LINCOLN — Tim Miles can't stop talking about his new recruit.
This kid may not be the biggest in the Big Ten, but he's big enough. May not be the most talented, but definitely has game. Doesn't have mad hops. But there's some serious steel.
You can't miss this blue-chipper as you drive into Lincoln.
The mammoth image of Memorial Stadium has always been the eye magnet of Lincoln, whether you were miles away or cruising into town. But there's a new magnet in town.
Pinnacle Bank Arena, shiny and new, pulls eyes from the football stadium over to its considerable “wow” factor. On a sunny day, the reflection off the steel ribbon around the top of the arena is blinding.
It looks like a mother ship. And the ship has landed.
Finally, Husker Hoops has something to brag about.
“The coolest thing happened at the Big Ten meetings this week,” said Miles, the Nebraska men's basketball coach. “Everybody asked, 'How's your new arena coming?' And I said, 'You know, it's sold out.'”
Tom Izzo, Bo Ryan and the others all said, “Really?”
“Just to see the look on their faces,” Miles said. “There's such a sense of pride to be able to do that.”
Nebraska is turning heads. We're talking about, writing about, Husker Hoops in late May. There's more buzz about the program now than during most seasons.
The arena is being built from the ground up. But the season ticket sellout fell out of the sky. Nobody expected that, and it's made a big story bigger.
“I was surprised it happened this quickly,” Miles said. “It took on a life of itself.”
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Why did it happen? Miles lists three things: cool new arena; season tickets were actually a little lower in cost than last year; and the energy about the new program. He said that the latter was a “distant third.”
Maybe not distant, but he got the order right. Miles did some good things last year. But a year with no postseason doesn't exactly set the landscape on fire. Fresh mortar and paint, across the street from cool places to eat and drink, do the trick every time.
But the “why” is beside the point. What matters is that, after years of trying to light a spark, something worked.
Miles says he remembers watching an “Outside the Lines” episode on ESPN a few years ago, in which a Duke University grad student was interviewed about a study he had done: Which comes first, the winning or fan interest?
“The study showed that programs that truly won, and sustained it, had fan support first and the winning came second,” Miles said. “That was a major draw for me to take this job.”
For years, Nebraska has been looking for a coach who would turn on the fan base, awaken the hoop head inside every Nebraskan. Or else they were waiting for the big-time recruit to do the job.
Turns out that recruit is an arena.
Miles is making lots of appearances these days — a bank group on Wednesday and his booster golf outing on Thursday — to talk about the hot, new recruit.
What the good folks want to know is how soon the recruit will lead to recruits who can actually shoot, rebound and dunk.
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There have been no commitments this spring. Miles said the impact may have to wait until the fall “when we start parading kids through the arena. I think everybody needs to see it, touch it, feel it.”
But so far the arena has gotten him inside living rooms and recruits' imaginations.
“When I tell a recruit, 'Do you know our new arena is sold out?' They say, 'No, I didn't know that,'” Miles said. “And I say, 'Do you know that's 15,200 tickets, coming to watch you, every home game?' They start thinking about that. And I say, 'Does team A or B have that?” They say, 'I don't know, Coach.' It's making a point with recruits.”
There's no choice in that. Miles must make sure the impact is felt. The 2014 and 2015 recruiting classes are so important. This arena will be new, a novelty, only once.
That goes for fans, too. Miles is the fun coach with the new arena now. It won't be long before he'll be expected to win with the daily double of a new arena and practice facility. The list of excuses at NU will be just about gone.
What's the old saying? To those who much is given much is expected.
“OK, Coach, now you do your part,” Miles said. “To me, that's just part of the deal. I understand that's part of the territory. At the same time, I believe in what we're doing.”
Miles has been in the arena a few times, seen the layout. It's not a sprawling place, like a hockey arena. It's more compact. He thinks it can be loud, as loud as Breslin and Crisler and the other Big Ten barns.
He wanted the students close and he got it. They were taken care of. He also wants a trophy room — a recruiting room for boosters and recruits — to show the program's history and tradition.
If Miles can do what he should with this arena, the history will be happening out on the floor.
For now, it's happened at a most unexpected place: the ticket window.
“We're finally keeping up with the rest of them — volleyball, football,” Miles said. “It's time for us to do our part.”
By “us” he means he and the new recruit. Hope they can find a jersey that big.
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