LINCOLN, Neb. —
First-year coach Tim Miles will try to turn around a long-languishing Nebraska men's basketball program that hasn't won a share of a conference championship since 1950, made it to the NCAA tournament since 1998 or had a winning conference record since 1999.
Patience will be required. The Huskers return only one starter from the Doc Sadler-coached team that finished 12-18 and tied for 11th in the Big Ten.
"There's never been a better time to be the coach at Nebraska,'' Miles said with a straight face.
Athletic director Tom Osborne hired Miles from Colorado State and gave him the longest contract for a coach in any sport in Nebraska history. The seven-year deal pays $1.4 million to start and increases to $2.15 million by 2018-19.
Miles is taking over a year after the opening of a $20 million practice facility and a year before the $179 million, 16,000-seat Pinnacle Bank Arena opens, replacing the 36-year-old Devaney Sports Center.
An impressive list of recruits has toured the facilities since Miles' hiring last spring, though no blue-chippers have committed yet.
The Huskers are led by 6-foot-10 forward Brandon Ubel (6.7 points, 5.3 rebounds per game), the only returning starter, and five other players who had significant minutes last season. Andre Almeida, a 6-11, 314-pound center, and guard Ray Gallegos join Ubel as the only seniors.
"You go as far as your seniors will take you,'' Miles said. "If their buy-in is good and their mental capacity for a learning curve is good, they're going to pick up a new system and all the stuff that goes with that. You're going to be further down the road.''
The Huskers are picked 12th in the Big Ten, largely because it's possible they will have as few as eight scholarship players active. Miles is so short of bodies that he plans to hold an open tryout this week and possibly add another player or two.
"I like this group - they're hard working - but we've got a lot of work to do,'' Miles said. "We've got some good players. We just need to add to it.''
The facilities upgrades illustrated the administrative support for a program that had long been ignored at football-first Nebraska.
Miles noted that officials from the Utah Jazz and Brooklyn Nets toured the practice facility recently to get ideas for their own buildings. The $200 million arena is downtown, just west of campus, and is being built in partnership with the city of Lincoln.
"It's going to be an amazing place,'' Miles said, "and when you combine those two within two years of each other, it's an amazing physical capacity of what we're doing. We've just got to get some guys and have some fun with it.''
The Huskers probably will take their lumps in their second season in the Big Ten, not much different than their first. They sustained losses of 34 and 31 points against Ohio State, 28 at Michigan State and 24 to Wisconsin at home.
Their season highlight was a one-point home win over an 11th-ranked Indiana team in January.
Though Barry Collier and Sadler tried, Nebraska hasn't had a sniff of sustained success, modest as it was, since Danny Nee coached in Lincoln in the 1980s and `90s.
With the practice facility and new arena, Miles said, things are changing.
"Peel back the onion,'' he said. "Volleyball is great, wrestling is in the top 10, track and field is good, women's gymnastics won the Big Ten last year. You don't have to go far to see our athletic department through-and-through is outstanding. Women's basketball has been terrific. We need to get men's basketball up and running where it should be.''