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Doc Sadler and Danny Nee don’t know each other well enough to be close friends, but they respect and admire each other, and because both football-loving coaches share a Nebraska basketball bond, they hope to get closer as friends in the months and years ahead.
Their relationship will be reinforced more than ever on Friday, Jan. 16, when Nee is formally inducted into the Nebraska Basketball Hall of Fame at Lincoln Station, along with one of his former Husker players, Erick Strickland.
Bringing those two back as Hall of Famers is important to Sadler, who said Nee “had one of the best coaching runs in Nebraska basketball history, and we thought it was time to recognize that.”
In his third year as Nebraska’s head basketball coach, Sadler has a deep appreciation for Nee’s accomplishments over his 14 years in the same job.
“Danny recruited great players, and he let them play,” Doc said. “He’s known as an ultimate professional in our business, and I’m happy that Danny and his family will be recognized for all of the successes he had while he was at Nebraska.”
Now director of player development for the Rutgers basketball program in the Big East Conference, Nee appreciates Nebraska officials choosing a weekend for a banquet and Hall of Fame game-day tribute that worked for him and his family.
“Doc, the Nebraska administration and the Rebounders Club have been great to orchestrate this whole thing on a rare open weekend for me,” Nee said. “This is a real honor, and I’m excited that my three children (sons Patrick and Kevin and daughter Nora) can make it back to Lincoln and share in the festivities.”
It will be Nee’s first trip to the Devaney Center in almost nine years.
In His First 16 Games Against KU, Nee’s Teams Went 8-8
“There are so many fond memories and so much blood, sweat and tears from my days at Nebraska, it’s hard to separate them out,” said Nee, whose teams won eight of their first 16 games against Kansas, including an 83-81 overtime win over the second-ranked Jayhawks on Feb. 28, 1987, when Danny Manning was a junior and Nee was in his first year as head coach.
The Huskers featured three seniors – Brian Carr, Bernard Day and Bill Jackman – and Beau Reid, a freshman forward. But it was two lesser known juniors, Henry T. Buchanan and Derrick Vick, who keyed the upset. “Buchanan brought the ball up with about 15 seconds left, and we didn’t call a timeout,” Nee said. “He drove the lane and dropped it off to Vick, and when the help guy left him, he makes the layup. Jackman reminded me what happened the other night on the phone, and now I remember it vividly. The fans stormed the floor, and we beat the highest ranked team we ever beat in my 14 years there in that first year.”
The Huskers finished 21-12 in Nee’s inaugural season that included NIT wins over Marquette, Arkansas, Washington and Arkansas-Little Rock.
Nee remembers Bob Devaney, the athletic director who hired him, shaking his head when the Huskers qualified for the NIT semifinals in New York after winning three straight home games. “Danny, you may have won too many games in your first year. Don’t expect that every year,” Nee remembers Devaney telling him.
Sure enough, the next season, Nebraska finished just 13-18, even though one of the wins was a 70-68 triumph over the Jayhawks, who went on to win the national championship. The next two seasons produced 17-16 and 10-18 records.
Then Danny Nee hit the jackpot. With such players as Rich King, Tony Farmer, Beau Reid, Clifford Scales and two redshirt freshmen – Eric Piatkowski and Bruce Chubick – the Huskers won a school-record 26 games in 1991.Two of those wins came in March over eventual 1991 NCAA runner-up Kansas – 85-75 in Lincoln and 87-83 in the conference tournament semifinals in Kansas City. Nee earned ’91 Big Eight Conference Coach-of-the-Year honors, and the Huskers posted their highest-ever final national rankings, finishing ninth in the UPI poll and 11th in AP.
King finished with the fourth highest point total in Nebraska history and became the Huskers’ first-ever, first-round NBA draft pick when the Seattle SuperSonics selected him 14th overall.
“I was talking to Jackman and (Mikki) Moore on the phone the other night,” Nee said. “We did a lot of reminiscing, and they brought back so many memories as we discussed different stages of the program. We had so many great players and so many good coaches. I’m really looking forward to seeing Gary Bargen and Jeff Smith, who were on my staff, and all the players who helped us accomplish so much over 14 years.”
