Husker columnist

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

Rutgers vs. Nebraska, 2/10/18

Nebraska players Tanner Borchardt, Justin Costello, Jordy Tshimanga, Nana Akenten and Thomas Allen stand for the National Anthem prior to taking on Rutgers on Saturday, Feb. 10, 2018, at Pinnacle Bank Arena. The shirts they are wearing were part of the response planned by the Huskers to white nationalist videos that emerged earlier this week featuring UNL student Daniel Kleve discussing his desire to be violent.

FRANCIS GARDLER, JOURNAL STAR

Tim Miles hurriedly brushed his teeth as all hell was breaking loose in his world — at least that's the way it felt.

He still had to shower and shave before his team would leave for its game last month at Penn State.

Earlier that day, Nebraska center Jordy Tshimanga informed Miles that he wasn't accompanying the team to Happy Valley. Tshimanga was disgruntled. Miles, the sixth-year Husker men's basketball head coach, wasn't totally sure why. But he wanted Tshimanga on his team. He knew that much. And he sure as heck didn't want the situation to derail the team's momentum.

"I was like, 'Let's figure it out,'" Miles said Saturday.

Bottom line, Miles showed patience with Tshimanga, a sophomore from Montreal.

"At Mayville, you would've been down the highway, baby," said Miles, referring to his stint as head coach at Mayville State in the mid-1990s.

Miles, though, has grown as a coach, learned from mistakes and missed chances. Nobody's saying he has this coaching thing completely figured out. But he's pushing most, if not all, the right buttons with this Nebraska team, which improved to 19-8 (10-4 Big Ten) with its seventh triumph in eight games — a 67-55 win against Rutgers before 15,351 spectators Saturday at Pinnacle Bank Arena.

Tshimanga, who was away from the team for six days last month, has since settled nicely into a backup role. He chipped in eight points and two rebounds in 15 minutes against Rutgers (12-15, 2-11). He's become a crowd favorite — a nice story in a season that's growing in intrigue.

People are noticing the excellent job Miles has done so far. Even legends are noticing.

"In this new age of transfers, of guys going in and out of the program, and coaches having to remold their rosters every couple years — he's done an unbelievable job," said Dave Hoppen, Nebraska's all-time leading scorer, who was on hand for Legends Weekend. "It's been kind of neat. You heard about (transfer) Isaac Copeland. You heard about James Palmer. You had some hopes, but you never really know until they start playing. And things have really come together. The guys are all playing their roles."

Exhibit A: Duby Okeke, after sitting the bench for the entirety of two of the previous three games, entered against Rutgers late in the first half and immediately swatted away two shots. He has been engaged in meetings, upbeat on the bench. Yes, winning helps everything. But so does recruiting high-character players.

"Even a guy like Glynn Watson, I think going into the season a lot of people thought he would be our go-to guy," Hoppen said. "But Glynn has taken a little bit of a back seat and said, 'You know what, Cope, you and Palmer are going to be the men and I'll score when I get a chance.'

"Even a guy like Jack McVeigh, he starts out the year (in the rotation) and then all the sudden they make a change, and now he doesn't get to play at all. But he's accepted that role. He still works hard at practice. He's cheering on the bench.

"As of right now, Tim's done a great job of keeping all the moving parts together. It's really been a lot of fun to watch."

Miles' squad has won 12 of 15 since critical back-to-back losses in mid-December to Creighton and Kansas. But challenges keep coming, sometimes out of nowhere.

Miles' daughter, Ava, was the first to alert him to the videos. It was last Monday night. Even though Nebraska won Tuesday night at Minnesota, Husker players were subdued afterward, troubled by videos of an NU student claiming to be "the most active white nationalist in the Nebraska area."

As the week progressed, "All of us spent a lot of emotional energy on what was going on and how we were going to take a stand," said Miles, wearing a T-shirt with "Hate Will Never Win" on the front.

Nebraska players wore the T-shirts in warmups.

"This is really driven by them," Miles said. "I'm just there to manage it for them or help them."

He told his players Friday night to stay off social media and try to relax. After all, there's an NCAA Tournament bid to chase and an undefeated home record in conference play to maintain. His team was indeed focused, bolting to a 20-4 lead.

It's a team with excellent chemistry. That doesn't just happen by accident. Some coaching is required. Some management. Some coddling, some fire. A lot goes into getting to 10-4 in the Big Ten, in any year.

Sometimes it has nothing to do with coaching basketball.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraSip.

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