Then & Now: Tom Best
Compiled By Dave Brandon
played for Nebraska from 1993-1994 and in the NCAA
Tournament both years he played in Lincoln.
6'9" forward from South Holland, Illinois, came to the
Huskers following two seasons at Toledo, and was a key
reserve during his times at Nebraska, especially because
of his ability to play on both the inside and perimeter.
our latest guest in this Sunday's version of "Then &
aboard. You went to Thornwood High School (Illinois),
where you averaged 20.5 PPG and 10.0 RPG as a senior
while being named fourth-team All-State. You ultimately
chose to attend Toledo, but who else recruited you out
of high school?
TB: Just about all the Illinois schools,
and Purdue actually, when Bruce Weber was there, but
they ended up taking a guard. So, I was at a crossroads
with what to do since it was late in the signing period,
and I ended up going to Toledo.
think if Purdue would have taken me, I probably would
have gone there.
HHC: You ended
up playing two seasons at Toledo and your second was the
best, as you led the Mid-American Conference in
rebounding (8.9 RPG) while averaging 13.3 PPG on a team
that went 17-16. What made you decide to leave Toledo
and come to Nebraska?
TB: Well, we had played Nebraska in
1990-1991, and that’s when they were 26-8. They had a
great team and we went out to Lincoln and got spanked,
and I had a little idea of what Nebraska was like.
reason I really left Toledo was because the whole
coaching staff got fired and let go of. Head coach and
all the way down, too. And I had a pretty decent year,
so I thought I could move up into the Big 8.
we had gone out there and played them, and after the
season, Danny Nee was in contact, and the rest is
history, I guess.
of Nee, talk about your relationship with him, both at
the beginning and end?
Oh geez... Well, my relationship with Coach Nee, we’ll
just say it was some good, some bad. I think he’s a good
recruiter and a good motivator. Some of his tactics are
to be desired for, I think, but everyone is different.
And that’s about it; I really don’t want to get into
TB: I will say
that we had an up and down relationship, lets put it
that way, but I know he had a tough job, and hey,
whatever, its water on the bridge now, know what I mean
definitely. Talk about your first year on campus in
Lincoln, which was 1991-1992, and your redshirt year.
You had back surgery following that year in March of
1992. What was that season like?
TB: It was tough. You practice the whole
year and I knew something wasn’t right in my back the
whole time, but I just did it anyway. And one day, I got
up to brush my teeth of all things, and that’s when my
back went out.
So I had
the surgery, sat out the whole summer, and came into my
junior year behind everyone else already. I would never
use the back as a crutch, but I never was the same
player. I always struggled the last two years with it,
and just got through it.
HHC: 1992-1993 was the first you played at
Nebraska, and you appeared in 28 games while averaging
4.7 PPG and 4.8 RPG off the bench. As a team, you guys
went 20-11 and made the NCAA Tournament before losing to
New Mexico State. What sticks out about that year?
TB: I think I
was disappointed with the way I played, but was real
happy for the team and it was real neat going to the
NCAA Tournament; I don’t think I would have had that
chance at Toledo.
yeah, it was a good team and we knew we had a lot of
great players coming back the next year, and other than
my personal performance, I think we had a pretty solid
group of guys on that team.
HHC: 1993-1994 saw you guys go 20-10 and
win the Big 8 Tournament before losing to Pennsylvania
in the NCAA Tournament. Before we talk about the NCAA
Tournament, tell us what you remember about the Big 8
TB: I remember Eric Piatkowski going for
42, I remember that. And that of all things is what
sticks out in my head most. He was stepping over half
court and putting it up. And Eric never saw a shot he
didn’t like, which I loved, but he was unbelievably hot.
It was fun to see that.
had a fun run coming into the Big 8 as well. I know we
went down to Missouri later in the season, and there
were a couple of questionable calls and we ended up
losing, but we were pretty hot going into the tournament
and thought we could win it.
game was great; we played Oklahoma, Missouri, and
Oklahoma State, and those were all teams that we played
pretty well against throughout the year and thought we
could beat them, and we did. It was fun.
tell you what, here’s another thing that sticks out.
It’s kind of funny how Nebraska was such a big football
school, and then there were people all around the bus on
the way from Nebraska City back to Lincoln. We had to
get a police escort back and there were people all along
Highway 2 once we hit the Nebraska state line waving and
saying “thanks.” And I realized then that they hadn’t
had any basketball things to get excited about, so that
was really neat.
disappointing was it to end your career in the NCAA
Tournament like that?
