For Nebraska Basketball Coach Doc Sadler, this fall's opening of the Hendricks Training Complex is the fruition of many years of goal setting, planning and hard work. The structure embodies a new era of the Husker program, as his program has embodied a similar building process over the last five years. As Nebraska begins a new era in the Big Ten this winter, Sadler has put the program's foundation in place and is looking to enjoy sustained success at both the conference and national level.
Sadler's drive and passion to build a successful program has placed Husker basketball on a winning course. Nebraska never had a coach that pushed the Huskers to at least 17 victories in each of his first three years on the sideline until Sadler arrived in Lincoln prior to the 2006-07 season. Since then, the energetic and engaging head coach has done his best 'everyman' impression to lift the Huskers into the national spotlight.
Sadler has prodded his Nebraska teams to 89 victories, the most wins by an NU coach in his first five years. In three of those seasons, he has gotten enough out of his team to reach the postseason. But it has been in the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) each of those years, and while he'll say it's an honor to be in the nation's oldest tourney, it's in the NCAA Tournament, year-in and year-out, that he wants his squad.
That determination Sadler has shown serves his program and his players well. In six seasons as a Division I head coach, his teams have averaged nearly 20 wins per year, leaving him with a .606 winning percentage (137-89 record). As a head coach, his teams have posted winning marks in 11 of his 12 years on the sideline, while seven squads have won at least 20 games. Overall, he owns a 257-128 (.668) career record as a college head coach.
The find-a-way-to-win attitude has been the cornerstone for Sadler's coaching career since he got into the profession in the early 1980s at Arkansas. It's a career that includes an outstanding resume over the past 25-plus years, highlighted by his being named as Nebraska's 26th head coach on Aug. 8, 2006.
During his coaching tenure, Sadler has been associated with 14 postseason teams in 19 seasons, including five times in seven years as head coach at this level. He has helped 19 players reach the pinnacle of their sport - the National Basketball Association -- and he personally recruited eight of those players.
Sadler's success comes as much from his background as it does from his work ethic.
He has an all-star coaching heritage dating back to his home state school, Arkansas, with future Hall of Fame Coach Eddie Sutton. That puts Sadler in the same coaching family under Mr. Henry Iba, a legend and Hall of Famer in his own right. And while Sadler served one year as an assistant and two years as head coach at UTEP, he gleaned knowledge from yet another legend of the college game, Hall of Famer Don Haskins, who won the national title with the first all-black starting lineup at Texas Western (now UTEP) in 1966.
Alongside Sadler's tradition of success, his other impressive personal traits - the charismatic personality, energy, passion and workmanlike approach to winning - made it easy for Sadler to build excitement around the Husker program in a short time in Lincoln.
In five seasons, Sadler has rebuilt the Cornhuskers from the ground up. Not only is the roster filled with more athleticism and natural ability than in recent years, but Sadler and the Husker basketball program have created interest in the program not seen for quite a while.
Sadler was also the only coach in program history to post at least 17 wins in each of his three seasons on the Husker sideline. He reached that mark despite Nebraska being picked to finish ninth or lower in the preseason polls each year. That's a true Sadler trademark -- getting the most out of his players every time they step on the floor.
In 2010-11, the Huskers were led by an air-tight defense that ranked in the top 20 nationally in both scoring and field-goal percentage defense. The Huskers held opponents to a 38.9 field goal percentage, the lowest percentage in 50 years. That work on the defensive end helped the Huskers to 19 regular-season wins - NU's highest total in over a decade - playing a schedule that included 19 games against teams that reached postseason play. The season was highlighted by three wins over nationally ranked teams, including a 70-67 win over No. 3 Texas, the highest ranked foe the program has knocked off since 1994.
Overall, Sadler owns eight wins against ranked squads in five years at Nebraska.
Lance Jeter paced the Huskers in scoring and assists en route to third-team All-Big 12 honors, as he became only the third player in conference history to average 10 points, five rebounds and five assists in conference play. Jeter parlayed his senior year into a professional career overseas.
Seniors Drake Beranek and Matt Karn continued the Huskers' success in the classroom, as 11 of 14 seniors who have completed their eligibility at Nebraska have left with their degrees in Sadler's five years.
In 2009-10, the Huskers put the youngest team in the Big 12 on the floor, as seven of their 11 active scholarship players were freshmen and sophomores. Although the team struggled to a 15-18 record after losing two projected starters to season-ending injuries, the building blocks for future success were evident. Sadler's freshman class accounted for nearly 40 percent of the Huskers' scoring and 36 percent of NU's rebounding.
Nebraska opened the 2008-09 campaign with hopes of continuing the momentum gained the previous season and did well to meet those lofty goals. The Huskers posted 18 wins, including a solid 8-8 mark in league play that left them one game out of fourth place in the final conference standings. The Huskers faced 12 teams that reached the postseason (16 games), earning six wins including victories over Elite Eight performer Missouri and nationally ranked Texas at home.
