'Golden age' of hoops in Nebraska - Omaha.com
Published Sunday, November 3, 2013 at 12:01 am / Updated at 11:09 pm
'Golden age' of hoops in Nebraska

One night in October, Mike Holloway grabbed his MacBook and sat down in his west Omaha home. As the baseball playoffs unfolded on TV, Holloway planned out his basketball season.

He color-coded his Google calendar, starting in November, then December ...

“January is the month, isn't it?” Holloway says. “It's gonna be great fun.”

Marquette, Michigan, Xavier, Butler, Ohio State, Georgetown, Minnesota, St. John's and Indiana.

He'll see all of those teams up close between New Year's Eve and Jan. 31.

Holloway, a retired postal service employee who's now a pastor at Omaha Bible Church, is a fanatical college hoops fan in a football state. But what really makes him unusual? He belongs to a small fraternity that cheers for Nebraska basketball and Creighton basketball.

He's experienced highs and lows. But never has he felt this kind of anticipation for hoops.

How many years, Holloway says, does Creighton have a two-time, first-team All-American coming back for his senior year, a sharpshooting, experienced lineup and a new, high-major conference?

How many years does Nebraska have a new, sold-out arena, a fun, hilarious coach and arguably the top basketball league in the country, which still feels fresh?

“It's a golden age for watching basketball in Omaha and Lincoln,” Holloway says.

And it doesn't stop with those two programs.

The Nebraska women will start the season ranked No. 17 in the AP poll, compete for a Big Ten title and — if all goes well — host a regional on their home court. The Creighton women, picked second in the Big East, are a Top 25 contender.

Across the river, the Iowa men should have their best team since the Steve Alford era. And 200 miles south, the best freshman in the country — Andrew Wiggins — will soar for Kansas. Arenas will be packed all over the Plains.

But the local focus will be on Doug McDermott and Tim Miles.

Creighton and Nebraska have had their moments over the years (Jays more than Huskers, of course), but rarely have the programs generated such excitement at the same time.

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NU hasn't made an NCAA tournament since 1998 and most season openers the past 15 years have been greeted with — how can we say this nicely — all the enthusiasm of a spring football practice.

Last time Nebraska drew 10,000 fans for a home nonconference game that didn't involve Creighton was 1996 Minnesota. That streak will surely end Friday when the Big Red hosts Florida Gulf Coast in the season opener.

The new Pinnacle Bank Arena is one attraction. But it's also the second-year coach who squeezed 15 wins out of a meager roster.

“He's not only producing results on the court, but you don't want to miss his radio show, you know? He's fun to listen to,” Holloway said. “You enjoy his personality and his attitude and the way he approaches the game.”

Holloway grew up in Lincoln going to the NU Coliseum with his dad. He remembers Stu Lantz and Tom Baack. A few years later, he recalls the Huskers beating Alex English and South Carolina by one point.

Holloway graduated from UNL in '80, got busy with family and work, and his basketball attendance dipped.

Then in the early 2000s, living in Omaha, he and his son started going to Creighton games, watching Kyle Korver rain 3s at the Civic Auditorium. He was hooked. He grabbed season tickets for the first year at its new arena.

Creighton's first decade in the CenturyLink Center produced nine 20-win seasons.

But as consistent as CU has been, it hasn't always appealed to the casual basketball fan in Nebraska. Sure, many of those people have strong allegiances to NU. But there's another reason: the Missouri Valley Conference.

The mid-major tag put a ceiling on the Jays' popularity, both locally and nationally. Creighton has won 23 games a year since '98-99, but it did so under the radar, beating up on Drake and Bradley and Evansville.

Even in banner years like 2003 and '12, critics questioned the competition. Nobody will question programs like Georgetown, Marquette and Xavier. Nor will they question the Bluejays' superstar if he builds on his remarkable first three seasons.

Holloway lived in Spokane, Wash., from 2004 to '06 and studied Gonzaga. Doug McDermott's skill set and basketball IQ remind Holloway of Adam Morrison.

“At times, I watch McDermott and I'm amazed he even gets the ball up on the backboard,” Holloway said. “But if he gets the ball that far, it's usually going in.”

Holloway doesn't have CU season tickets anymore. He picks off 10 to 15 from a friend each year. After color-coding his calendar in October, Holloway sent his supplier a message letting him know which Creighton games he could attend.

Fortunately, the Huskers and Jays don't share many home dates this season. Unfortunately, the Creighton tickets are hotter than ever.

His friend told him the Georgetown, Marquette and Nebraska games, especially, are “looking a little iffy.”

“I might have to go (ticket) hunting,” Holloway said.

He won't be the only one.

Contact the writer: Dirk Chatelain

dirk.chatelain@owh.com    |   402-649-1461    |  

Dirk Chatelain is a staff writer for The Omaha World-Herald and covers Nebraska football and general assignments.

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