Dana Altman walked down a quiet concrete hallway. He reached for the front of his white shirt, made sure it was tucked just right.
Tipoff was just moments away, but Altman moved slowly. Then he heard a familiar voice. A Creighton administrator reached out his hand.
“You ready to go?”
“Yep,” Altman said.
Except he wasn't. Altman took Bluejay basketball to unprecedented heights in 16 seasons. He made Creighton the talk of the town. Then, last April, Altman left for Oregon.
The past year, Altman had barely been seen in Omaha. He certainly hadn't been in a spot like this: Inside his old stomping grounds, devising strategy to beat the Creighton players he'd recruited and coached, while 12,381 of his old fans prepared to root against him.
Altman made a right turn toward the crowd. He put his head down and waited for the noise. Cheers? Boos? He wasn't sure what was coming.
The applause hit him like a warm breeze.
Oregon guard Jay-R Strowbridge compared Altman's entrance to a “rock star” walking in.
Altman won 97 games at the Qwest Center in his Creighton career. He lost Monday night. The Bluejays beat him, 84-76. But Altman appreciated the fans' kindness — and forgiveness.
“I was here 16 years, and (we) did what we could,” Altman said afterward.
“It didn't end the way everybody wanted it to. I know a lot of people are disappointed in me. I understand that. That's part of the job. But for 16 years, people were unbelievable to us here. … Tonight was no different.”
Creighton's win capped off an emotional homecoming for Altman, who arrived with his team Saturday night.
Monday afternoon, the Oregon bus cut through the snow flurries and pulled into the Qwest Center parking lot 75 minutes before tipoff. Later than usual for the visiting team.
“I think he's getting his guys all riled up,” said Butch Miles, the crowd manager supervisor. “He knows how to win in the Qwest Center.”
Miles has worked on the east side of the Qwest Center for eight years. He used to greet Altman before every game. Great guy, Miles said.
But he didn't like how the coach left. Without talking to the TV cameras and explaining why. Without saying goodbye to fans.
“I understand him leaving,” Miles said. “Just not the way he did it.”
A few minutes later, Oregon's bus pulled up. Miles opened the loading-dock door.
Altman's wife, Reva, stepped out first. Then Dana, carrying a black bag with an Oregon O on the front.
“Hey coach, how you doing?” Miles said.
Altman smiled back, then headed for the visiting locker room, a place he'd never even seen during his time at Creighton.
Usually, Altman stays in the locker room until just before game time.
Monday, he sought out his old players warming up on the floor. He shook hands with Casey Harriman and Kaleb Korver and Antoine Young.
When he threw an arm around Kenny Lawson, Altman choked up.
“You spend a lot of time with those guys,” the coach said later.
The odds of an Altman-Creighton reunion this season were miniscule. This was not a scheduled contest. This was a low-profile postseason tournament. Frankly, Altman wanted no part of it. But competitors don't run from competition.
Fans said it was weird seeing Altman pace the visitors' bench. Everything else was oh-so-familiar.
On the end of the scorers' table, Altman had a box of Kleenex and three packs of gum. Before the opening tip, he shed his suit jacket. To encourage his defense, he put his hands on his knees and leaned forward, his necktie swaying side to side.
It wasn't enough to beat Creighton.
“We just looked like we were a step slow all night,” Altman said.
When it was over, Altman left the floor to more applause. He talked to his team. Fulfilled his media responsibilities.
By 10 p.m., the Creighton fans had gone home. Altman stood in the concrete hallway with a crowd more his style. Former Bluejay players who'd come to say hello. Friends and family decked out in Oregon green.
There's another game with Creighton Wednesday in Oregon, the second in a best-of-three series. The season's not over.
But as Altman's team boarded the bus and left, he stayed behind a little longer.
He had some catching up to do.
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