Dana Altman calls returning to Omaha to face the school at which he coached for 16 seasons an “awkward” situation.
When it comes to awkwardness, Altman’s successor at Creighton has hit the trifecta this season. In November, Greg McDermott faced Iowa State, the school at which he coached the previous four seasons. Three times in Missouri Valley play, McDermott had to square off against Northern Iowa, where he played for four seasons and coached at for five more.
Now, McDermott’s Creighton team must face Altman’s Oregon Ducks in the College Basketball Invitational championship series. The first game of the best-of-three series will be played at 7:05 p.m. Monday at Qwest Center Omaha.
“Of all the teams you could end up playing on March 28, who would have guessed it would be Coach Altman coming back to Omaha?” McDermott said. “It makes it fun for our fans. He’s done a lot for this place, and I think our fans will show their appreciation for him on Monday.”
Creighton Athletic Director Bruce Rasmussen certainly hopes so. Rasmussen acknowledges that there is a faction of Creighton fans still upset with Altman for leaving Omaha. Some are upset that when he returned after a one-day flirtation with the Arkansas coaching job in 2007 that he promised he would retire at Creighton. Others are angry for the on-court slippage the Bluejays have experienced in recent seasons.
“One of the addictions of athletics is that you have people that didn’t play the game, coach the game or officiate the game that are experts in all three areas simultaneously,” Rasmussen said. “I don’t say that negatively. That’s the addiction of the game.
“Everyone has an opinion. No one has a 100 percent approval rating, and certainly Dana didn’t. There will be a faction of our fans that are looking forward to being at the game and rooting against him, but I expect that the majority of our fans will thank him for the time he put in.”
In Altman’s 16 seasons, Creighton went from a program that had won 24 games in the three seasons before he arrived to one that posted 327 victories, won or shared nine Missouri Valley regular-season or tournament championships and played in seven NCAA tournaments.
“Think about where our program was when he came and where it was when he left,” Rasmussen said. “Certainly, our program would not be where it is today if it wasn’t for what Dana did for us.
“When you step back and look at what we’ve been able to accomplish in those 16 years that Dana was here and compare it to other programs, what we’ve done is amazing.”
That’s why Rasmussen expects the majority of the fans at Monday’s game to react positively to Altman’s return.
“I’ll be the disappointed if a majority of our fans don’t recognize what Dana has meant to our program,” he said. “I would think that the majority of our fans will properly recognize that.
“What I would hope is that when Dana and Oregon are introduced, our fans will thank him in the right way for the 16 years he spent here. Then, while the game is going on, they’ll root like hell for us.”
Of course, the championship series will be awkward, too, for Rasmussen. He convinced Altman to take the Creighton job in the spring of 1994. The two men are close friends.
It also will create unusual feelings for the Creighton players, most of whom Altman coached or recruited. Antoine Young, who committed to Creighton when he was a sophomore in high school, never thought he’d see the day when Altman would be on the other bench at the Qwest Center.
Young can appreciate the reluctance Altman feels in having to come back and coach against the Bluejays.
“I think it’s human nature for anyone to not want to come back this early,” Young said. “If it were two years or three years from now, it might be a little different. It’s going to be a little weird for him and a little weird for some of us.”
What it won’t be, Young said, is a reunion filled with animosity. At least not on the players’ part.
“I don’t think there’s any bitterness,” he said. “We understand it’s a business and he made the correct move for his family and for him. We wished him the best, and we moved on just as he had to move on.
“We’re doing well here, and he’s doing well there.”
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