NATIONAL TOURNEY PREVIEW: Hickory Huskers Hoping to be 'Little Guy That Could' in Tourney
Introduction Contributed by Kerry Knoll
Hickory Huskers...Need we say more?! There's no doubt why this team is a top tier team in the Ultimate Hoops Las Vegas league. As fundamentally sound as they come, Hickory takes care of the ball and is tenacious on defense holding their opponents to just 53 points per game on 36% shooting. Hickory is currently ranked number one in points allowed, rebounds, and assists in the early goings of the spring season.
This team resembles the original Hickory Huskers in just about every way, shape and form.
Kerry Knoll (6'3" 215lbs - G) - Kerry was born to play the role of "Jimmy" from Hoosiers. Little do most know, but Kerry is an incredible 3-point shooter which the UH Las Vegas league has seen glimpses of from time-to-time. More than a shooter, Kerry has three career triple doubles and countless other games where he was just a stat or two away, which makes him a tremendous threat on any given day. He makes the most difficult passes with ease. Career averages: 12 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 5.6 apg.
Nate Herlean (5'10" 180lbs - G) - Nate is definitely "Buddy" from Hoosiers. He speaks his mind and disrespects coach from time-to-time. But in the end is all about winning and doing whatever it takes to get the W. The defensive energy that is produced when "Brothers Herlean" are on the floor together is unlike anything you've ever seen.
Greg Herlean (6'0" 190lbs - G) - If you look up the definition of "defense" in the dictionary, there's a photo of Greg sprawled across his man on the floor with his head up thinking about his next move with a hand on the basketball. Nicknamed "Ollie" from Hoosiers, Greg earned that by being freakishly inconsistent at the foul line in his first season of UH. There are whispers that the "granny shot" is back in style...
Shane Jager (6'0" 200lbs - G) - Shane is nearly identical to the Hoosiers character "Rade.” While the rest of his team believes in the pass first mentality, he's all about shooting and scoring. There's no doubt that Shane is a sharp shooter but even better is his ability to finish around the rim. When he learns how to pass he'll be nearly unstoppable! Shane's a UH career 20 ppg scorer.
Eric Marshall (6'0" 180lbs - G) - Eric is a true role player, just like his counter-part "Merle" from Hoosiers. He's definitely capable of hitting the game winning shot off the "picket fence.” He fills in where needed and holds his own against even some of the tougher opponents in the league.
Jon Kempf (6'3" 240lbs - F) - Nicknamed "K Love" early in his UH career, this beast averaged 17.3 rpg in his first season. Now better known as "Strap" from Hoosiers, he will likely catch you off guard with some uncanny athleticism all while lulling you to sleep from behind the arc. Unfortunately for Hickory, he recently injured his ankle in week 1 of the spring season and will not play in the Vegas Invitational.
Warren Rosegreen (6'4" 235lbs - F) - There's really no equivalent to Warren's ability from the movie "Hoosiers.” If anything, he's more like #15 from the more athletic and dominant team Hickory had to face in the State Championship game. It's early in his UH career, but this ex-UNLV player has already shown his dominance by putting up some huge numbers averaging 38 ppg, 13.5 rpg, and 3 apg.
Dan Madden (6'4" 260lbs - F) - Dan is a beast and his name sake closest resembles that of "Whit" from Hoosiers. He's a career 52% field goal shooter. Averages nearly a double-double and has tremendous foot work for his size.
Steve Mihas (6'0" 170lbs - G) - Steve fits the bill of "Everett" from Hoosiers. He is what I like to call an "old school grinder.” He plays hard nose "D" and is deceptively quick. He takes care of the ball and fills in well where needed. Career averages: 9.8 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 5 apg, 2 spg, and 2 cpg (that's CHARGES TAKEN PER GAME).
Daniel Luczak (6'6" 225lbs - F) - If Hickory had more than eight players, then Daniel would have fit in perfectly and probably had a name like "Elmer.” Daniel is a force to be reckoned with when he puts his mind to it. Daniel's size makes it hard for most defenders to match up against. He has 3-point range and that along with his athleticism makes him a double threat from anywhere on the court.
Jason Heck (6'0" 200lbs - G) - Jason most resembles "Shooter" from Hoosiers. While injured last season, he coached BOAB and did a fine job in doing so. Jason is a true player/coach and good 3-point shooter.
WE ARE: HICKORY HUSKERS!
FROM THE TOURNAMENT DIRECTOR
Contributed by Joe Neuenfeldt
Let’s give some praise to the guys with the greatest team name in the entire National Tournament. In fact, I think it’s the greatest team name in all of Ultimate Hoops. ‘Hoosiers’ is the greatest basketball movie ever made. The only other movie that could be considered close is ‘Hoop Dreams.’ And even then, it’s a hands down win for ‘Hoosiers.’
