After more than a year of anticipation building about the new downtown Pinnacle Bank Arena and Year 2 of Nebraska basketball under head coach Tim Miles, the 2013-14 season will officially get started in a special way on Friday night.
For the first time in recent memory, the Huskers are opening up their first practice of the season to the public with an hour-long scrimmage and meet-and-greet event at the new arena that will be free and open to the fans. Along with a light scrimmage session, during which Miles will provide live commentary, the event will also feature a handful of side contests that won't be unveiled until the night gets underway.
The "Meet the Huskers" event is scheduled to run from 7-8 p.m., with doors opening at 6 p.m. As of Thursday, projected attendance numbers for the scrimmage had been unofficially estimated at roughly 7,000 to 9,000 fans, which would fill more than half of the 15,000-seat arena.
Fans aren't the only ones excited for the season kickoff event either. Sophomore forward Shavon Shields said the players have been looking forward to Friday night since Miles first announced he was planning the festivities a few months ago.
"I think everybody was super excited," Shields said of the team's reaction when learning about the event. "How many times do you get to open up an arena with a Midnight Madness sort of feel? There's just a lot of excitement and everybody's ready to go."
Friday night will be the first of 30 practices Nebraska will hold in a span of 42 days leading up to their exhibition opener against Nebraska-Kearney on Nov. 4. While the extended amount of practice time may seem like a long stretch before the first game finally rolls around, Shields said the Huskers would take all the practice they could get with such a young team that for the most part has hardly played against live competition together before.
"I think everyone's welcoming it, because it's something new," Shields said. "It's a little longer than last year, so by the end of it I'm sure (the players) will just be like, 'ugh.' But you have to do it, and I think everyone is ready to go…
It's exciting. I think everybody is ready to go. I mean, we've been doing workouts and individuals and open gyms since March, so I think everybody is just ready to get the offense going, the defense going and things like that. Just kind of getting the team at full speed going."
Nebraska will also have four newcomers making their official Husker debuts during Friday's event. True freshmen Nick Fuller, Nathan Hawkins and Tai Webster and junior college transfer Leslee Smith will all be suiting up in front of NU fans for the first time, which increases their level of excitement even more.
"For me, I'm really excited," Fuller said. "I mean, it's kind of the start of my basketball career here, and I'm really excited for it. More than some of the other guys, it will be kind of a transitional thing for me just playing in front of all those people there and playing in that arena. It will be more than just a scrimmage for me, it will be more getting used to things and getting an expectation of what it will be like for that first game."
Aside from finally getting to see this group play together in public, maybe the other most anticipated aspect of the night will be seeing Pinnacle Bank Arena as a basketball venue for the first time. The arena has already hosted several concerts and events, but for the players, coaches and fans alike, Friday night will be the first taste of what to expect from the new home of the Huskers this season and beyond.
"I can't fully wrap my mind around it, and I can't fully wrap my mind around that practices start tomorrow," Shields said. "It's crazy. It's crazy. It's a good time to be with Husker basketball."