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February 25, 2011Since the day he started playing organized basketball, Lance Jeter has been used to winning.
After earning first-team all-state honors two years in a row as a junior and senior at Beaver Falls (Penn.) High School, Jeter led his team to a 27-5 record and a Class AA State Championship his senior season.
When he finally ended up at Polk (Fla.) Community College after a brief football stint at Cincinnati, the point guard guided his team to two straight regular season Suncoast Conference titles and a 49-12 overall record his freshman and sophomore years.
Even his mother, Joy, was a member of the University of New Haven women's basketball team that won the NCAA Division II national championship and was a three-time All-American.
So it goes without saying that with just three games left on Nebraska's schedule and the Huskers' NCAA Tournament hopes hanging by a thread, punching a ticket to the Big Dance is Jeter's only priority at the moment.
For a player who has won at every level of basketball he's ever played, that's the only way Jeter can foresee ending his collegiate career.
"It means a lot to me," Jeter said. "It's something that a lot of people don't get a chance to do, so when you do it, it's a great feeling. I feel like we've turned it around from a year ago, but I feel like these fans expect so much more. I feel like we've given that, but we've got a whole lot more to get done.
"There's a good chance that we can do it, we just have to play our game and stay focused. It means a lot to me. I want to get there. I want to remember something from my last year here."
As much as Jeter wants to take Nebraska to its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1998, he doesn't want to do it just so he can add to his already impressive basketball resume.
The definition of a team leader, Jeter said he's just as concerned with getting to the tournament for his coaches, teammates, and, maybe even more importantly, the Husker fans who have supported him and the program through even the lowest of times.
"Getting to the tournament would show the hard work that not just the team put in, but the coaching staff put in," he said. "The coaches have put a lot of time into this, and to see us get there would just show that not just this year, but years to come, this team is going to be something to watch and something to look forward to, especially going to the new conference. I feel like this year was a good step towards that."
Head coach Doc Sadler knows full well the feeling that comes with having your team make it to the NCAA Tournament. Sadler twice coached teams to tournament berths at UTEP, the first as an assistant under Billie Gillespie in 2003-04 and then again as the head coach of the Miners in 2004-05.
On top of that, three members of Sadler's staff have also coached on tournament teams - assistants Tracy Webster (Kentucky, 2007-08) and Chris Croft (Oklahoma State, 1997-98) and director of basketball operations David Anwar (UTEP, 2004-05).
Having experienced the emotion that goes with playing in the Big Dance, Sadler said his ultimate goal is to give his players the chance to experience it as well.
"The thing for me would be they deserve it," Sadler said. "It's special. I think every kid who has gone about it the right way and put in the work it takes to get into it, you want them to experience that. As a coach, you want them to experience it. For me personally, it would be great, not for me - yeah, I want to get there and coach in it, but I've gotten to do that. You want those guys to get there and experience it also."
Around the rim
***Sadler said sophomore center Jorge Brian Diaz actually suffered some minor tearing to his meniscus in his knee, but said the injury would not be enough to keep Diaz from playing as usual the rest of the season.
"He was pretty sore yesterday, but once we got into practice, he practiced," Sadler said. "I think it's more just a sore knee. He had a little bitty tear in his meniscus, but my understanding is that it's not even going to be something that will probably heal on its own."
Since undergoing an MRI on his knee earlier this week, Diaz had complained of soreness and has yet to finish out a full practice, but Sadler said that was because he and his staff are being careful with him.
"I think it's more precautionary on our part," Sadler said. "He wanted to do everything, but we're just kind of taking it easy."
***Even with Diaz expected to play as usual in Saturday's game at Iowa State, Sadler said he wasn't sure how much he would play Diaz and junior center Andre Almeida together at the same time against the Cyclones.
"The thing that concerns you about going big is they use so many ball screens," Sadler said. "They use ball screens on almost every possession. That's probably 90 percent of their offense. The decision you've got to make is you may give up something on one end but you might get something on the other. In the last couple ball games, especially against Texas, they were really packing it in, so we'll have to see how that goes."