Yes, that means I think ‘He Got Game’ and ‘Blue Chips’ are considerably worse basketball movies than ‘Hoosiers.’ So you can save the irate text messages telling me I’m an idiot. In fact, I googled a couple of ‘Best Basketball Movies’ ever lists on the internet. One list had ‘Hoosiers’ as the winner and one had ‘He Got Game.’ It didn’t take me long to decide which list was more legit (the ‘He Got Game’ winning list had ‘Like Mike,’ ‘Eddie’ and ‘Space Jam’ as the numbers 7, 5 and 3 basketball movies ever).
The Hickory Huskers out of Ultimate Hoops Las Vegas will need the same kind of magic as the team in ‘Hoosiers’ to be successful in the National Tournament in their home town. That statement isn’t meant to be disrespectful. The players on the Huskers are some of my favorite in all of my years in UH. They are unselfish, good teammates and passionate about basketball (and Ultimate Hoops). They are all guys that coaches dream of having on their teams because of their dependability and willingness to do whatever is asked of them. If wins this coming weekend are granted to teams based on putting in the work and giving it their all, then Hickory is going all the way.
But I am a realist. Perhaps it’s because I consider myself one of them and I know just how hard it is to win basketball games in this day in age based on effort and being a good teammate alone. There are too many guys out there that are just that good. And many of us are learning the hard way that we don’t improve with age. Every season that goes by breaks our bodies down just a little bit more while some 18 or 19 year old is getting stronger and better. Our real life accountabilities increase as we get older and our window of opportunity to get one of these titles seems to shrink by the minute.
One thing I can’t help but think about when I look at this team, however, is how closely they resemble Saints + if it were 10 years ago. I picture Kerry Knoll, Steve Mihas, Shane Jager, Dan Madden and the Brothers Herlean to be very similar to Dustin Dupont, Justin Montzka, Joe Epple, Ryan Jansen, Brian Sames and Sam Halverson back in their prime years of playing.
And isn’t the Saints + team and their success in Chicago what should make an underdog like the Hickory Huskers hopeful about this weekend? Seven of the eight Saints + players didn’t play a second of college basketball. And the one that did played a very limited role. The Chicago Invitational was proof that miracles can happen in the game of basketball. And that playing as a team outweighs individual achievement. The Hickory Huskers could unite and become the next Saints + of Ultimate Hoops. But it won’t come easy.
TALENT – This team has basketball talent. With the exception of Warren Rosegreen, they do not have a ton of athleticism. But they are strong guys that play hard and will give it all they have. They will be physical and play hard nosed defense. Based on the teams that are coming to town, I believe they will have to be fundamentally sound and great on the defensive end to make up for being towards the bottom talent wise.
TITLES – Of all the teams coming to Vegas, this team ranks 12th in this category. They don’t have a single guy that has played in one Ultimate Hoops Las Vegas title game. They have some guys that haven’t even made it to the Final Four. The lack of title game experience alone makes them a significant underdog in the tourney. It would be beyond amazing if this team came into to the National Tournament and advanced to their first. Could be the greatest story ever.
MOMENTUM – They are improving their team each season and that counts for something. It would have been huge if they could have beaten Team Legndary this past week (they led the majority of the game and came up short at the end). But overall, they haven’t lost to anyone (excluding last week’s loss to Team Legndary) except the Vegas Heat since February 7, 2012. They have been beating the teams they are supposed to out here in the desert. But haven’t beaten any of the big boys yet.
LEVEL OF COMPETITION – As I said in the Team Legndary preview, this category is to be determined. I have heard from some of the people in the corporate office that don’t think the Vegas Heat look very good. And they’re our best team out here. So we will see real soon what all the guys from Sin City can do to prove they are forces to be reckoned with.
EXPERIENCE – Most of this team has been there since the beginning of Ultimate Hoops Las Vegas. Kerry Knoll is the only player in the league to never miss a night (Open Division and Draft League) of UH Vegas (and that includes me). Warren Rosegreen is experienced in the biggest of games with UNLV and the Harlem Globetrotters. And the team will be very familiar with the rules of the tournament since they have played with only those rules their entire Ultimate Hoops careers. When this team plays, I am very interested to see if home court is actually an advantage.
DEPTH – They have an 11 man roster and 10 guys that will play. They have a lot of bodies. But I am not sure how much it will help. They are a combination of two teams (Hickory Huskers and Chris Mullin’s Militia) and have never played together as a whole. I am not confident in how they will manage their minutes to start. And if they don’t start out well in this tournament, I think they are in for a rough couple of games in the afternoon on Saturday.
I can tell you right now that I am in big trouble. Jason Heck is my boss (and the best one in the world) and I haven’t said a thing about him even though he plays on this team. His only request for every article is that I say as much about him as possible. So I have left my bold prediction for him. He said he’s not sure how much he will play this weekend but maybe this will make him change his mind. Prediction:
The number of alcoholic beverages Jason Heck consumes this weekend will exceed the number of minutes he plays for the Hickory Huskers in the National Tournament.