The Nebraska state basketball semifinals bring out the best in small towns from across our state. Everybody is Lincoln & their heroes are on the floor.
LINCOLN — What is it those Golden State alternate uniforms say? The Town.
Sometimes we try to ruin the greatest high school sporting event in the state by hopping on our phones and being the Twitter police. It’s kind of fun at the same time, but let’s find some space to share the positive.
Like playing for your town.
That’s what you see in spades for most teams on Friday. Places like Auburn and North Bend. Yutan and Bancroft (and Rosalie and Lyons and Decatur). Anybody who earned the right to play at Devaney, really. Where the biggest fans are fourth graders itching to do this one day, too.
How does Auburn coach Jim Weeks like it? The long time coach at Beatrice, who also had a stint at Doane University, says there is nothing like lacing them up with the whole town behind your bench.
“It’s pretty exciting,” the Auburn coach said after leading his team to an upset of Wahoo in Friday’s semifinals. “Auburn has been good at football, not as much at basketball. The nice thing about a small town, everybody wants to be a part of if.
“The bad thing about a small town is you hear from everybody. This guy dribbles too much. He doesn’t shoot it. If you are in Omaha with (World Herald writer) Stu (Pospisil) you can go get lost and nobody knows where you are at. I like the small town, it just adds to the community.”
Yutan won a slugfest with Ponca on Friday afternoon. The whole town had seen them lose to the two-time defending champions the past two seasons — in the semifinals last year and in the district final on a tip-in in 2017.
Head coach Justin Petersen says there is nothing quite like the whole town behind your team’s bench.
“When the whole — like this, this is amazing,” Petersen said. “I look up and didn’t even know we had this many people in Yutan. It’s just something different. I don’t know if you can get that at a big school. They are great because they have great players and offseason training and all of that stuff.
“This is more family. It feels like a family here. We just have a group of kids that will go to bat for anything. Especially when you have everyone in the stands cheering them on. They just want a chance.”
North Bend Central will play in their first state final since 1926 on Saturday morning and the whole town will be there. They started celebrating on Friday with chants of “NBC, NBC, NBC” as the Tigers salted away their win against previously undefeated Ogallala.
Coach Jon Baehr — in his sixth year — has seen it grow through hard work from the community and the building of a youth program. Kids watching their heroes.
“They are excited for these guys,” Baehr said. “We have really supportive parents that do a lot to get their kids to be part of these things.
“We are really lucky. We have great youth coaches who love to help our kids out. It truly takes a village. People who really work hard and we have a big group of people really step up.”
These opportunities are what make the Nebraska high school basketball tournament great on so many levels. It’s one of the finest tournaments in the midwest. We should do our best to fully appreciate it.
Hold It or No?
The coolest, most fun, topic on Twitter seems to be the high school shot clock. While my Twitter takes could probably be proven otherwise, I’m pretty neutral on the issue and don’t really care what schools end up deciding.
What I really would like to promote is letting coaches decide what is the right thing to do for their team.
Both weeks and Petersen shared thoughts after their wins.
Up eight early in the fourth quarter, Weeks and Auburn held the ball for 1:03 that resulted in a layup. It was almost backbreaking for Wahoo. They came out of their 1-3-1 and the Bulldogs pulled away.
Weeks had thoughts on what would happen if a shot clock came into play. And, he’s coached with one at Doane.
“If we get a shot clock, we’ll adjust to it,” Weeks said. “ In 1987 the 3-point line came in some people didn’t want to us it. If it comes in, then you adjust. But those are the rules of the game and if you have a lead why would you force.
“Just play by the rules of the game. And, it’s hard to get the ball out of (standout) Cam’s (Binder) hands when we spread teams out.”
Peterson faced a little different scenario against Ponca. Up two with a timeout at 2:36 left, the Chieftains held the ball for 1:05 and sent Brady Timm to shoot free throws with 1:31 remaining and they salted at 46-42 win away with eight free throws at the end of the game.
“To me it’s all based on the flow of the game,” Peterson said. “If we are flowing and hitting shots then I am going to let them go. Normally when it gets to a minute and a half that’s when my light goes off.
“Some coaches will hold it for a minute and a half or two minutes (earlier) and we just aren’t that team. Today, our flow wasn’t good and we weren’t hitting shots. So we just kept the ball in free throw shooters hands and try to win it there.”
The Chieftains delivered with a 20-for-25 performance.