By Randy York
Somewhere out there, longtime Nebraska basketball fans are smiling. The Huskers have created an innovative four-game-per-team tournament called the Joe Cipriano Nebraska Classic, and somehow, someway, we’ve orchestrated our own “tough draw” in Thursday’s 8 p.m. opener against Valparaiso at the Devaney Center.
The late and the colorful Cipriano would find a classic line to describe “celebrating” Nebraska’s last season in the Devaney Center with a tournament opener that features an opponent that returns all five starters from a 22-12 team that advanced to the National Invitation Tournament last year and is favored to repeat as champions of the Horizon League.
I can close my eyes and hear Joe Cipriano right now. “Make sure you mention that Valpo hit 26 of 48 three-pointers in their first two wins,” he would say. “Let our fans know why we scheduled them first … so they can see a great shooting team that can also run and play defense.”
Tim Miles is probably in no mood to be funny as he prepares for his second game as Nebraska’s head coach and the first in the Cipriano Classic that will bring three more schools to the Devaney this month – Nebraska-Omaha on Sunday at 2 p.m., Tulane (Wednesday, Nov. 21 at 7 p.m.) and Kent State (at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 24, the day after the Huskers complete their regular football season at Iowa). The Athletic Department will honor the Cipriano family when the Huskers host Kent State in the final game of the Cipriano Classic.
Tickets are available in a variety of single-game, Pick 6 and entire season options.
Those Were the Days 36 Years Ago
“We’ve put a lot into this format to help our fans celebrate the Joe Cipriano Era and to help us all remember how great it was when the Devaney Center opened in 1976,” said Marc Boehm, Nebraska’s executive associate athletic director.
In 1976, Miles, Nebraska’s first-year head basketball coach, was only 9-years old, but he remembers the three most popular shows on television that year – Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley and M*A*S*H. It was the same year that the Devaney Center opened, Steve Jobs sold the first Apple computer, the ink-jet printer was invented and the first VHS was released.
Miles appreciates that time in his life. While he was growing up in tiny Doland, S.D., in the 1970s, Nebraska basketball was productive, and Miles was “all in” with the opportunity to honor Cipriano, who was called “Cip” by friends, fellow coaches and countless players. Cip was one of the more memorable coaches in Nebraska basketball history and one of the most popular in the Big Eight Conference. When a game got tight, his trademark move was to bolt from the bench and take his suit coat off. That’s when everyone knew it was time to rumble. Sometimes, for sheer entertainment, Cip would spin his coat around to relieve the tension. On rare occasions, he would heave that jacket right into the night’s air, and the Devaney Center crowd would laugh just like they did when he did the same thing in the old Coliseum. Once, in the Coliseum, Cip grabbed a starter’s gun at the official scorer’s table, then pointed it in the air, ready to shoot.
Those were the days, my friend. Even though Cip served as Nebraska’s head coach from 1963 to 1980, his 1976 team opened the door to the Devaney Center, and now Miles’ first NU team will close it after one final season before the Huskers move to their new home at the Pinnacle Bank Arena next season.
Cipriano Classic Honors History
“We wanted to recognize some of the memorable people who played a part in the Devaney Center’s history, so we seized the opportunity to host the Joe Cipriano Nebraska Classic,” Boehm said. “Coach Miles and I thought naming a tournament after Coach Cipriano was a fitting way to honor our final season in an historic place for all of us. Cip’s success was instrumental not only in building Nebraska basketball, but also in creating the Devaney Center.”
The Joe Cipriano Nebraska Classic features seven teams – Nebraska, Kent State, Valparaiso, Tulane, Nebraska-Omaha, Bethune-Cookman and Chicago State. All seven teams will play four games from Nov. 13 to Saturday, Nov. 24.
Cipriano died of cancer just four days short of the start of season No. 18 in 1980. His Nebraska teams posted a 253-197 record and made three postseason appearances. Cip is second all-time in wins at Nebraska. He was a three-time Big Eight Coach of the Year (1967, 1978 and 1980) and his 253 wins at the time of his death were 167 more than any previous basketball head coach at Nebraska.
Cipriano coached the Huskers to a 20-5 record and a No. 11 national ranking in 1965-66, the Huskers’ first winning season in 15 years and the most wins at Nebraska since 1920. That team is considered by many longtime fans to be the best in over a century of basketball at Nebraska. The following season, Cip guided NU to its first postseason appearance, becoming the first Big Eight program to play in the NIT. His 1967-68 squad won the Big Eight Holiday Tournament in Kansas City, Nebraska’s only title in the event’s history.
1977-78 NIT Team Finished 22-8
In the 1970s, Cipriano-coached teams finished below the .500 mark only once. His most successful Husker team was in 1977-78, which tied the school record for wins at the time with a 22-8 mark. The Huskers also reached the NIT quarterfinals that season.
Joe’s son, Randy Cipriano, served as an assistant coach at Nebraska from 1982 to 1986 and has many fond memories of the Devaney Center. He says it’s “fantastic” that Nebraska is naming its first in-season tournament at the Devaney Center since 2005 after his late father.
“I was pleased, and know my dad would thoroughly enjoy it,” Randy Cipriano said. “I think it’s a wonderful way to honor the history of Nebraska basketball, and we’re proud to be associated with the event. I remember walking through the Devaney Center with my father when it was being built. I thought it was exciting to be a part of it as well as necessary to help Nebraska be successful. I’m feeling it again now as our company owns property near Pinnacle Bank Arena, and I’m able to watch the progress on the new facility while it’s being built.”
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