LINCOLN — It was time for Andre Almeida to celebrate.
Nebraska had just closed the Devaney Center with a 53-51 upset of Minnesota. The oft-injured senior center played 18 critical minutes in his final home game, providing difference-making plays in both halves.
Almeida’s mother, after 12 hours on airplanes, had arrived from Brazil to see her son play for the first time on U.S. soil. His girlfriend from Denver was on hand, too.
Just one problem.
Tipoff Wednesday was 8:10 p.m. The game ran long. The fans stormed the court. The postgame media session took longer than usual because of the hubbub.
So what does that leave for fine dining in Lincoln near midnight at midweek?
“The only place open,” Almeida said with a chuckle, “was IHOP.”
If that’s not your idea of a place to celebrate, read on. Because the late-night pancake crowd showered the visitors with good wishes.
“It was really cool,” Almeida said. “Everybody was saying, ‘Good job and thanks.’”
That was a continuation of the good feelings fans first expressed after the game to the gentle giant and all-around good guy of the Devaney Center.
“I was walking out with my mom and some people came up and said, ‘Thanks for sharing him with us,’ and stuff like that,” Almeida said, smiling.
Did that produce a proud-parent smile, too, for his Portuguese-speaking mother? “Oh, yeah,” Almeida said, “after I translated it for her.”
More proof that Husker kindness transcends boundaries.
Not all followers of the program have been so nice to Almeida. Some have groused that he has underachieved or have focused on the what-ifs because of his injury status.
Truth is, Almeida came to Nebraska with two physical strikes against him. The first was a major right knee injury in 2005 at age 16, including a torn ACL. He needed a follow-up arthroscopic procedure in 2007.
“There was a lot of damage,” Almeida said. “The doctor told me my right knee would never be close to as good as my left.”
It was then that he decided to explore leaving Brazil to play basketball in the U.S. — but not for the reason you would expect.
“I had done nothing but play basketball since I was 7 or 8,” Almeida said. “After that injury, it struck me that I needed something to fall back on. I needed a degree, and one from the United States would be great.”
So he found his way to Arizona Western Community College. He was first-team juco All-American as a freshman and third-team as a sophomore after being slowed by more knee trouble.
Then strike two hit, and it had nothing to do with Almeida’s knees.
He played three games near season’s end at Arizona Western with an appendix so diseased that it burst, forcing him into a two-week hospital stay. The long recovery torpedoed plans to arrive early at Nebraska for summer workouts.
As a junior for the Huskers, Almeida showed flashes of strong play, particularly in an upset of No. 3 Texas and a three-point loss at No. 3 Kansas.
But another knee injury in the Big 12 tournament that March led to another surgery, and he sat out last season trying to heal. This season, which has been more about pain management than rehab, he has averaged 4.9 points and 3.6 rebounds in about 15 minutes a game.
Almeida hasn’t started a game in six weeks, and won’t again Saturday when Nebraska (14-16, 5-12 Big Ten) plays at Iowa (19-11, 8-9). But he won’t complain, to the everlasting thanks of NU’s Tim Miles, who has seen grumpy seniors make life miserable for other first-year coaches.
“There is not a better guy than Andre,” Miles said. “There is no better friend or easier guy to get along with.
“Andre is all about the team. There are games I don’t play him and I don’t give him a reason, and he never flinches. I love that about him.”
That’s why there was extra joy after Almeida’s contributions to the Minnesota victory.
“There isn’t a guy that anybody is happier for than Andre,” Miles said.
Almeida will soon leave Nebraska with two bachelor’s degrees (sociology, ethnic studies). He would like to keep playing basketball, but knows that concern about his knees leaves his career in doubt.
What is certain is Almeida will always have a soft spot for Nebraska.
“It’s been an amazing three years,” he said. “I have met so many wonderful people and had so many wonderful experiences. It’s been great, man. The love that Nebraska has shown me is something I’ll never forget.”
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