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    Then & Now: Danny Nee


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    Then & Now: Danny Nee

    Compiled By Dave Brandon

    (Photo Courtesy Grand Island Independent)

    Danny%20Nee.jpgDanny Nee is the winningest coach

    in Nebraska history, and was at the helm of the Huskers

    from 1986-2000. Nee, who posted a career record of

    254-190, made the post-season eleven out of his fourteen

    seasons at Nebraska, including five NCAA tournament

    appearances. In addition to Nee’s collective team

    success, several individual Huskers developed into NBA

    players under his watch, such as Eric Piatkowski, Rich

    King, Tyronn Lue, Erick Strickland, Tony Farmer, and

    Mikki Moore.

    Nee is currently the head coach at

    Duquesne, and recently sat down with HHC for our latest

    Sunday version of “Then & Now.”

    HHC: Danny, we want

    to start by telling you it’s an honor to have you join

    us, and thank you for your time.

    DN: Not a problem,

    your website sounds great. I look forward to checking it

    out.

    HHC: Awesome, you’ll

    find lots of Danny Nee stories! Hey, before we get into

    your basketball career, talk to us about what it was

    like serving two years in the U.S. Marine Corps, and

    more in particular, Vietnam.

    DN: That was just part of my life, and at

    that point, I just thought it was the right thing to do.

    So, I volunteered, because like a lot of guys who are

    going to Iraq now or after 9/11, at that point of my

    life I thought it was the right thing to do.

    HHC: You were awarded the Combat Air

    Insignia Medal for your service in Vietnam, and have

    always been known as a tough and fierce competitor. How

    much of your mantra and personality stems from your

    times in the service?

    DN: Nah, that wasn’t a big deal, trust me,

    it was just a little award. As far as my personality and

    mantra, I do think that it has had an effect, but as far

    as how or when, I don’t know. I will tell you that

    Vietnam, just like Iraq, was a tough place to be.

    HHC: I’m sure. Now, onto basketball. You

    grew up in Brooklyn, and were a high-school teammate of

    Lew Alcindor (now Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) at Power Memorial

    High School. What was it like playing with him?

    DN: It was fun,

    because we won a lot of games, and it was just a very

    exciting and enjoyable time of my life. We had a great

    coach, his name was Jack Donohue, who ended up being an

    Olympic coach, and to put it in perspective, everyone

    who played on that team got a division one scholarship.

    So, Jack was a great coach, and taught us all a lot.

    As far as Lew goes, he was a great

    player, although nobody knew at that time that he’d end

    up being one of the top five players who ever played the

    game. And, in my opinion, he is just that, along with

    Bird, Magic, Jordan, and guys like that. But all the

    kids on that team were just such great players, and it

    was a pleasant experience. 

    HHC: After your successful high school

    career, you were a member of Al McGuire’s first

    ever-recruiting class at Marquette. How did you end up

    there?

    DN: Well, Al really

    recruited my parents, to be honest with you, because I

    didn’t know anything about Marquette. I went there on a

    visit, and my parents thought it was great, so yeah, it

    was just all Al.

    Playing for Al at Marquette was

    very fun, and Hank Raymond coached the freshman team. He

    was a nice man, and went on after Al to succeed him and

    coach there. But Al McGuire, I learned so much from him,

    he is just unbelievable and so unique.

    HHC: Besides playing under Al McGuire,

    your first major coaching job was as the top assistant

    to Digger Phelps at Notre Dame, where you coached for

    four years and helped lead the Irish to the 1978 Final

    Four. What was it like working with Digger, and what did

    he teach you about coaching?

    DN: I’ll tell you what, it was a big break

    to get that job, because the NCAA had just expanded from

    two assistant coaches to three. At that time, it was a

    “part-time” job, but it really wasn’t. It was a

    full-time job.

    I could give you volumes on Notre

    Dame, as far as what it stands for. It was just great.

    We had very good players and a very good team, and

    Digger was just a very innovative coach who did an

    unbelievable job there. We went to Four NCAA regionals,

    in addition to the 1978 Final 4 that you mentioned, and

    the experience was just very nice.

    HHC: After your four seasons at Notre

    Dame, you then went on to coach at Ohio U., where you

    lead the Bobcats to the post season in four out of your

    six seasons, including two NCAA’s and a Sweet 16

    appearance. What was Athens like?

