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Everyone expected Nebraska's lopsided 75-43 men's exhibition basketball win over Peru State Wednesday night at the Bob Devaney Sports Center, so you look for another angle walking around the arena and chatting at random with fans of all ages.
A theme immediately emerges and just keeps getting reinforced no matter where you go or who you talk to. It's Fan Appreciation Night, and one thing is crystal clear - everybody loves Doc Sadler.
And when everybody loves Nebraska's head basketball coach, they're ready to love a team that has its heart set on bigger and better things in the Huskers' final season in the high-powered Big 12 Conference.
"We were in a valley last year, but I think everyone can sense something different this year," said Dean Swanson, a longtime season ticketholder from Ceresco, Neb.
"Frankly, I love Doc," Swanson said. "We have the right coach, and he has the perfect personality for this program. He's excited, so we're excited, and it's time for all of us to get behind this basketball team like we get behind the football team. If we do that, I think this place will go nuts."
Two minutes after Sadler grabbed a microphone Wednesday night and thanked everyone in the house for being "the greatest fans in college athletics," Nate Davis, a junior from Sargent, Neb., explained why he wears red and cheers loud in the "Red Zone" behind the baskets.
You Have to be There to Really Feel It
It's difficult to simulate a game day atmosphere in an exhibition game, but Davis promises fans won't be disappointed when the real season starts. "I never really knew that much about Nebraska basketball until I became a part of the Red Zone two years ago," he said. "To me, the student section is the best place to experience Nebraska basketball."
When the video boards ask the proverbial question: "Can you feel it?" Davis is ready to bounce up and down, wave his arms and shout back with the obvious answer from his front-row seat. And he only hopes Nebraska's longtime fans catch some of the same spirit themselves this season.
"I really believe more people should buy tickets, come to the Devaney Center and check this place out," Davis said. "You just can't watch Nebraska basketball on TV and expect the same experience. When you sit at home, you have no idea how awesome this place really is."
Once a fan gets full, undivided exposure to the lights, the big screens, the Cheer Squad, excited fans and the pep band, "the Devaney pretty much sells itself," Davis said, admitting he's eager to see a Husker transformation that will light a bigger fire in the hearts and minds of those watching.
"When I was a freshman, our basketball team didn't have a lot of talent, but we had a lot of heart," Davis said. "Last year, we had more talent, but maybe not as much heart. This year, I think we're going to see more talent and more heart than we've seen. We all love Doc. He's a great coach, and I think we're going to have something really special this year."
Kevin Roth, a senior business major from Columbus, Neb., agrees. "I'm really excited. I love Doc Sadler, Lance Jeter and Jorge Brian Diaz," he said. "I'm looking for everything to come together for a big year from these guys. I see a 10-6 finish in a tough Big 12. It's going to be a lot of fun."
Take It from the Cheer Captain: Time to Stand Up
Brittney Ruffin, a senior from Omaha and the captain of Nebraska's Cheer Squad, is in her fourth year supporting the basketball team. "Doc is one of my favorite coaches we cheer for because he always acknowledges us," Ruffin said. "It makes you feel closer to the team, and we've talked to a lot of the leaders on this team. They're expecting a lot more out of themselves this year. We're all very excited and expecting this team to show up in the Big 12 like we never have before."
Great expectations seem to be in abundance, and Monty Scheele of Hickman, Neb., thinks he knows the source of the optimism. "Doc's been making some interesting comments lately about having a lot of depth on this team," Scheele said, getting affirmative nods from his wife, Julie, and their 17-year-old daughter, Jorie.
Although they aren't season ticketholders, the Scheele family was at the Devaney to support nephew and cousin Trevor Menke, a freshman from Beatrice, Neb.
"We've enjoyed Nebraska basketball for quite awhile," Scheele said. "Now that Trevor's on the team, it seems like a good time to be more devoted and maybe even get season tickets."
Roommates Traci Knobel, a freshman from Fairbury, Neb., and Sara Wadas, a freshman from Ord, Neb., decided it was time to claim front-row seats in the Red Zone for the first game of the season, and they plan on being there for every game the rest of the season.
The fans aren't the only ones excited about this team. Kent Pavelka, the veteran play-by-play voice for the men's basketball team on the Husker Sports Network, couldn't hide his enthusiasm while he waited for the opening tipoff.
"We have four really good bigs, even with Christopher Niemann out, and we're going to be better at the point with Kamyron Brown and Lance Jeter," Pavelka said. "If Toney McCray and Christian Standhardinger play to their ability, this could be a really, really special team.
Pavelka: This Team Way Ahead of Schedule
"This is a much more talented team than most people think, including the league coaches," Pavelka said. "I think it's fine that this team just kind of lets it happen in November and December. I mean, I can tell you this. This team is practicing right now like it's mid-January. That trip to the Bahamas really strengthened this team and helped them out. Just wait and see."
Andrew Kroeger, who plays the electric bass in the Big Red Express pep band, sees the Nebraska men moving at a much faster pace. "Realistically, I see us reaching the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Tournament at a minimum," he said. "Potentially, I see the semifinals, and I don't think it's a far cry from reality to see this team qualifying for the NCAA Tournament and maybe even win a game in it."
Four more longtime season ticketholders are getting the same positive vibes from their head coach.
Jack and Francetta Gilsdorf grabbed a couple of sandwiches, two boxes of popcorn and their drinks and were heading to their seats when we asked for their opinions about Nebraska basketball. After returning from 10 days in Ireland, they were feeling nothing but positive. "I really like Doc," said Jack, a retired Nebraska teacher, principal and superintendent.
"He's just such an exciting person to meet," added Francetta. "There's not a person he doesn't talk to, and the next time you see him, he seems to remember you. We've had season tickets since 1978, and we'd really like to see Doc get this program going where he wants it to go."
Jack Mueller, 88, had Nebraska basketball season tickets before the Devaney Center was even built. "I'm kind of excited," he said. "Make no mistake. Doc's a good coach, but you know why I like him? He could have gone to a bigger basketball school, but he chose to stay here. We better hang on to him, so he can get us to that next level."
A Realistic Fan Just Wants to See Progress
Joe Zavicka, a retired middle school teacher who lives in Seward, Neb., finds it fascinating how two years ago, the Huskers were the smallest team in the country, and now they have depth at center. He's eager to see how an obvious upgrade in talent and size translates into wins and a higher conference finish.
"I have great seats in B-16, and I've gotten to know so many of the people around me all these years," he said. "I'd like to see us surprise everyone this year, but with 16 games in this conference, I think going .500 would be a good year. The Big 12 has some really good basketball teams. I just hope we're one of them."
Voices from Husker Nation
I am impressed by how the players publicly speak about their coach, Doc Sadler. In every interview or other public statement, you hear the respect and admiration, mixed with sincerity and humor that they have for him. I know it ultimately comes down to W's and L's, but in my book, Doc can coach here as long as he wants. The record will take care of itself. This is going to be a good season. Let's get to the"Bob" to see it. Bill Reece, Wahoo, Nebraska
I've never met Doc Sadler. I've only heard him on his radio show on Huskers.com, and he comes across as a man who cares about every player, every coach and every fan. When you listen to Doc, it's hard to turn him off. He seems to care about everybody, and that's probably why everybody cares about him. I hope he's the coach that finally helps Nebraska win its first NCAA Tournament game. That might be the match that starts the fire for a program that, as he says, is giving him everything necessary to succeed. Count me among those who are rooting for Doc to make it happen. Craig Nelson, Overland Park, Kansas