Hoppen: New Arena Will Change Lincoln; Practice Facility Will Boost Recruiting
Randy York's N-Sider
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Nebraska's all-time leading basketball scorer was also one of the state's most heavily recruited athletes. As a senior at Omaha Benson High School, he had all kinds of options, forcing him to narrow a giant list of scholarship-offering schools to six recruiting trips. Former Husker All-American Dave Hoppen chose these six on his final priority chart:
1) Nebraska. "Having the opportunity to play for my home state and Moe Iba could not have turned out any better," he said. "It was the ultimate experience. I could not have been more blessed."
2) Notre Dame. "I wasn't buying what Digger Phelps and Pete Gillen were selling - that I could become a first-round draft choice in the NBA. That wasn't my goal."
3) Missouri. "Norm Stewart was riding high at the time, and he made me a top priority, but I still don't know what I saw in Missouri."
4) Kentucky. "It was the middle of the season, and Joe B. Hall said he'd love for me to accept his scholarship offer, but he wanted me to make a decision the same weekend I visited. I moved on."
5) Kansas. "Ted Owens didn't have KU then where they are now. Allen Fieldhouse was intriguing, but I didn't really connect. If Larry Brown had been there, it might have been a different story."
6) Colorado. "The only reason I moved CU above so many other schools was because I grew up watching Tom Apke's Creighton teams play in Omaha. I visited Colorado out of respect to him."
There's a reason why we're publishing this 27-year-old list of Hoppen's favorite schools. First and foremost, even though he grew up watching Creighton in his native Omaha, the Bluejays were never part of Hoppen's recruiting equation.
Haymarket Arena Will Change Downtown Lincoln
"When I was in high school, Downtown Omaha was not a destination and Civic Auditorium was not a place people really wanted to go," Hoppen said. "If Creighton had stayed at the Civic, they would not have the reputation they have now. Once Omaha built the Qwest Center, Creighton brought a whole different dynamic and a whole different feeling to college basketball in Omaha."
Hoppen decided to put it another way. "Instead of 7,000 or 8,000 people who didn't really want to be where they were, Creighton started drawing 18,000 every game in a place where everyone wanted to be," he said. "The Qwest and Downtown Omaha became a destination. People go there now for more than just a basketball game. They go there for an experience."
Hoppen believes the same will be true for Husker men's and women's basketball fans. They will visit the new Haymarket Arena for an experience, not just a game.
"I know that's what I'm planning to do," said Hoppen, a 17-year Nebraska season ticket holder who scored 2,167 points as a Husker. "The new facility in the Haymarket will be a huge bonus. It will change Lincoln, and it will change when and how often people go to games.
"It will change because Downtown Lincoln will become a destination," Hoppen said. "People will arrive earlier to do some shopping or catch some dinner before heading to the game. And they won't be in such a hurry to get out of all that parking they've had to deal with at the Devaney."
Who knows? Husker basketball fans may even stay in the area after the game to celebrate.
Whatever happens, Hoppen envisions Husker Hoops taking off in two new facilities and finding a landing strip that he would call Long Overdue Respect.
Nebraska Basketball Will Be Forever Changed
Hoppen is convinced that a new basketball practice facility, scheduled to begin construction yet this summer and be completed in August of 2011, will change recruiting as much as the new arena will change Downtown Lincoln (beginning in 2013).
"I think those two things together - a state-of-the-art practice facility and a state-of-the-art arena - will change everything for Nebraska basketball," Hoppen said.
"Of course, we all know that you can have the nicest facility in the world and not have a quality team," he added.
Hoppen sees a perfect storm of athletic upgrades to improve recruiting and prepare the Huskers to compete better in their last year in the Big 12 Conference. That, in turn, will help prepare Nebraska for even more improvement in the Big Ten.
"I'll be honest. I played in the Big Eight, and I loved it," Hoppen said. "But the Big Ten may be a better league for Nebraska basketball. They play a more team-oriented game. You don't see the Kevin Durants or the Michael Beasleys that much in the Big Ten. They kind of grind it out on defense like we do.
"Let's face it. We're not going to outscore some of those Big 12 teams in the South, and we're not going to outscore Kansas when they have everything going," Hoppen said. "I think the Big Ten's style might fit Nebraska's style a tad better than the Big 12 does."
In no way is Hoppen underestimating the power of Big Ten basketball. "They've been around longer than anyone," he said. "They know how to play and how to compete with anyone. Big Ten basketball is like Big Ten football -- everybody thinks big time."
Having led the nation in college basketball attendance for 36 consecutive years, the Big Ten also knows how to fill the house and keep a marketable product thriving on the Big Ten Network.
Chicago, Minneapolis Great to Visit, Recruit
"You know," Hoppen said, "I don't know if Nebraska fans are going to miss going to Manhattan, Kansas, or Columbia, Missouri, all that much."
Perhaps more importantly, "I think Nebraska fans would love to go watch a game in Minneapolis or Chicago," Hoppen said. "The best thing about that is what it might mean for recruiting. Nebraska hasn't had any kind of an in to the bigger cities in the Midwest, recruiting-wise.Once we go to the Big Ten that will all change. We can recruit Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Ohio, Minnesota, Wisconsin, even Pennsylvania, and the families there will get to see kids and relatives play on the Big Ten Network."
Hoppen admits he didn't see the light switch go on when he tried to match Nebraska with the Big Ten Conference.
"I didn't understand the whole academic impact of it all," he said. "Once I knew why it was so much better for the University and the research and all of those things, I started to see all the advantages of what it can mean for Nebraska athletically."
Hoppen turned down a lot of great basketball schools to start all 111 games he played in at Nebraska. His four-year collegiate career was cut short by a knee injury in his last game at Colorado on Feb. 1 of his senior year - an injury that also affected his ability to compete more productively in the pros.
The first player in Husker history to have his jersey (42) retired, Hoppen played with both Charlotte and Philadelphia in the NBA before his induction into the Nebraska Basketball Hall of Fame in 1996.
Legends Came From Big Ten Country
Friday, Hoppen, a financial planner, drove from Omaha to Lincoln to help raise funds for Nebraska basketball and to enjoy the camaraderie of such fellow Husker legends as Eric Piatkowski, Jerry Fort and Tom Baack. Fort and Baack found their way to Lincoln from Chicago and Fort Wayne, Ind., respectively, and became two of the greatest Husker scorers ever.
Hoppen sees more talented players from Big Ten country discovering Lincoln in the future.
"Facilities are crucial, but we're going to be to the point where we won't have to keep up with Joneses anymore," Hoppen said. "Talent is the issue, and I can't help but think we're going to bring some of the best talent in the country into Lincoln.
"And when they get here," Hoppen added, "they are going to be very impressed."
Not to mention ready to take Nebraska to a level that will be commensurate with the best commitment the sport has ever had here.