sound, but he had to work on his ball-handling and shooting, so he could get his chance to play. Last year, Energizer Benny couldn’t handle the ball well enough to finish in transition. A summer of daily individual workouts helped solve the problem. “He can get the ball, and he's a jet,'' Miles said. “Now, he really can get down the floor like a one-man fast break.”
Nebraska coaches know that Energizer Benny and Rivers aren’t going to blow up a stat sheet like Petteway and Shields do on a regular basis. But they’re definitely vital cogs to Nebraska’s remarkable transformation. Parker and Rivers are, in fact, the quintessential “Junkyard Dogs” that Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo described after Nebraska upset the No. 9 Spartans in East Lansing on Feb. 16.
“Junkyard Dogs is a great term for our team, and Benny and David deserve that name the most,” Pitchford said. “Not everybody leads in the same way. We’re all learning from each other, and those two specifically. Benny has shown he’s not scared of anybody. I thought it was funny with A.J. towering over him, and Benny grabbing the ball from him. He’s not scared to make that kind of play and when he does, he sets an example for all of us. When we see how fearless he is, we know we can’t be afraid of anything either.”
Rivers’ Loyalty, Unselfishness Inspire Husker Teammates
Rivers, shown guarding Ohio State Preseason All-American Aaron Craft, has been equally inspiring to his teammates. “If you ever want a leader by example, David’s it,” Pitchford said. “We all saw him play, then not play and then play again when he took control of his next opportunity. We’ve all learned so much just watching David do what he does. He totally buys into the system, and he totally buys into the team. I’ve never seen him be selfish even once. He helps all of us understand how we can learn from each other.”
In his first season as Nebraska’s administrative coordinator, Teddy Owens buys into Parker and Rivers setting the pace for a team full of Junkyard Dogs. “They’re loyal and true and unselfish and steady and consistent,” Owens said. “I mean, if you had to define people that represent the values Nebraska embraces the most, they would be Benny Parker and David Rivers.”
According to Owens, whenever Parker or Rivers do something wrong, which is rare, they almost always bounce back immediately. "They have a knack to make a big play right after something like that happens," Owens said. Energizer Benny will pick a pocket and make a steal and Rivers has a habit of leaping high above everyone to spear a rebound out of the opponent’s hands. At Northwestern, coaches still rave about Rivers’ athletic block near the rim late in the game. It was a pivotal play in a 53-49 win that launched the Huskers’ current five-game winning streak.
Rivers Deserves His Own Cheer for Hustle, Leadership
Junkyard Dogs do whatever their team needs them to do to win. Sunday’s sold-out crowd started a Benny Parker chant more than once inside The Vault, and you can't help but ask: Is now the right time to honor David Rivers in a similarly motivational way? The junior from Little Rock has, after all, earned resepct the old-fashioned way.
The unselfish way.
The Nebraska Way!
Send a comment to firstname.lastname@example.org (Include city, state)
Follow Randy on Twitter at www.twitter.com/RandyYorkNsider