    DN: That was my first

    head-coaching job in college, and I really enjoyed it. I

    really liked living in Athens. The Bobcats were kind of

    special, and a lot of that success had to do with some

    of my great assistants. I had Billy Hahn and Fran

    Fraschilla, and both of them turned out to be great head

    coaches. So yeah, Ohio U was a good time.

    HHC: You came to Nebraska prior to the

    1986-1987 season after turning down several other

    high-profile jobs. At the time, many people thought you

    were crazy for coming to a “football school,” but you

    publicly stated that if you could win at Notre Dame, you

    could at Nebraska. Describe to us how difficult it is to

    win at a “football school.” Is the label overrated, or

    accurate?

    DN: I agree with your

    statement and understand it, but I never looked at it

    that way. The first reason was because of Bob Devaney

    and Tom Osborne. They were both so special to work for

    and with. I never felt it was a football school because

    they were always trying to help me and help the

    basketball program try to get on its feet.

    I thought it was a tremendous

    advantage to have a great football team because of all

    the accolades and accomplishments that the football team

    had; it just overflowed to all the sports. We had a

    great strength and conditioning program with Boyd Eppley,

    and a great training table. Whatever it was, we were

    always on the cutting edge of equipment because of

    football.

    So, I just never thought that was

    an excuse, because there’s no law against having both a

    great football and basketball program. I always had a

    pro football attitude, and I really thought the football

    teams were magnificent. I really enjoyed going to them

    and seeing them, because I’d never been part of that

    before, and I thought that Lincoln Nebraska and the

    state’s commitment was something else.

    Football complimented us as we were

    trying to build a basketball program. And the other

    positive was that anywhere I went, and I said Nebraska,

    it was instant recognition, which was very positive. So

    we always sold that we have great football, but also

    basketball. We would tell recruits we were in a great

    conference and committed to winning in both football and

    basketball.

    HHC: Talk about your first few seasons at

    Nebraska, and how difficult it was to transition from

    Moe Iba’s players to your own?

    DN: It wasn’t

    difficult at all. We had Brian Carr, Bill Jackman, Mike

    Martz, Bernard Day; they were all great, man. They were

    super to deal with, and we had a very successful year

    right away because of those guys.

    Coach Iba was such a great teacher

    of the man-to-man defense, and that first team was so

    fundamentally sound. To be honest, that first year might

    have been the easiest coaching job I’ve ever had,

    because when I unleashed them and put in a fast break,

    and told them to run and shoot, to go along with the

    quality Iba defense, we were pretty potent.

    Those kids were such great people

    and easy to coach, and it was so fun coaching them. It

    was unbelievable. I can still remember Marquette,

    Arkansas, and Washington coming into the Devaney Center

    to play in the NIT that first year, and we beat them all

    in really good games. It was really exciting.

    HHC: The 1990-1991 team is probably the

    best in school history, as they won 26 games and

    finished the year in the top ten of some polls. What do

    you remember most about that season, and be honest, did

    you have any clue they would be that good, especially

    coming off of a 10-18 season?

    DN: We were paying

    our dues up to that point, and there were so many great

    players on that team that were just developing. I mean,

    you had Rich King, Beau, Scales, Bruce, all those guys.

    The core had been either redshirted or in the program

    for a while. And then you had the addition of Tony

    Farmer, Jose Ramos, Keith Moody, and then we also had

    young players like Piatkowski, Carl Hayes, Dapreis

    Owens… Go back and see, three or four of them are 1,000

    point scorers. All of those guys had very strong

    careers, and they were all uniquely different.

    It came together and popped that

    year, and we were building that for three or four years

    prior to going there. So, we played with Iba’s players

    the first few years, and then we started recruiting our

    own. It was just a very experienced and mature team that

    just came together. Those guys were all great players.

    HHC: Talk about the four-year run of NCAA

    Tournaments you enjoyed from 1991-1994. What sticks out

    most about those teams?

    DN: Winning. (Laughs) We won. You can go

    over the list of who we beat, and the great

    accomplishments, such as winning the Big 8 Tournament,

    when we beat Coach Sutton and Big Country in the finals.

    We had an unbelievable night with Oklahoma in the first

    round, and Missouri in-between. But yeah, we broke

    streaks and won at places we never won before. Big 8

    basketball then was amazing. It was pretty damn good

    basketball.

    HHC: Many critics say that your teams

    “choked” or “underestimated” your first-round opponents

    in a couple of those NCAA Tournaments. What is your

    response to this?

