A LONG WAY FROM THE OLD COLISEUM – Late Tuesday morning, Kim Veerhusen sits in Section 105 at Pinnacle Bank Arena. His name hasn’t left the program since that fateful day, one day short of 50 years ago.
Veerhusen and his Adams Hornet buddies were seeded eighth – just four losses on the year – and facing top-ranked Mead in the first round of the Class D state tournament at Lincoln East High School
“I remember they never closed the doors back then,” Veerhusen tells me on Tuesday. “There was no fire marshal or capacity. They’d let people stand on the baseline and everything. But, that day, they locked the doors.
“They just couldn’t hold anymore.”
His memory is still vivid. The Raiders were everyone’s pick almost from the start of the season. But, the Raiders lost their own all-stater, Mike Couch, in the first half. They employed five different men on Veerhusen.
“It was a fun game,” Veerhusen quipped. “It was just a great bunch of guys on our team. They were so fun. I’d shoot 20 or 25 times a game. They would screen for you, do whatever you needed. But, they were good ball players too.
“If anyone tried a box-and-1, our other guys just picked it up. We had good ball players, and they went to state the next year.”
But, on that Thursday, they needed every single bucket Veerhusen could muster in the 73-69 win. He made 22 field goals in the game – also still an all-class record – and he was 8-for-12 from the line. The Hornets trailed by three heading to the fourth quarter and outscored Mead 23-16 in the final eight minutes.
The Hornets nipped Byron the next day 60-59 after leading 39-28 at the half. Veerhusen scored 26, but his coach was not happy with him. He had 19 at the break and shot just five times in the second half.
“We got a little dull,” Veerhusen said. “The start of the fourth quarter our coach got on me for not shooting enough.” His two free throws with 27 seconds left, gave Adams a 3-point lead.
The next day they cruised to a 71-43 win over Palmer to the title and finished 26-4. He scored 43 in the championship game and his tournament mark of 121 points still stands the test of time.
The game was passed to all of Kim’s younger siblings, by their dad, Cliff. Jeff and Todd also starred for the Hornets. Younger sister Trudi led Adams to three straight finals appearances in Class D-1 winning titles in 1985 and 1987, she is third on the all-time state tournament career scoring list.
Cliff never played at state – “lost on a half court shot to Syracuse,” Kim said – but signed with the St. Louis Cardinals to play baseball. But, his father passed away during his senior year and as the only child, he stayed back to take over the family farm.
But he gave his kids a hoop and all they did was go shoot outside on the farm. No gym key needed. No wood floor. No shooting machines. Kim believes the odd angles and shooting on one side different from the other made him a better shooter and created better depth perception.
He learned life from the game. The records meant very little.
“Camaraderie,” he said, quickly. “These kids now, they build so many relationships. They play with kids from other schools. It’s so easy to communicate with each other.
“And, then just the community. Especially during a week like this when your whole town and school is on the same page. There is nothing like that ever. Being part of a team and playing for your school, that was so much fun.”
Fifty years later the Nebraska State Basketball Tournament still speaks to that name in the program that every little dreamer looks at when mom or dad buys the souvenir program.
POINTS, ONE GAME
State Record – 52, Kim Veerhusen, Adams, 1972
FIELD GOALS, ONE GAME
State Record – 22, Kim Veerhusen, Adams, 1972
State Record – 121, Kim Veerhusen, Adams, 1972
Our interview ends because Kim has to get back for a game. His Norris hat and sweatshirt say it all – granddaughter Anistyn Rice is a key bench player for the fourth-ranked Titans.
On this Tuesday, she leads Norris with nine points in a game they control from the tip against York, 44-23. She hit a first quarter three that brought the crowd alive.
Kim Veerhusen’s lessons have been passed down.
“He’s always the first one I see after games,” Rice said after the game on Tuesday. “He’s the first one with a hug and a smile on his face. And, he’s always telling me to work on my jump shot.
“But I think mostly, he’s taught me about teamwork and how everyone on the team has an opportunity to be important to what your goals are. He has really helped me to understand what each person does that will make our team work.”
For Kim Veerhusen, the journey of sports would be great with or without the records. He loves nothing more than watching his grandchildren compete. They are the ultimate reward.
“Watching your kids is tough,” he joked. “But the grandkids? That’s just a load of fun.”
On this golden anniversary, those lessons seem timeless because they still work. They are championship lessons, not just for basketball or sports. But for life. And, unlike the records the lessons will last forever.