Published Saturday, January 12, 2013 at 10:34 pm / Updated at 10:48 pm
Shatel: BTN show hard knocks, but it also sells Huskers

LINCOLN — See the basketball coach smiling.

See his team losing. See his team drowning early in the deepest conference in college hoops. See it overmatched, see it bleeding, see it get off the mat again.

Now, see the coach smiling again. His senior forward, his leader and arguably best player, is out indefinitely with an elbow injury. See the coach joking.

See the team play hard and give good effort. See it muck it up and make No. 2 Michigan sweat. See the coach and the players feel good about the effort. See them load up the bus and head home for the next adventure.

You can see coach Tim Miles and his Huskers Sunday on the Big Ten Network's “The Journey,” a saga about a team on the road to nowhere.

The BTN show debuts right after Nebraska, 9-7 and 0-3 in the Big Ten, plays at Michigan State. I'm not sure, but these shows might have an R rating.

Wow. Some league, huh? They beat you up on the court and then they force you to show the bloody details off the court.

Actually, this is not some Big Ten hazing rite. This was Miles' idea.

Open the doors to a last-place program getting run over every game? Miles is either kooky or darned street smart.

Maybe a little of both.

“I talked to Mark Silverman, the head of BTN, and I said, 'Hey, there are some things we would be available to,'” Miles said. “I think we're more media friendly than others.”

He has the hardware to prove it. There's an Emmy Award in Miles' office. Yes, an Emmy.

While he was at Colorado State, Miles came up with the idea to have the Mountain West Conference network, The Mountain, do a reality show on the Rams. Network cameras were at the CSU complex and in the locker room every day. The show was so popular that it came back for a second season.

“I won an Emmy,” Miles said. “I won it as executive producer and, well, lead actor, I guess. It's a regional Emmy, I didn't get to walk down the red carpet or anything. I have more TV trophies than I do basketball trophies.”

Why do it?

“We felt like in the league, Lon Kruger (UNLV) had been to a Final Four, Steve Fisher (San Diego State) had won a national championship at Michigan, and Steve Alford (New Mexico) had won a national championship and Olympic gold medal. We had to forge an identity.

“We believe in what we do, we wanted to give people a look at what we do on a day-to-day basis. It was amazing to me. I would go to the Final Four and have people come up to me and say, 'Coach, I watch your show every week.'”

You'd rather have them watch your team for the basketball, but at least they're watching. And that's the sort of genius at work with Miles volunteering his team's services to BTN.

Can you sell a losing season? Can you market the drudgery of rebuilding?

Miles believes you can. In that sense, he's a salesman. Whether he's on Twitter or cracking jokes at a press conference or making appearances on behalf of a struggling program, he's selling Husker Hoops.

NU hasn't had that guy since Danny Nee. Husker basketball needs that guy. It doesn't need another coach grumbling to the world how hard the job is. It needs a guy with energy, optimism and hope. And crazy enough to sell it.

Miles is that guy. He's a glass half-full guy with a roster half-empty. No matter. He'll sell it, anyway.

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“You're always selling your program,” Miles said. “You're always trying to let people know what you're about. Look at Coach K (Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski). He shouldn't have to sell anything, but he's got a radio show (on satellite radio), he went back to be Olympic coach. You don't think being associated with Kobe (Bryant) and Carmelo (Anthony) helps?

“I think those things help us build a brand. If people get an inside look at what we do, they'd be attracted to it. I know I would like to play for us if I were a player. Too bad I wasn't a player.”

Miles can't sell winning. He can't sell tradition. But he can sell opportunity. He can also sell facilities. He can sell that this is a program that likes being in the spotlight, no matter what. He can sell fun.

If the man can convince kids that playing for Nebraska is fun this season, he should win an Oscar.

The short-handed Huskers were already hit with having to face Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan and Michigan State out of the gate. Now, winnable games with Purdue and Penn State look less so, with Brandon Ubel, their leader and reliable presence, out. The road looks longer, the path more ominous, if that's possible.

And yet, this season can't go to waste. It can't be for naught. Something tangible must come of it.

The Huskers need perception at the end of the season. They need a perception that they survived and were better for it. The perception that they got knocked down but got up and were still smiling.

That's what the program is now, but you already knew that. The twist would be coming out of one of these dismal winters with something called hope. Something called fun. A spirit.

“At the conclusion of the year, I want our guys thinking, 'We can do this,'” Miles said. “I want a sense of belief we can be successful, if we stay the course. I also want urgency that, 'Oh boy, we need to get better at this, better at that.'”

Miles has helped his own perception by trying to win this year. He's not forced a system down his players' throats. He's trying to win now, for his seniors, and for everyone, because “these kids only get one college career.”

He wants his players to focus on improving every day. There's that dreaded “process” word. But he doesn't want any part of “we won the second half” victories.

This team will knock off somebody, or somebodies, at home. But the victory this year will be keeping the Huskers' heads in it. Miles doesn't want to hear that, of course. But he's working on his players' individual and collective psyches all the time. See him smile.

The smile hides the pain. Fortunately for Miles, he has people to work on him, too. One of his old friends in coaching, Jim Molinari, called the other day with an inspirational message.

“It's messages like that that make your day, because you still define what you do by winning and losing,” Miles said. “I mean, when I go to a restaurant, if we're winning, I go in. If we're losing, I go through the drive-thru.”

Either way, keep the cameras on. And keep smiling.

Contact the writer:


Contact the writer: Tom Shatel    |   402-444-1025    |  

Tom Shatel is a sports columnist who covers the city, regional and state scene.



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