As a kid, I grew up listening to Nebraska Basketball games. As a 60-lb, scrawny, Asian kid trying to talk my parents into not making me go through with the Blair wrestling team (elementary wrestling team, mind you), I would sit at the Saturday meets with the radio going and the beautiful voice of Kent Pavelka telling me all about Eric Piatkowski hitting another clutch shot. In fact, you might argue that my formative years as a basketball fan weren't all that bad considering just how long it has been since Nebrasketball made the Dance. In fact, from 1991-1994, Nebraska was a perennial NCAA Tournament team and then two years after that stretch, they won the NIT. By all accounts, Coach Danny Nee had this thing moving in the right direction. Players like Erick Strickland, Tyronn Lue, Jaronn Boone, Cookie Belcher, and Venson Hamilton proved that Nee understood talent. Unfortunately, he just couldn't do the one thing that all fans craved - win a game in the NCAA Tournament.
Now, every last one of you (save Northwestern fans) know what it is like to have at least one win in the Tournament. Dollar Dollar Bill Byrne thought that was crazy that the Nebraska Basketball team was so behind the curve that he fired the last winning coach possible. Twelve years later, a Collier and a Doc, and you can see how that move panned out. If you hear Nebraska fans apathetic about the basketball team, you can more or less thank that stretch for its general ineptitude.
The last time Nebraska made the tournament was in 1998. The game was against Arkansas, and all I can remember about that is being annoyed by Pig Sooie. 1998 was a long time ago now, and while Doc Sadler was a good guy and probably a decent coach, Tom Osborne made the right decision to make a change on his way out. That brings us to Tim Miles. By all accounts, Miles is the real deal. In scoring an ESPN exclusive interview, a trending topic on Twitter, and legitimate coaching chops at turnarounds in places like Colorado State and North Dakota State, you can understand why some of us (me included) are excited about the prospects of things changing. Add to that an investment in what is most likely the nicest training facility in the Midwest AND a brand new beautiful downtown arena, and you're finally hearing a buzz. What could go wrong?
Well, the reality is that we are used to failure here and as games like Ohio State prove, it's a long road ahead. While most of you are fans of programs with history and talent, Nebrasketball fans are generally just fans of the home team. Win or lose, we just kind of take things in stride. Still, seeing a game tied 19-19 at half like I did on Sunday was maddening. On an upside, the coach realizes it and he is doing his best to keep fans interested. In his press conference on Tuesday, Miles was asked is he was worried about tonight's game against Michigan getting out of hand. His reply was realistic and is why fans are attracted to him so far, "I'm worried about all of them getting out of hand, we score 40 points a game!" His smile and charisma kept the snark out, though.
That's why tonight doesn't fill me with the same angst that many other games will. Michigan is going to dominate the Huskers tonight from tipoff to the final buzzer. I do not say that as a cynical fan so much as an observant fan of College Basketball. There is not one position that Nebraska has better athletes at, and to say that there are depth issues at Nebraska would be an understatement considering most of our starters probably are depth players everywhere else. Still, I'm okay with it because as I've explained above, you just gotta learn to deal with the bad knowing there might be some good on the horizon. Unlike football, where there are structures and support systems in place to make success happen, the Nebraska basketball team is on an island. This new found support and infusion of cash shows that they mean business, but handing over a blank check does not mean instant success. Nights like tonight prove that, but that doesn't mean I stop watching because a fan is a fan, right? I made this choice and I'm sticking with it.
In closing, while many of you are cheering for your team as part of the best conference in College Basketball, and you have no arguments from me in that designation on the Big Ten, just remember that there are those of us just cheering to survive. We are currently two games into the conference season, and while Nebraska will be hard pressed to find many wins this season, I must admit that I am still excited about things to come. All I can look forward to is a team that tries and a coach that keeps his head on straight. I think we will have both, and as the season progresses, there should be glimpses of things to come. Hopefully that means something. In the meantime, I'll just sit back and enjoy the scenery knowing that my years of fandom are about to pay off. That, or I'm looking forward to a few more years of looking forward to baseball season. Maybe both. I guess we'll see.