The following article appeared in the Las Vegas Sun on July 25, 2007.
Ron Kantowski on how a team of wholesome Nebraskans exemplifies what high school sport is supposed to be

Basketball, pure and simple
Top 10 Reasons to cheer for Nebraska Bison Red

In 1996, the city of Wahoo, Neb., replaced Grand Rapids. Mich., as the “home office” for the “Late Show With David Letterman” Top Ten List, even going so far as to having the Nebraska legislature proclaim the talk show host an admiral in the Great Navy of the State of Nebraska.

For those who appreciate the joke, here are the Top 10 Reasons to cheer for Nebraska Bison Red, the AAU basketball team headquartered in Wahoo, at this week’s Reebok Summer Championships:

10. It beats throwing the ball in Bill Callahan’s West Coast offense.

9. Something to do while waiting for the sandhill crane migration.

8. Because if the basketball team does well, maybe this time Bruce Springsteen will write a song about Nebraska that’s not dark and brooding.

7. It might make everybody forget these things born in Nebraska: McRibs, junior high school, strobe lights and the 2004 Cornhusker football team.

6. Nebraska doesn’t have a silly musical and exclamation point in its name - like a certain Big 12 rival to the south.

5. Were it not for the College World Series, succulent mouth-watering steaks and high-low poker, you’d almost feel sorry for Omaha.

4. Two words: pork bellies.

3. If not for Nebraska, there would be no way to get from Kansas to South Dakota.

2. Vince Ferragamo would approve.

And the No. 1 reason to cheer for Nebraska Bison Red Wahoo at this week’s Reebok Summer Championships:

1. Nebraska Bison White Wahoo is idle.

The idea was to identify one AAU boys team from among the gazillion or so hooping it up at this week’s Nike’s Main Event, Adidas Super 64 and Reebok Summer Championships that best symbolizes what these summertime basketball extravaganzas are supposed to be about, instead of playing into the perception of what many believe they have become.

My only criteria was that the coaches not be wearing expensive jogging suits and giant gold medallions, usually a surefire sign that a kid being exploited for his jump shot is not far behind. And that I find a team before getting to the Youth Interlock Society of Philadelphia on the official entry lists because I don’t think my 50-year-old eyes are capable of making it to the Y’s before turning more bleary than Lindsay Lohan’s following a long night at Pure.

I didn’t find what I was looking for until I got to the N’s. Nebraska Bison Red Wahoo. Now that seemed like a possibility. Nebraska isn’t exactly what you would call a hotbed of high school basketball , but it doesn’t get any more middle-of-the-road than Nebraska, at least in a road atlas. Having spent a day and a half in Omaha with UNLV’s Lady Rebels a couple of years ago, I can assure you the description fits in myriad ways.

Plus, there is the Wahoo factor. Wahoo (pop. 3,942)is the hometown of Wahoo Sam Crawford, the Deadball Era slugger and baseball Hall-of-Famer, as well as film producer Darryl Zanuck, who founded Twentieth Century Fox. More important , at least to fans of late - night television, is that Wahoo once served as the “home office” for the nightly Top Ten List on the “Late Show With David Letterman.”

Before that, Wahoo’s claim to fame was its boys high school basketball team , which went six seasons without losing. The Warriors’ 114-game winning streak, which spanned 1987-92 and produced four Class B state championships, is the second-longest in boys basketball history.

Its architect was Mick Anderson, head of the Nebraska Development Basketball Association, the banner under which Nebraska Bison Red plays. Anderson has been bringing teams to Las Vegas since 1981, when he coached the first one.

Nebraska Bison Red, which takes its name from the backboard company that sponsors the program, is what might result if the state erected a giant mirror alongside the truck stops that link Lincoln to North Platte on Interstate 80 and gazed into it.

The team comprises kids from the big city (or at least Omaha) and small farming towns; black kids and white kids; and one kid from Sudan. Their parents teach and preach and plow the back 40. Their coaches don’t wear expensive jogging suits or medallions, but they do teach how to block out, help on defense and pass the ball to an open teammate.

During its 27-year existence, the Nebraska Basketball Development Association has been represented by players from 121 Nebraska high schools from Adams to Yutan. Only one, Erick Strickland, made it to the NBA.

“We don’t have any presumptions that Coach Mike K from Duke is here to watch us,” Anderson said. “We’re here to become better Nebraska basketball players.”

But it’s not as if the Nebraska kids can’t hit the broad side of a grain elevator with their jump shots. Coming into this year’s Reebok Championships, the Red team has a 126-43 record in Las Vegas, and made it all the way to the Big Time championship game in 1993, where it lost to a team from Boston headed by Chris Herron, the former Boston College and Fresno State star.

The tournament was a little smaller then. But it shows what can happen when you block out, help on defense and throw the ball to the open man.

This year’s Red team features four players from Omaha but only two from Class A, Nebraska’s big-school division. The rest are from the Combine League.

But in the game I watched, Nebraska was the more athletic team in a 70-58 victory against the Houston Superstars. The Bison had only one shot blocked and finished with two dunks to Houston’s none, including a two-hand rim-rattling putback by 6-foot-3 John Levorson from the metropolis of Crete (pop. 6,028). Levorson has committed to play football at Nebraska, which more or less makes him a demigod back home. But his teammates still call him “John.”

Another Bison guard, Jesse Carr of Ainsworth (pop. 1,862), scored 68 points in a high school game and is being heavily recruited by Colorado State. But most of the Nebraska kids play mostly for the fun of it, or, in the case of 6-foot-4 Kendal Bender of Humphrey (pop. 786), because it sure beats the heck out of “power washing” the pig pens on your old man’s farm.

Power washing is a fancy term for disposing of a sow’s chief by-product, and I’m not talking about the bacon.

After the game, Jeremy Wallace, one of the team’s three black players, said Bender promised him a trip to the farm to hunt raccoon after summer hoops.

“He told me that he’s going to put me in the pig thing,” Wallace chortled.

Pig thing?

“You know, the pits.”

In return, Wallace said he hopes to introduce Wallace to some “good music.”

Good music?

“Anything that’s not Garth Brooks,” he said.

Ron Kantowski can be reached at 259-4088 or at
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