UNO basketball recruit Nick Billingsley has wound up instead at New Mexico Junior College.
The 6-foot-5 wing who played his senior season at Omaha Central said he had done the necessary coursework to be eligible to play in Division I, but didn’t get the required score on his ACT.
“I’m happy to be here,” Billingsley said Monday from Hobbs, N.M. “I’m not mad at my situation. I’ve got to learn from it. Going to junior college is not a bad deal.”
New Mexico JC is at least a UNO-friendly school.
Starting wing Alex Phillips, a senior, and incoming junior point guard Devin Patterson both played for the Thunderbirds. Coach James Miller formerly served under UNO assistant Pat Eberhart, when Eberhart was head coach at Colorado State-Pueblo.
“He’s a good, down-to-earth guy — really a good dude,” Billingsley said of Miller. “He’s hard on you, but he gets you where you need to go.”
Billingsley said Phillips recommended the junior college after Billingsley also considered junior colleges closer to home as well as some prep schools.
“He told me that it’s a good program and that I’d like it, so that’s what I based my decision on,” Billingsley said.
Billingsley said that he didn’t know if a return to UNO was in his future.
“I’m undecided yet,” he said.
UNO coach Derrin Hansen, who previously said he hoped to redshirt Billingsley this season, couldn’t speak directly about his former recruit because he’s already enrolled and attending classes.
“I don’t think it hurts us on the floor as much this year,” Hansen said. “So we’ll carry one more (scholarship) into next year and see where that leads. Maybe we can get one (a transfer) at semester.”
Meanwhile, a week before classes begin, UNO is still unsure if leading scorer and All-Summit League candidate Justin Simmons will be able to play beyond the first semester.
The high-flying wing, who averaged 16.7 points and 4.0 rebounds last year, is eligible for the first semester. But his five-year clock expires at the start of the second. He began attending college in January 2009, when he was a lightly recruited Division III track athlete.
Hansen said the NCAA committee that will make the recommendation on Simmons has the documentation and has indicated the ruling will come soon.
“Now it’s on their docket, so to speak,” Hansen said. “It’s now up for review, but we don’t know exactly when his turn will come up.”
If he’s eligible, fans may be able to see Simmons play four times on TV this season.
The Summit League announced its schedule of televised games Monday. UNO games on the air will be Jan. 18 at South Dakota State on Midco Sports Network, Jan. 23 at home against Denver on Fox College Sports and Midco, Feb. 15 at North Dakota State on FCS and Midco, and Feb. 20 at South Dakota on Midco.
“There’s no doubt that having a chance to be seen is positive,” Hansen said. “Sometimes the hours are shifted around for TV, but that’s the world we live in now.”
Hansen said UNO is tentatively planning on starting practice Sept. 27, in accordance with a new NCAA rule that allows teams to hold 30 practices within the 42 days prior to their first game. Previously practice started the Friday nearest Oct. 15.
“Before you had to really grind it out and cram all those practices in before the first game,” Hansen said. “Now you have a little more time off. I’ve looked at it, and I’ve made some calls, but I haven’t made a final decision on when we’ll start.”