Ray Gallegos already had one foot out the door, and he was only one call home away from leaving Nebraska for good and never looking back.
Coming off of dismal freshman season in 2009-10 where the Huskers went just 15-18 overall and finished dead last in the Big 12 Conference at 2-14, Gallegos just wasn't enjoying life in Lincoln. Though he was seeing decent playing time for a first-year player with 30 appearances and three starts, the Salt Lake City, Utah, native just didn't feel like he fit in with his new surroundings.
The 6-foot-2 shooting guard had already narrowed down his list to two potential transfer destinations in Utah State or Weber State, and it was really just a matter of time before he packed his bags and headed back to Utah. Until he made that one last call home, that is.
"I was having a conversation with my mom and my sisters about that, and my mom was just telling me if I came back home, it would just be kind of the same thing but more of a distraction, so you might as well just stay out there," Gallegos said. "It's only four or five years of your life that you have to be out here, so just gut it out. Thank God I listened to her."
So he adhered to his mother's advice and returned to Nebraska for his sophomore season, and things started to look up for the Huskers. After going 19-13 and 7-9 in league play, NU nearly made a NCAA Tournament push before a late-season skid had them end up in the NIT. Gallegos then decided to redshirt the 2011-12 season to build up his strength and improve his ball handling, and he watched from the bench as his team struggled back to another last-place finish in the new Big Ten Conference.
If Gallegos had any regrets about his decision to stay in Lincoln, they were quickly erased when Tim Miles rolled into town to replace the coach who had recruited him, Doc Sadler. Suddenly, Gallegos vaulted to the forefront of Nebraska's rotation and ended up leading the Big Ten in minutes played (37.5 per game) and 3-pointers made per game (2.5) in his first full season as a starter. He was especially valuable down the stretch with Miles at times using a rotation of just five or six players, as he sat a total of just 26 minutes in 18 Big Ten games.
The lone scholarship senior coming into this season, Gallegos was voted one of three captains by his teammates and he was really the only proven entity returning on the Huskers' roster. It looked like this would be Gallegos's team, but that quickly changed before the season even tipped off, as he was suspended the first two games of the year for what Miles only called "behavioral reasons". After returning to the starting lineup for the next 17 games, Gallegos was moved to one of the first players off the bench.
Rather than view the demotion as an insult and allow frustration to get the best of him, Gallegos took his situation in stride and decided to make the best of things. Now, the Huskers are on the brink of their first NCAA Tournament berth in 15 years.
"We've been winning," Gallegos said. "I'm about winning. I'm not trying to be selfish or trying to worry about starting or coming off the bench. As long we're being successful, I'll play the role I have to."
Miles said he's been nothing short of impressed with the way Gallegos has handled himself through what has been, at least on the individual level, a disappointing senior season. Though his numbers are way down from a year ago (7.0 ppg, 47 3-pointers), Gallegos has stepped up in other ways to help his team be one win away from clinching the No. 4 seed and a first-round bye in the Big Ten Tournament.
"Ray's been through it," Miles said. "Now to see him finish and at least knowing we have some sort of postseason ahead of us is pretty cool stuff. That's a nice a building block and something he can be proud of forever. Here's a guy that went from playing the most minutes in the league last year to accepting whatever role we put him in, and I just can't say enough about Ray."
It's been a long and interesting journey for Gallegos during his time as a Husker, and while things got bad enough four years ago that he seriously considered leaving, his decision to stay is paying off in a big way right now.
"It's grown a lot," Gallegos said of Nebraska's program over the past five years. "Coming from playing with Doc and finishing last in the conference multiple years, and then finally having some success, it's been really different. A lot of people are taking notice of it, and everybody is treating you different. It's definitely a good feeling… I'm just thankful we're having the type of season we're having and thankful for my teammates for putting us in this type of position."