Nee’s 254 career wins at Nebraska are a school record. He led the Huskers to five NCAA Tournament appearances and six NIT berths. He’s the only coach since 1950 to lead the Huskers to a league or NIT title. In addition to the ‘96 NIT championship, Nee’s ‘94 team won the Big Eight Tournament.
A Big Eight Tournament Title for Piatkowski and All-Star Cast
By ’94, Piatkowski and Chubick were seniors. They were joined by senior guard Jamar Johnson, 6-11 freshman Moore, who’s still playing in the NBA, and three multi-talented sophomores – Strickland, Jaron Boone and Terrance Badgett.
“When that team won the Big Eight Tournament, I’ve never seen such an outpouring from Nebraska other than for a national football championship,” Nee said. “We scored 105 points (against Oklahoma) in the first game of the Big Eight Tournament, 98 points (against Missouri) in the semis and then beat Oklahoma State (77-68) in the finals.
“Riding back to Lincoln on the bus, we had a police escort,” Nee recalled. “By the time we got off I-29 at Nebraska City, there were hundreds of people lining the highway. We stopped at McDonald’s to grab a bite, and they had to block the whole place off because there were so many people. People were carrying signs congratulating us. Kids were clamoring to get autographs. I’ve never seen anything like it until we continued on to Lincoln and entered the Devaney Center. The place was packed. That whole weekend was insane, but the highlight was walking into that building and seeing all that support. Nebraskans love their football, but they love basketball, too. That was very exciting for all of us and very special for our players.”
Piatkowski repeated as a first-team All-Big Eight performer after averaging 21.5 points in ‘94. He finished as the second leading scorer in Nebraska history. Unfortunately, Penn upset Nebraska, 90-80, in the first-round of the ’94 NCAA Tournament. Offense wasn’t the issue three years earlier either when Xavier upset the Huskers, 89-84, in the first round of the NCAA.
“We had so many great players over the years. King (’91), Piatkowski (’94) and (Tyronn) Lue (’98) were all first-round draft choices,” Nee said. “Venson Hamilton (’99 Big 12 Player-of-the-Year) was a second-round draft choice. Even with that kind of talent, we never could quite get that first NCAA Tournament win.”
Nee: Doc Will Be the First NU Coach to Win an NCAA Game
History will be made eventually. “Doc will get it done. One of his teams will win an NCAA Tournament game,” Nee said. “He’s a perfect fit at Nebraska. He’s so sociable, a good recruiter and an excellent coach. I love the way he’s bringing Nebraska basketball back together, just like Bo Pelini’s bringing Big Red football back together.”
Nee was the head basketball coach at Ohio before he came to Lincoln, and he was head coach at Robert Morris and Duquesne after he left Nebraska. He spent two years as a scout for the Utah Jazz before taking the Rutgers job this season.
“Janet (his wife) knows I’m not ready to get out of basketball,” said Nee, who coached at Brick Township High School in New Jersey in the early 1970s. “Being an ex-coach in Jersey and a guy from Brooklyn (where he was high school point guard for Lew Alcindor), I feel like I came home. I’m very comfortable here. I’ve come full circle.”
Nee helps Rutgers Head Coach Fred Hill with player development strategies and serves as a mentor for Scarlet Knight assistant coaches.
After 26 years as a Division I head coach and 410 victories, Nee doesn’t need the spotlight on him. “I just want to fit in any way I can,” he said.
Getting inducted into the Nebraska Basketball Hall of Fame warms Danny Nee’s heart.“We had our ups and downs at Nebraska,” he said, “but it will always be a special place for our family. Kevin, my youngest, was born in Lincoln. He lives in New York now. He and I are hooking up with Nora (who lives in Pittsburgh) in Chicago and flying in together.”
Son Patrick, head basketball coach at Highland Community College in Kansas, and his wife will make the quick drive to Lincoln and join them for both a family reunion and a basketball reunion.
“I’m happy for all of them,” Sadler said. “They really deserve the recognition.”