LINCOLN — At the end of last basketball season, Nebraska coach Tim Miles called in point guard Benny Parker for what the coach said Monday was “a real heart-to-heart” talk.
That's code language for “here's what you need to do better or you're not going to play much.''
Parker showed in the Huskers' 79-55 season-opening win over Florida Gulf Coast that he listened and learned.
The 5-foot-9 sophomore from Kansas City, Kan., scored a career-high nine points and added two steals and two rebounds. Early in the second half, when starting point guard Tai Webster picked up three fouls in two minutes, Parker stepped in and sparked a 26-10 run that broke the game open.
“He met the challenge,'' said Miles, who was short-handed in the backcourt because of suspensions to guards Ray Gallegos and Deverell Biggs. Those penalties carry through Tuesday's home game against Western Illinois.
Parker said Monday he appeared almost daily this summer in the Hendricks Training Complex.
“Coach wanted me to work on my ball-handling and my shooting,'' he said. “He told me my defense was good and to keep bringing that hard, but I had to get better in other areas.
“I think I have. I'm not going to say it has been easy, but I feel a lot more comfortable doing it. It helps me be a spark for the team.''
Last season, once scouting reports got around, opponents often ignored Parker when Nebraska was on offense.
“It really was hard to play him in certain areas,'' Miles said. “Eventually, we took him off the point, but we couldn't have that at his size.''
One thing Miles always has liked about Parker's game is his speed with the basketball.
“He can get the ball, and he's a jet,'' the coach said. “He can get down the floor like a one-man fast break.
“Last year, he couldn't go up and finish in transition. He didn't handle the ball well enough. But he has really looked good doing that now. If he can give that to us, it will really be important.''
Parker will be one of the first substitutes Tuesday against Western Illinois, which lost its opener 67-63 at Idaho. WIU coach Jim Molinari is a longtime friend of Miles, which is one reason the game was scheduled.
“He lost his two best players,'' Miles cracked. The Leathernecks were 22-9 last year, tied for the Summit League title and played in the College Basketball Invitational.
No offense to Western Illinois, but Nebraska players said Monday the focus for NU needs to be on getting past the emotional high from Friday's romp over Florida Gulf Coast and the pomp from the opening ceremonies at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
“Man, it was exciting,'' sophomore forward Terran Petteway said. “The fans showed us so much love. It was great.
“Even though we got that win — that was a big win — we can't settle on that. We can't take steps back now.''
Notes: Miles planned to meet Monday night with freshman forward Nick Fuller about a redshirt season. Fuller approached Miles over the weekend with the topic. ... The status of freshman guard Nathan Hawkins (stress fracture in foot) remains unclear. ... Defending ACC champion Miami (Fla.) — the Huskers' opponent in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge on Dec. 4 in Lincoln — lost its opener to St. Francis of Brooklyn, which hasn't posted a winning record in 10 years.