Lincoln — Derrin Hansen won't forget his first trip to the Devaney Center.
“I was here for a game right when it opened in 1976,” Hansen said. “Aurora beat Holdrege in the Class B championship game. I was a 10-year-old kid from Holdrege. I was crushed.
“I remember there weren't any bleachers in section A. They hadn't built them yet.”
Hansen's last trip to the Devaney Center? Less memorable.
It's not that his “Omaha” Maverick basketball team failed to put up a fight against Nebraska on Sunday afternoon. They fought. The Mavs were up six in the first half. Within two at halftime. Led the Big Ten hoopers 46-44 with 15:46 left.
But this game ended the way the others did, according to script. Well, the other guy's script.
The Huskers wore down UNO physically. They pulled away with a flurry of easy hoops inside. NU won 75-62. Afterward, Husker coach Tim Miles praised the visitors' efforts. Like the Mavs were Southern or Valpo.
Then Hansen was invited into the interview room, to talk to the media covering Husker Hoops. He complimented Nebraska, talked about his team for a few minutes. Thanks for your time, coach. Thanks for coming.
Don't forget to pick up the check on the way home.
Welcome to UNO basketball, Division I style.
I'm sorry. That's “Omaha.” UNO wants to be known as “Omaha,” which is a worthy marketing idea. Especially if you can get big brother to go along with it. The Devaney Center scoreboards had “Huskers” and “Omaha.” The UNL hoops public address man called out “Omaha” at every mention of the Mavericks.
That's all part of the new identity. So, too, are these games. These losses.
It's three straight for the Traveling Mavs, the Omaha Globetrotters, though their job is to be more like the Washington Generals.
I don't think we're busing in the Dakotas anymore, Hansen. Last Wednesday, the Mavs were in Lubbock, losing to Texas Tech 91-63. Forty-eight hours later, they were in the Big Easy, the special of the night for Tulane, losing 76-52.
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Forty-eight hours later, they were 50 miles from home, pushing the Big Ten Huskers but relenting in the end to bigger bodies and maybe a little jet lag. That's part of the deal now, too.
“I'm proud of the way we played today,” Hansen said. “Forty-eight hours ago, we were in New Orleans. Forty-eight hours before that, we were in Lubbock.
“We have to play these games for the (athletic) department. I get that.”
Stick around. In two weeks, UNO has a date with Wisconsin in Madison, and then an appointment to see the Mayor of Ames, Iowa, and his Cyclones at Hilton Coliseum.
It's a living. It's a program. For the three games in the Joe Cipriano Classic, including a game against Valparaiso next week, the school is getting $120,000. Texas Tech, Wisconsin and Iowa State are all paying UNO $85,000 each to come pad their win total.
That's a little harsh. But this is the harsh reality of UNO's new Division I life.
It's an intriguing identity. Not the losing. But the idea that this team, with a coach and several players who are homegrown Nebraskans, will line up and play against some of college hoops' best and brightest. Like Duke.
That's right. Duke. Coach Mike Krzyzewski had an assistant athletic director call Hansen before last season to see if the Mavs would like to be their guests at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Hansen couldn't swing it; he already had Michigan State lined up on that date.
Sorry, Coach K. I'm already playing coach Tom Izzo. You understand, right?
What a deal, and what a selling point for Hansen in recruiting. At some point in your career, you'll make some cool trips. Hansen already has games with Iowa, Minnesota and UNLV lined up for next season.
Of course, it's not all glamorous. Losing never is.
“It's definitely a good experience,” said junior center John Karhoff, from Omaha Creighton Prep. “Losing isn't fun. We're taking our shots now. But I think this will help us once we get into conference season. We stayed with Tech for a half. We got into the second half with Nebraska, but we couldn't keep it up.”
That's the fun part about these games. What if? What if UNO actually pulls out a victory?
The Mavs made Husker fans think about it, even for a little while. Frankly, it was hard at times to tell the difference between the Mavs and Huskers, though that says more about NU. It also says Hansen is off to a good start recruiting as a Division I program. Junior guard Justin Simmons, who led UNO with 19 points, impressed NU coach Tim Miles.
There's more recruiting to do. The Mavs aren't eligible to make the NCAA tourney for three more years. But they do start sizing themselves up in the Summit League this season. That should keep their interest. First they have to keep their heads up.
“Our kids are not here for a tour,” Hansen said. “They want to win so bad. They are pretty disappointed after these games. Our job is to make sure we stay healthy physically and healthy mentally going into mid-December, when we start our league. These games will help us.”
It's a brave new world. New Ralston arena. New UNO arena in a few years. Maybe some new fans and more of them. It's an exciting time for Mav hoops.
There will be skeptics, of course. But they should hear what Miles had to say when I asked him if he would consider playing UNO every year.
“I'm not totally against it,” Miles said. “I've been in Derrin's shoes before. I know what he's going through. Play every year? I don't know yet. We'll see.
“If you had asked me that at halftime, I would have said no.”
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