Nebraska solidified its postseason spot by forging the best scoring defense in the league at 60.4 points per game, the second-best mark at NU in the last 50 years. The Huskers' second straight NIT appearance marked the first time in a decade that Nebraska had played in the postseason in consecutive years. The strong finish also helped several Huskers earn individual honors as Ade Dagunduro was a third-team All-Big 12 selection and an All-Defense Team pick by the coaches. Dagunduro (All-Underrated), Ryan Anderson (All-Defense) and Paul Velander (All-Bench) were picked to postseason squads by the league's sportswriters.
Sadler's second squad in Lincoln earned every one of its 20 victories in 2007-08. Overall, 18 of NU's 33 games were against teams that qualified for the postseason, including 13 against NCAA Tournament squads.
After starting 0-4 in league play including a pair of losses to top-five Kansas, Sadler showed a steady hand while keeping the program headed in the right direction. Nebraska rebounded to finish 7-5 down the stretch, with only Big 12 co-champions Kansas and Texas holding better records over the final 12 games of league play.
Nebraska suffered a 10-point setback against KU in the Big 12 Tournament despite holding the largest halftime lead over the Jayhawks of any team all year (5 points) and limiting Kansas to its fewest points in any half (22). Kansas went on to win the Big 12 and national titles, while Nebraska finished the season 3-5 against ranked teams, including upsets of No. 16 Oregon, No. 24 Kansas State and No. 22 Texas A&M.
The wins over KSU and A&M came in back-to-back games, with the victory over the Aggies in College Station, Texas, marking Nebraska's first road league win over a ranked team since 1999. That was also the last time NU defeated ranked teams in back-to-back games. The Huskers' win over Oregon was the first ever against a ranked non-conference team outside of Lincoln, as the squads faced off in front of more than 12,000 fans in the Qwest Center in Omaha.
By buying into Sadler's plan, center Aleks Maric and guards Dagunduro and Steve Harley reaped the rewards with postseason accolades. Maric was a 2008 first-team All-Big 12 selection and a first-team all-district honoree, while Dagunduro and Harley -- both junior college products -- were tabbed to the 2008 Big 12 All-Newcomer Team.
Maric became just the third player in the Big 12 era to record at least 1,600 points and 1,000 rebounds, as he finished fifth all-time in scoring (1,630) and second in rebounding (1,030) at Nebraska. He completed his career with 19 school or conference records before going on to a professional career.
A year earlier, Sadler got up and running quickly when he was hired in August 2006, as he had less than 90 days before the start of fall practice to get his staff in order, finish the schedule and round out the roster, including re-recruiting players from the previous season. As he accomplished each task, Sadler's drive and determination rewarded the Husker faithful with immediate dividends, not only on the court but also with a feeling that the program was again headed in a positive direction.
Sadler opened his Nebraska career with five straight wins, including his 50th as a Division I head coach in a victory over nationally ranked Creighton. He went on to guide an undermanned Husker squad to 17 wins, tying for the third-most victories by a first-year coach in Nebraska history.
The Huskers' immediate improvements under Sadler were a direct reflection of his simple approach and ability to get the most out of his players. Sadler demands that his players give maximum effort every time they step on the court - whether in practice or a game. The defensive-minded coach reciprocates by providing players the freedom to create scoring opportunities on the offensive end.
The biggest benefactor of Sadler's creative style in 2006-07 was Maric, who blossomed into arguably the Big 12's top post player. Maric was one of the league's most improved players averaging 18.5 points and 8.7 rebounds per game while hitting a league-high 56.5 percent from the floor.
Maric was far from the only beneficiary of Sadler's savvy coaching. Four other Huskers entered the Nebraska record books in 2007, including seniors Charles Richardson Jr. (third in NU single-season assists) and Marcus Perry (sixth in NU single-season 3-pointers). After posting impressive numbers on the court, Richardson and Perry also became the first Huskers to earn their degrees after playing for Sadler.
Following the season, Sadler was honored to receive an invite to serve as a Trials Team Coach for the 2007 U.S. Under-19 World Championships team, the first stint of his career working with USA Basketball. Selected to the position by his peers, Sadler coached invited participants at the Dallas Mavericks' facilities and helped the coaching staff choose the team that went on to win the silver medal at the 2007 U-19 World Championships.
Before Sadler, 51, brought his engaging personality and hard-nosed basketball style to Lincoln, he spent two impressive seasons as head coach at Texas-El Paso, where he helped continue the long-standing tradition of success in Miners basketball.
Sadler's UTEP teams boasted 48 victories in his two years as head coach and won 72.7 percent of their games. Including his first season with the Miners as an assistant coach, Sadler helped UTEP to 72 victories over three years, ranking the Miners 20th nationally in victories during that span. The Miners gained three straight postseason appearances with Sadler on the bench.
A native of Greenwood, Ark., Sadler made one of the most successful Division I coaching debuts in college basketball history, as his 2004-05 Miners squad ran to an impressive 27-8 record and an NCAA Tournament berth. UTEP won a school-record 14 Western Athletic Conference (WAC) games and its first WAC Tournament title in 15 years to earn the league's automatic bid to the Big Dance.
