Randy York’s N-Sider
While looking ahead to a future inside the upscale Pinnacle Bank Arena, Nebraska Athletics wants to remember and honor our past, so we’re asking fans of the Husker men’s and women’s basketball programs a compelling question: Who would be on your All-Devaney Center Teams that cover five different decades in the 37-year history of the building?
Both basketball programs deserve equal amounts of emphasis, and the only requirement to participate in these two special Huskers.com Fan Polls is that each all-time selection must have played in the Bob Devaney Sports Center, which opened its doors in 1976 – the same year America celebrated Birthday No. 200 and Nebraska smokers built a new arena using tobacco taxes authorized by the State Legislature.
The N-Sider asked three Nebraska sportswriters with strong Husker basketball ties – the Omaha World-Herald’s Lee Barfknecht, Hail Varsity Magazine’s Mike Babcock and the Lincoln Journal Star’s Brian Rosenthal – for their All-time All-Devaney Teams to help launch our two-week Huskers.com fan voting campaign. The two polls are open to Nebraska basketball fans worldwide until Friday, Feb. 22.
Barfknecht is the only media member to cover all six of Nebraska’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament appearances, and Babcock is the author of Huskers on the Hardwood, a Nebraska basketball history book published by the Lincoln Journal Star. Rosenthal is the Husker men’s basketball beat reporter for the Journal Star. All three are dedicated writers, and we should point out that our requests for their All-Devaney opinions were made separately and their responses were not shared with each other. With that in mind, please check out the men’s and women’s All-Devaney Teams immediately below, plus Matt Coatney’s thoughts behind his selections near the bottom of this column.
Lee Barfknecht’s All-Devaney Men’sTeam
Mike Babcock’s All-Devaney Men’s Team
Brian Rosenthal’s All-Devaney Men’s Team
Matt Coatney’s All-Devaney Women’s Team
You may have noticed that two writers – Barfknecht and Babcock – have four of the same top five for the men's team: Hoppen, Lue, Piatkowski and Smith. Barfknecht put Strickland in his top five while Babcock went with Hamilton, a center who was named the Big 12 Conference Player of the Year in 1999. Rosenthal's list included five shared first-team selections with the combined Barfknecht and Babcock lists, but he did not include Smith, who earned first-team honors from both Barfknecht and Babcock.
The differences are more discernible in the writers' second-team selections. Here’s Barfknecht’s second-team lineup: Jack Moore, Cookie Belcher, Bruce Chubick, Tony Farmer and Venson Hamilton. Babcock’s second-team lineup: Jack Moore, Jaron Boone, Erick Strickland, Bernard Day and Rich King. Rosenthal’s second-team lineup: Jack Moore, Cookie Belcher, Jaron Boone, Andre Smith and Rich King.
Positions and names get jumbled when you match talent with logic and competitive savvy with personal preference, especially when you add another important element into the equation – how good were the teams that featured some of the Huskers’ best players?
Selecting All-Time Teams Can Get Uncomfortable
“I’m a little uncomfortable putting an all-time team together,” Babcock said. “For instance, where’s Aleks Maric? I respect him as much as I respect anybody, and yet I didn’t put him on my first team or my second team. I had trouble overall trying to differentiate first team from second team. Putting together teams like this doesn’t take into account the need for role players, who provide things other than those easily quantifiable.”
Babcock goes out on a limb again. “Bruce Chubick would be on a team I put together, as would Jamar Johnson, but neither is on either team,” he said. Ditto for Farmer, who only played one season (1990-91) as a Husker. With those provisions, Babcock placed two centers on his first-team. “Andre Smith,” he said, “was a forward who was forced to play center much of the time. For what he was asked to do, he could not have played much better than he did, game in and game out.”
I ask Barfknecht, winner of nine national writers’ awards and 12 Nebraska Sportswriter of the Year honors, to elaborate on his selections, and I fully understand when he politely declines. “I don’t want to torpedo our own double-truck blowout in February in the World-Herald," he said. Let the record show that Barfknecht is the only media member who’s covered all six of Nebraska’s NCAA Tournament games and acknowledges having covered the Huskers 22 times in the NIT Tournament.
Rosenthal was hesitant to accommodate a request to analyze history because he’s much younger than Babcock and Barfknecht. He can’t quite compare the older eras to the new ones, but he did his homework and presented an equally viable starting five.
Husker Basketball Fans Have the Votes That Count
The good news about our all-time teams is that you, the fans, have the only votes that count. But based on keener memories, we thought seasoned writers who have followed the Huskers in five different decades, can help you hone your thoughts. Huskers.com has given a lot of thought to compiling our list of meaningful achievers in both Nebraska basketball programs. Hopefully, it will motivate all of you to vote for your favorite Huskers. The idea is to use these votes to determine five men’s players and five women’s players who will be named to the All-Devaney Teams, both of which will be honored in each program’s final regular-season home game. They will be fitting tributes to two programs moving up to play in what almost certainly will be considered one of America's finest basketball venues.
Voice of Huskers Selects All-Devaney Women’s Team
Since the Nebraska women’s basketball team has not received the same sustained media coverage as the men’s team, The N-Sider has asked Matt Coatney, the voice of Nebraska women’s basketball, to name an All-Devaney Center Team, and not surprisingly, he said “You Betcha!” and here is his all-time starting five:
You better believe that Coatney has his own incisive logic beyond each one of those five selections. “Karen Jennings is the greatest player in the history of the program and a National Player of the Year,” Coatney said before adding: “That’s a no-brainer.”
“Maurtice Ivy is a legend in the state of Nebraska and was the Big Eight Player of the Year while leading the Huskers to their first conference title,” Coatney said before adding: “She was the first 2,000-point scorer in school history. Her resume speaks for itself.”
"Kelsey Griffin is the best Nebraska player I’ve ever seen play in person at the Devaney Center, at least since I’ve been a part of the program,” Coatney said.
“Amy Stephens was a great player and probably the best shooter in school history,” Coatney said. “Amy beats (fellow Alliance, Neb. native) Jordan Hooper out on this team because Amy played four years in the Devaney Center and Jordan has only played three.”
“Dominique Kelley actually would have had a great shot at being on the All-Devaney team, but she missed most of her senior season with an injury,” Coatney said of Kelley, now a graduate assistant under Connie Yori.
“Lindsey Moore is the best point guard in Nebraska history,” Coatney said without hesitation before adding: “There’s no reason to have an All-Devaney Team if Lindsey is not on the team.”
Knowing What the 'Experts' Think, What Do You Think?
Now that you're armed with what the "experts" think, go to the related links to refresh your memory on the candidates you’re considering and then take the time to vote for up to five candidates daily. The deadline to determine the All-Devaney Teams is Friday, Feb. 22. The top players will be recognized at each program’s final regular-season game inside the Devaney Center.
The Nebraska women’s last home game is Sunday, March 3, against Penn State (5 p.m. tipoff). The Husker men’s last home game is Wednesday, March 6, against Minnesota (8 p.m. tipoff). Both games will be historic, and each Husker team will be celebrating Senior Night and Closing Performance at the Devaney at the same time. For both teams, it will be one last shining moment before the Huskers move downtown and into a whole new world next October.
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