CHICAGO - Dylan Talley was just trying to do his best to hold back tears when talking about how his senior season likely came to a close on Friday night, but he couldn't help but smile when thinking about the future.
After pushing Nebraska through its second grind through the Big Ten with a 15-18 record and an impressive win over Purdue in the first round of the conference tournament Thursday night, the senior guard was obviously upset when the Huskers' post-season hopes potentially ended with a 71-50 loss to Ohio State on Friday.
But part of his role as a senior leader, along with the likes of Brandon Ubel and Andre Almeida, was to help first-year head coach Tim Miles establish the foundation for what he wanted the program to be about.
Putting the final record and all the other statistics aside, Talley said he saw more than enough from his younger teammates to feel very good about what lies ahead for the future of Nebraska basketball.
"They're definitely going to have a good team," Talley said. "The future of the program looks bright. I think they're going to be a real competitive team next year and have a chance to be a lot better than we were this year. I'm glad us three seniors had a chance to contribute to that and build the program. Those guys sitting out (as redshirts), they're all talented players, and the younger guys on the team, they're going to have a year of experience and they're going to improve their games. The sky's the limit for those guys."
Looking ahead to next season, Nebraska returns four of the seven players to average more than 20 minutes a game this year in Ray Gallegos, David Rivers, Shavon Shields and Benny Parker. Those four alone accounted for more than 50 percent of NU's scoring this season.
The Huskers will also add the three transfers who sat out to the mix in Deverell Biggs, Terran Petteway and Walter Pitchford and, as of now, they have three incoming freshmen joining the squad in the fall in guards Tai Webster, Nathan Hawkins and wing Nick Fuller. With two more open scholarships for the 2013 class, there should be one or two more new faces joining in this spring.
Needless to say, NU's roster will have a completely different look when it takes the court again in 2013-14. For the returning players who did see the floor this season, the hope is having the workload they did should help them make a big jump from this season to the next.
"We're very excited about the potential that we have, and I'm so glad that we all got so much experience this year," Rivers said. "It was tough sometimes because we were all so young, but at the same time, next year we're going to be more vocal leaders and know what's going on. I think that will help out big time."
Considering Nebraska was a near-consensus pick to finish dead last in the Big Ten standings going into the season, its five league wins and upset over Purdue in the tournament give plenty of reason to consider this year a success.
With every ounce of success the Huskers do have from here on out, though, the expectations for the program will only continue to rise, and so will the pressure to meet those expectations as a result.
That is a trade Miles would gladly make every day of the week.
"I'm excited about our future. There's no doubt about it," Miles said. "I think we've got some talent on the way. But we've got a lot of work to do to replace the heart and soul of this group, and that's what we lost with Dylan Talley, Brandon Ubel and Andre Almeida. We lost a lot of veteran leadership, so we're going to have to develop some of that. That's going to take some time, I don't think there's any question about it.
"I'm looking forward to improving our program, and I think we have guys that are really invested. One neat thing I saw at a lot of Husker home games is we had some guys redshirting at the end of the bench, up cheering every play, up really into the games trying to support their team, and they gave us their best shot in practice too, and we needed that. There's some bright things, but we're going to miss these guys too."