CHICAGO — As usual, Tim Miles opened with a joke. And then another. And another.
“Last night at dinner, at least three coaches (said they) weren’t going to win one game all year,” Miles said, grinning live on BTN. “So the Huskers are moving up the notch.”
The reporters who filled a ballroom for Big Ten media day typed and sipped coffee in silence.
“Kind of a stiff crowd,” Miles said.
But not even a cold reception at 9 a.m. could wipe the smile off Miles’ face. He’s got one of the best teams in the conference. And he’s not shy about it.
“We have four guys I think anybody in the league would take. That’s not always been the case in the past,” Miles said. “I like this group because I really think that all of these guys are getting better.”
Nebraska was picked to finish fourth in a media poll Wednesday, a repeat of where the Huskers were projected after reaching the 2014 NCAA tournament. But Miles insists this team is much, much different. This team is better equipped. Its work ethic is better.
And they’re really fun to talk about, which Miles did for an entire morning Thursday. He delivered monologues and speeches about his team’s chances, stopping only to drink water and keep his throat moist.
“When you look at James Palmer Jr., Isaac Copeland playing better than I have ever seen,” Miles said. “Glynn Watson, I think he realizes where he fits in with this group after having to carry a big load for a couple years as a younger player, then fitting in later in life. Isaiah Roby is getting better and better, too. I just like the direction of their work ethic, of their leadership. That’s why I feel so strongly about them.”
All four of those players were in Chicago with Miles on Thursday. Watson, a three-year starter, wore a pink bow tie he bought Wednesday. At one point during an interview, Miles interrupted and adjusted Roby’s lavender tie, one of two the junior forward owns. Palmer, who was named to the preseason all-conference team Thursday, rocked the no-socks look and had a schedule full of interviews. And Copeland posed on the conference’s Instagram feed all afternoon in a maroon striped suit.
“I’m having fun with my teammates and just enjoying the moment,” Watson said.
The four guys — or as Miles calls them, his “Fab Four” — are more subdued. None is really keen on grabbing the spotlight.
Which is fine, because Miles did it for them. He wore a red tie he was pretty sure Dwyane Wade sent him. He fielded questions about missing the NCAA tournament a year ago, being on the hot seat and being the only high-major school to have never won an NCAA tournament game.
“I’m only part of that problem, by the way,” Miles joked.
But when he got serious, he talked about history and the opportunity in front of his team.
“I look at it as a chance to be special,” Miles said. “As a chance for you guys to be something that’s never been done. And there’s nothing like that. Making history in the right way is an awesome thing. It’s a new year, a new opportunity. We’re excited to move forward.”
But what the coach loved most about Thursday wasn’t his platform to build up his team. It was the interest others had in his guys.
At one point, all four Nebraska players were talking with at least one reporter, something that hasn’t always happened in the past.
“We always blab as coaches. It’s what we’re paid to do, it seems like,” Miles said. “So for me, it is great.”
He then pointed toward the table of his players, all locked in interviews.
“But I think it’s better when it looks like that.”
Big Ten Commission Jim Delaney said FBI investigation is a ‘storm cloud’
CHICAGO — Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delaney said the FBI investigation into dirty recruiting in college basketball is a “storm cloud” hanging over the sport.
“It’s certainly an unsettling and negative narrative,” Delaney said. “There always have been these kinds of issues. They used to involve boosters. Now they involve shoe companies.”
Delaney said this isn’t new. These things have been going on for 30 years.
“There are a lot of men who work in a lot of programs who don’t engage in it, but there are some who do,” he said.
The FBI investigation was a hot topic at media day in general. Most coaches were asked about it, either at the podium or at roundtables. Some shrugged it off, like Maryland coach Mark Turgeon.
“To be honest with you, I think our game is in great shape,” Turgeon said. “I like to think it’s not going to have an impact on our game.”
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo called it a sad time in college basketball.
“It’s sad for college basketball and college sports. It’s the nature of the beast,” Izzo said. “Hopefully something will come of it.”
Tourney mainly in Midwest
Delaney said moving forward, Midwest cities will host the Big Ten tournament 80 percent of the time, with 20 percent of the tournaments held on the East Coast.
Chicago and Indianapolis will be the sites for Big Ten tournaments in the near future, but there will be opportunities for other cities to set up bids to host.
“It will be more open and competitive, and there will be more opportunities for cities to express more interest,” Delaney said.Omaha hosted an NCAA tournament regional last April, which drew rave reviews from the NCAA, fans and media.Nebraska will be heading to Italy next summer, coach Tim Miles confirmed Thursday. The Huskers went to Spain a three years ago, and will head back overseas likely in late July 2019.
“(Italy’s) got very good basketball. We have some players playing over in that area, France, Spain, Italy, so I think that maybe with some of these guys, it’s a preview of what your future could look like,” Miles said. “Also, it’s a way for us to get in front of those clubs and look at our guys and see them for what they are, and so I think all that helps.”
The timing couldn’t be better, too, with how different next year’s team will look with the subtractions of seniors Palmer and Isaac Copeland.
“It’s really good timing. And we’re gonna need it,” Miles said. “We’re gonna need the extra competition the time together. I think it’ll be really important for us.”
Roby focused on season
Don’t expect any news from Isaiah Roby about his NBA status any time soon.
NU coach Tim Miles said he spent 30 minutes talking with Roby over the offseason about the NBA draft and the NBA process.
That made Miles think he was considering leaving.
Then, the next day, Miles was talking with someone about the team’s trip to Italy in 2019, and Roby overheard the news.
“That’ll be awesome,” Roby said.
Right now, Miles said, Roby and the team are focused on this year. And in the spring, if the junior feels like he wants to leave a year early for the NBA, they’ll cross that bridge when they come to it. In other news:
» Roby said he’s feeling better after suffering a few injuries this fall. He still has some heel pain, which he said happens when he tries to slow down. So he can dunk just fine. But it’s the stop-and-start elements of basketball that he’s still easing into.