Published Thursday, February 14, 2013 at 9:14 pm / Updated at 12:58 am
Barfknecht: NU family is enduring tough times off court

LINCOLN — Welcome to the most important weekend so far in Tim Miles' first year as head men's basketball coach at Nebraska.

Scratching your head as to why?

It's because on Friday night, former Husker star and 11-year NBA veteran Tyronn Lue will be inducted into the Nebraska Basketball Hall of Fame. Other honorees include former NU star and NBA player Dave Hoppen and athletic director emeritus Tom Osborne.

Then at Saturday's game against No. 8 Michigan State, the Husker basketball lettermen in attendance will be recognized.

Still wondering why that makes this a big deal?

Miles said celebrations such as this can set a tone for how a program is received and perceived for years to come.

“These are vital to program-building in my book,'' he said Thursday. “Inviting our former players back on an annual basis, getting them involved in our program, reconnecting them with old teammates and recognizing them appropriately is really important.''

As important as that is for the future, what happens the next two nights is critical for NU hoops now, too.

This is a program in dire need of all in red to pull together and get through a tough time. And I'm not talking about NU's 3-9 record in the Big Ten.

Whatever adversity Nebraska has faced on the court this season, the real-life off-the-court challenges have dwarfed it.

Miles' 86-year-old father, Tip, underwent open-heart surgery a couple of weeks ago — risky at his age, but necessary for survival.

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After a rugged few days, the recovery began. Progress has been such that Tip Miles was discharged to Tim's house Wednesday afternoon in time to watch the Indiana game, and rehab sessions are soon to follow.

The mother of NU assistant coach Craig Smith underwent surgery at the Mayo Clinic in mid-January for lung cancer. The prognosis is excellent, with no follow-up treatment needed.

Now, root even harder for another good health report, this time for Avery Harriman, son of Husker assistant Chris Harriman and his wife, Cheryl.

Avery, 5, is in his second tussle in 3Ĺ years with leukemia. He underwent radiation treatments Thursday, Miles said, in preparation for a bone-marrow procedure sometime this weekend.

“As I look at the strength of the Harriman family,'' Miles said, his voice cracking slightly, “what amazing people. How strong Cheryl has been and how Chris has been there for his family and son while still working hard for us is extraordinary.''

This season was going to be exhausting enough for the Nebraska basketball staff as it tried to compete in the best conference in the country with a depleted roster. Then came the family issues.

“But life happens,'' Miles said. “Life happens to coaches, too, sometimes right in the middle of a season.

“You try to coach through it the best you can. But I'm still a son and Chris is still a dad, and you still have a role to play when you aren't thinking about basketball and trying to make the Huskers a winner.''

Chris Harriman's dedication to work and family remained at full speed Thursday morning.

Miles said Harriman was still trying to direct the scouting and game-planning for Michigan State before handing it off to Smith in order to stay by Avery's side.

No one on the Nebraska staff is courting sympathy by discussing their issues. I prodded, and Miles agreed to talk. Nor does he want anyone feeling sorry for his players.

“I like where the team is at,'' Miles said. “The guys really want to improve and beat these ranked teams we go at every time we turn around. We just don't have much of a margin for error.''

At Friday's banquet and Saturday's game, Miles wants the good times to roll even in a time of personal concern.

“I want our former players who have had success to share their stories and talk about their trials and tribulations with our current guys,'' he said. “Those stories need to be handed down.

“We want to create our own destiny. But what those guys have done in the past will help us in the future.''

Their presence this weekend can't help but strengthen the Husker family spirit as it roots for an off-the-court victory, too.

Contact the writer:


Contact the writer: Lee Barfknecht    |   402-444-1024    |  

Lee Barfknecht has won nine national writing awards from four separate organizations, and is a 12-time winner of the Nebraska sportswriter of the year award. He covers Big Ten football and basketball, Nebraska basketball and other college financial issues for The World-Herald.



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