Published Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 1:42 am
BASKETBALL
Shatel: Devaney's little things leave lasting memories

A knee in the back. The ladies' room. Ray Perkins. Ricky Frazier. Dr. Pete Manning. Norm's birthday. The guy with the air blower.

Last but not least, Bruce Chubick doing his best Carl Lewis imitation.

My Devaney Center scrapbook isn't your typical memory book. My mind doesn't work that way. And, frankly, there's just not a plethora of classic games and moments to gush over. How many times can you say you saw Steve Stipanovich, Wayman Tisdale, Danny Manning, Fred Hoiberg, Kirk Hinrich and Kevin Durant play there? At some point, doesn't that memory just blend in with the rest?

But when you cover games over a 30-year span in a building, you pick up images unique to that building. At Hilton Coliseum, I'll remember the noise. At Allen Fieldhouse, I'll remember the sunshine blasting through the cathedral windows. And the noise.

At the Devaney Center, I'll remember my first question: Why did they name a basketball arena after a football coach? Only in Nebraska.

I don't remember Jamar Johnson's shot so much as I recall the students climbing over my back to get onto the court, and the sharp pain in my back thanks to a young hombre's knee.

I'll remember the greatest win in Missouri basketball history, over Notre Dame at the 1980 NCAA regional. I was watching back in Columbia, Mo. Mark Dressler scored 32 points. Ricky Frazier was told to guard All-American Kelly Tripucka. His response: “Who he?”

I covered the 1984 NCAA regional. Ray Meyer's last dance went through the Devaney Center. But I remember seeing Alabama football coach Ray Perkins, seated in the front row of Section B, to watch the Tide lose to Illinois State.

In 1988, I stood near the baseline watching Beau Reid take down the soon-to-be national champion Kansas Jayhawks with a buzzer-beater. Suddenly, nature called. I had time to make it back to cover the KU locker room, but I had to hurry. I sprinted down the hallway and turned the corner and into the men's room. Well, not exactly. My apologies, ladies.

I remember covering the Big Eight indoor track meet and walking down the hallways to watch a Colorado-Nebraska basketball game. The Devaney Center was like a small city, always busy. I always liked that.

I remember Nebraska's upset of Missouri in 1988, when Husker Pete Manning said the motivation came from watching the cocky Tigers eating popcorn before the game. Afterward, MU coach Norm Stewart took jabs at sports psychologist Dr. Pete Manning.

There are echoes in this building of the fans cursing Norm's name. There are echoes of when they sang “Happy Birthday” to Stewart. Then told him to sit down.

My favorite moment will forever be Chubick, the small-town enforcer from Atkinson, Neb., sprinting downcourt to block Alonzo Jamison's dunk at the buzzer in 1993 and send the game into overtime. That's one of the greatest plays I've ever seen.

The thing is, it also is the poster shot of Nebraska basketball for me, the Rockwell pose. Chubick was Nebraska basketball that night, this underdog from small-town Nebraska, full of guts and heart and surprising hops, rising up to show the blue bloods what he can do. The Devaney crowd was never louder that night, Husker Hoops never better.

That's the very definition of the Devaney Center memory. A moment in time. The Devaney Center memory book is full of moments, bright flashes, superstars who set foot on the court. Not seasons in the sun. There were a couple seasons where there was a pennant race and NCAA tourney buzz.

But mostly, this was a hoops palace that never was, never reached its potential. If there's a sadness or melancholy attached to Wednesday night's finale, that's it. It could have been so much better.

That's how it goes. It's time to rev up the air blower. If you've ever been around an hour after a game, there's a guy with an air blower who walks around the stands and blows up the trash so it can be swept up. I've written so many stories to that sound. It reminds me of Ahearn and Allen field houses at K-State and KU, where air blower guys walked up and down the old stands. It reminds of the Big Eight days, sentimental days of yore.

So I guess I'm getting sentimental about the end of the Devaney Center era, about the air blower.

I heard it last week, after the Huskers upset Iowa in a thrilling comeback, with a late big shot and a crowd's roar. I decided then that would be how I wanted to remember the Devaney Center. Then I heard the air blower. And I packed up and left.

Contact the writer:

402-444-1025, tom.shatel@owh.com, twitter.com/tomshatelOWH

Contact the writer: Tom Shatel

tom.shatel@owh.com    |   402-444-1025    |  

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

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