The 27 wins were one off the UTEP school record. They also put Sadler in rare territory, as the mark still ranks ninth in NCAA history for victories by a first-year Division I coach.
Sadler led UTEP to 21 victories in 2005-06 and an NIT berth, relying on a defense that ranked 15th nationally by allowing only 59.5 points per game. UTEP set a C-USA record by allowing just 56 points per game in conference play in 2005-06, and also allowed teams to hit just 40.6 percent from the floor on the year, the program's best mark since 1974.
While solid defense is a staple of his teams, Sadler understands the need to put creative scorers in a position to flourish. That was especially noticeable in his first UTEP team, as the 2005 Miners set the school record for points scored (2,616, 74.7 ppg), assists (579) and free throw percentage (.792).
Sadler helped two players, Omar Thomas and Filberto Rivera, earn first-team All-WAC honors in 2005, the first time UTEP had a pair of players on the first team in 20 years. Thomas also earned MVP honors after an outstanding performance at the league tournament. A year later, John Tofi, one of two 1,000-point scorers on the squad, was the third Miner to earn a first-team all-league certificate under Sadler.
Before taking over as head coach, Sadler was an assistant at UTEP under then-head coach Billy Gillispie in 2003-04 when the Miners made their first NCAA Tournament appearance in more than a decade. Under Gillispie and Sadler, UTEP tied the biggest turnaround in NCAA history that season as it went from six wins the previous year to 24 wins in Sadler's first season assisting the Miners.
Sadler honed his coaching skills in his native state, as he served as a head coach in the junior college ranks for five years at Arkansas-Fort Smith from 1999 to 2003. The success at UTEP should have come as little surprise to anyone who knows Sadler, as he posted a 120-39 record at Fort Smith.
Sadler served two stints as an assistant coach at Arkansas-Fort Smith, first in 1988-91 and then again during the 1997-98 season. He took over as head coach and athletic director in 1998 and served in that capacity until 2003 when he left to join Gillispie at Texas-El Paso.
Sadler's teams won the Bi-State East Conference title each of his last four years at Arkansas-Fort Smith. The 2001 and 2002 NJCAA Region II Coach of the Year, Sadler led the Lions to the region title and an appearance in the NJCAA Tournament while winning 30 games each of those seasons. Off the court, his teams had a 95 percent graduation rate during his tenure and every sophomore over his last two seasons at UAFS was awarded a scholarship to a four-year institution, including eight Division I scholarships.
Honing his administrative and fundraising skills, Sadler oversaw a department that posted a 72.4 winning percentage across all sports under his guidance while he also spearheaded efforts to build a new basketball arena for the university.
Considered by many to be a tremendous tactician and strategist, Sadler is equally as impressive on the recruiting paths. Sadler has signed eight players who have gone on to play in the NBA, including Michael Batiste, Tony Battie, Cory Carr, Mark Davis, Darvin Ham, Eddie House, Maurice Jeffers and Jason Sasser.
Sadler has also coached 11 other players who reached the NBA -- Greg Anderson, Mario Bennett, Randy Brown, Isaac Burton, Byron Irvin, Joe Klein, Andrew Lang, Ron Riley, Alvin Robertson, Darrell Walker and Rickie Winslow. Overall, Sadler's total is an impressive 19 former pupils who reached the highest level of professional basketball.
Sadler, who pulled in a top-25 recruiting class in 2007 in his first full season recruiting for Nebraska, has a unique ability to build relationships and then develop players both on and off the court. Along with his NBA pupils and all-conference picks, Sadler has seen his players succeed in the classroom, including 10 Huskers on the 2007-08 team who earned at least a 3.0 grade-point average in the first semester.
As an assistant coach, Sadler served stints at seven current Division I schools, including Arkansas (1982-85, under Coach Eddie Sutton), Lamar (1985-86, under Coach Pat Foster), Houston (1986), Chicago State (1987-88, under Coach Tommy Suitts), Texas Tech (1991-94, under Coach James Dickey), Arizona State (1994-97, under Coach Bill Freider) and UTEP (2003-04, under Coach Billy Gillispie).
Over 12 full seasons as a Division I assistant coach, nine of his teams reached the postseason, including ASU's 1996 team that reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. At Texas Tech, Sadler helped the Red Raiders to the 1993 Southwest Conference title and an NCAA appearance. He recruited talent that helped the Red Raiders to a 28-1 record and a Sweet 16 appearance in 1996.
The energetic Sadler also served one season as a high school coach, guiding County Line High School to a 38-7 record. Sadler's late father, Charles, coached football at the high school level for more than 30 years in Arkansas, and Sadler's brother, Pedro, is currently head golf coach and assistant basketball coach at Fort Smith Southside High School.
Sadler, who was a four-year student manager for the Arkansas Razorbacks under Coach Eddie Sutton, earned his bachelor's degree in physical education in 1982 before beginning his collegiate coaching career with Sutton at Arkansas. Sadler added a masters of science degree in education from Northeastern State in 1991. Sadler and his wife, Tonya, who is also a native of Greenwood, Ark., have two sons, Landon (18) and Matthew (15).