    DN: I have no answer to that, its almost

    stupid. I think the thing is, you learn about winning,

    and you learn how to win. Once you learn how to win, you

    build a winner, and we just didn’t get comfortable in

    those games. I really think the first time that we went

    it had nothing to do with overconfidence. We had a

    couple of minor problems we had to deal with it. Plus,

    it was a new experience.

    I would agree with critics who say

    we should have beaten Xavier, Arkansas, Connecticut,

    etc. But, the timing and things weren’t totally right. 

    I feel those teams in the years of

    1991-1994 were just another step in the program that we

    were getting closer to. Before I got there they didn’t

    go to the NCAA’s, and since I’ve left they haven’t. We

    were getting very close to taking that next step, and

    its something that’s very difficult to do.

    HHC: Talk about how gratifying it was for

    you to win the NIT Championship in 1995-1996 after all

    of the controversy surrounding that year?

    DN: It was great, and I was happy for the

    players and coaches. I was also happy for Nebraska,

    because it was another milestone. A national

    championship had never been won on any level at Nebraska

    basketball, but we did it. And then, right after we won

    it, people came at us and criticized us. And I didn’t

    get it. All we were trying to do was win and try to make

    it the best program we could make it.

    Nebraska is what it is - I can’t

    change that. We were in there competing and getting good

    players, and they were graduating. And, obviously we

    were recruiting well because the players we had went

    onto the NBA. Yet, my critics liked to rail on me, and

    its stupid. They did the same thing with Frank, too.

    There was always something we didn’t do, so that’s just

    how it is.

    HHC: Tell us some of your all-time

    favorite players at Nebraska, as far as kids who really

    grew and became men under your watch.

    DN: Well, on your

    site alone are three of them, in Beau Reid, Bruce, and

    Cary. I remember bringing them all in. Rich King is up

    there. But just any of those guys, it was easy, because

    they were all self-made players. They came in with

    talent and worked their butts off, and became very good

    college players. I know Bruce played some ball overseas,

    and I think that Beau could have easily played pro, too,

    had he wanted to.

    HHC: Who were some of

    your more successful projects?

    DN: Again, Rich King goes from a kid in

    Omaha, who I don’t even think was starting all the games

    his senior year, to a first round NBA draft pick. He

    grew into a great player. Mikki Moore had two division

    one scholarship offers, and Jimmy Williams went down

    there and found him. My only regret with him is that we

    didn’t redshirt him his freshman year.

    And of course, you can’t forget

    Venson Hamilton, Clifford Scales, Dapreis Owens, Eric

    Piatkowski. God, we haven’t even mentioned Erick

    Strickland.

    HHC: Yeah, he was

    featured on our Then & Now segment awhile back. Even

    Kimani Ffriend is bouncing around the NBA now!

    DN: Yeah, that’s

    right; Kimani would be another player in that successful

    project mold.

    HHC: Absolutely. Hey, before we let you

    go, talk to us about your current situation at Duquesne,

    and how is your team looking this year?

    DN: We’re very

    optimistic about this year, and to be honest with you, I

    think we are real close. With my experiences of Ohio and

    Nebraska, Duquesne is very similar in many ways. They

    had a rich tradition before, and now we’re rebuilding.

    It actually reminds me a lot of Creighton. A small,

    catholic university of 10,000, that just hasn’t won in

    awhile, and we’re looking forward to turning it around.

    I will be honest and tell you that we are very close.

    HHC: And, are you

    still sporting the cool ties?

    DN: (Laughs) I’ll tell you what, ask my

    wife that question, because she’s in charge of that. If

    she gives me clearance, then I’ll wear it. (Laughs) And,

    a guy named Gary Novatney back there in Lincoln deserves

    a lot of credit. I’m not sure if you know who he is, but

    he owns Gary Michaels.

    But yeah, Janet used to scream at

    me and pick out the ties. She just hunted them down,

    especially when we were on big time TV. I’ll tell you

    what, it wasn’t easy, but she’d always make me look

    good. It was a really fun time. 

    HHC: Danny, thanks a

    lot for taking the time to talk with us.

    DN: It’s not a

    problem at all. I’m actually excited to give my son

    Kevin this website, because he was born in Nebraska and

    loves Nebraska basketball. I love Nebraska too, and I’m

    glad to do this. My only regret is that I haven’t stayed

    in better touch with some of the former players at

    Nebraska, as far as wives and kids, and how they are all

    doing. But again, thanks for doing this.<script type="text/javascript" language="javascript">

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