TB: Yeah, that
was tough to swallow, definitely. We were on a good roll
going in there and we just ran into, of all teams, Penn,
and they could pass and pick and really just dissected
us to death. They had a couple of good guards, and we
just couldn’t get it going. Everybody wanted to get us
back into the game and everyone was pressing, and
nothing worked. And it was VERY disappointing because I
think we would have had a big run.
back home in Chicago all my boys had us going quite a
ways in their pools, and I know people in Lincoln did
too, but unfortunately, we got another watch, and that’s
HHC: A lot of people say that you guys
were unprepared and a little complacent in the NCAA
Tournament those years. Do you agree with that, or were
you guys just beaten on those nights?
TB: I don’t
think it was anything of a choke, but I just think we
caught teams on their best days and our not so good
days. That was the case with Penn; that was a team that
executed and did the things they needed to win, and hit
their shots, and it wasn’t from a lack of effort or
choking, we just pressed too hard.
HHC: What are your favorite memories of
Nebraska, both on and off the court?
TB: I enjoyed going to school there. I had
a good time, and had never been out there before except
for when we played there with Toledo. I liked the small
town feel but yet it’s still a city. Most people say “hi
and bye” to you instead of telling you to go somewhere,
like in Chicago.
as basketball goes, I had a great time, and it was neat
going to the NCAA Tournament and winning the Big 8. But
to this day, I’m still a little disappointed in how I
performed my junior and senior years. I let my own
expectations down, which is tough to swallow, but hey,
you move on and try to achieve in other things, you
HHC: For sure.
Do you still keep in touch with anyone from Nebraska?
TB: The only guy I have really have seen
is Eric Piatkowski. You know, he obviously played with
the Bulls the last two years, and I see him in the
summer. I’ll see Beau Reid and a couple of guys every
once in awhile at a football game or something, and I
talk to Chris Cresswell occasionally, too, on the phone.
I saw him a few years ago, but mostly just Eric; we’re
still real good friends and we were roommates in
college. We’ve always had a good time outside of
HHC: Can you
give us a funny and colorful Danny Nee story or two to
add to our ongoing collection?
TB: I guess you could put this in here,
it’s not too bad, and we’re all adults now (Laughs). Our
senior year we had a Christmas party, and Eric and I
lived together, and we had all the guys come over. We
told the team to dress up and you had to wear some type
of sports coat and a tie, so all the guys, as you can
imagine, had to scramble a little.
TB: Yeah… But
it was getting out of hand and we were having a good
time, and then all of a sudden the door knocks, and
we’re like, “Who’s this?” And next thing you know its
Danny Nee and another assistant we won’t name holding a
case of Michelob Light and ready to join us.
hanging out, having fun, and the next knock we get is
from the Lincoln Police Department. So me and Eric go
down and Coach Nee obviously wants to be a part of it
and he comes down, and I think the officer looked at us
and Coach Nee and said, “Hey Coach, can you keep it
was the end of that, but it was pretty funny. Those are
good memories of Nee there.
It’s amazing how each guy we talk to has a different Nee
story. Do you still follow the basketball program at
TB: I haven’t
that much, I’ll be honest with you. I’ll watch them when
they are on ESPN, and I’ll look at the standings once in
awhile. I live in the Chicago and Chicago Land area and
it’s such a Big 10 sports area, but I’ll look in the
paper and follow them and try to keep up as much as I
know stats or Barry Collier or anyone else, but
hopefully they’ll get things turned around and get back
on the right track for Nebraska Basketball and where it
need to get back to the NCAA Tournament; that was always
the benchmark of a good season, and I think along with
getting there, it would help recruiting and the exposure
of the program, too, obviously.
And last but not least, what has Tom Best been up to
since 1994, and what is he doing today?
working, like the rest of us. I’m married these days
with a 3 year old daughter, and we found out we have a
little boy on the way come October, so I’m fired up
about that. I’m actually of all things selling medical
devices for spinal surgeries, and I’ve been doing that
the last 6 years. And, I’ve gotten to go into the OR
(Operating Room) and watch the procedures and stuff, so
that’s kind of neat. I’m selling devices for back
surgery which is kind of both neat and ironic after
having back surgery myself.
HHC: If we set you up an e-mail account at
[email protected] , would you be
willing to take some e-mails from our readers?
TB: Sure, that’d be great.
HHC: Awesome. Thanks for your time, and
anything else you'd like to add?
TB: I think what you guys are doing is
awesome exposure of Nebraska Basketball. It’s a lot of
hard work, and you and I have done a lot of phone tag
leading up to this interview, but it’s appreciative to
go onto Husker Hoops Central and see what a lot of other
guys are doing.
though I can’t keep in touch with all of them, it’s nice