Jon Teitel's Forgotten Legends Series: Nebraska's Dave Hoppen

August 27th, 2010

In the most recent installment of his "Forgotten Legends" interview series CHN's Jon Teitel spent some time with the all-time leading scorer in Nebraska Cornhuskers history, Dave Hoppen. A 6-foot-11 big man from Omaha, Hoppen left Lincoln having scored 2,167 points and his field goal percentage of 60% ranks second in school history. 

Jon Teitel: In the summer of 1983 you won a bronze medal at the US Olympic Festival. Which of the many collegiate stars who were there impressed you the most?

Dave Hoppen: I remember that playing with Benoit Benjamin for the first time was weird because the media had set us up to be such big rivals, but he was a good guy. Dell Curry stood out because of his great shooting skills, and Scott Skiles stood out because he was a feisty player and just had a will to win.

JT: From 1983-1986 you scored in double figures for a school-record 84 straight games. How were you able to maintain such consistency over the course of your career?

DH: You have to have great coaches, other players that are willing to sacrifice their own personal scoring goals to pass you the ball, and a great work ethic. I worked so hard in practice everyday that a lot of the times the games were easy.

JT: From 1984-1986 you were a three-time All-Big 8 perfomer. How were you able to dominate throughout your college career?

DH: Hard work and great teammates are the key, along with staying healthy and not missing games or practice time.

1983 National Invitation Tournament

JT: You scored 16 points in a win over Tulane. How were you able to combat the nerves in your first collegiate postseason game?

DH: I was not really nervous at all. We had some great senior leadership that year in Claude Renfro and Greg Downing, and they did a great job of setting the tone and making sure everyone was playing hard and together.

JT: You scored 15 points in a win over Iona. Did you start to gain a sense of momentum?

DH: As the NIT went along and we kept winning and the crowds got bigger and louder, it made it more intense and more fun.

JT: You scored 16 points and had four blocks in a win over TCU. Did you focus on defense or did you just have a big height advantage inside?

DH: I do not really remember if I had a huge height advantage over TCU, but if I had 4 blocks then that might have been the case. Coach Moe Iba was a great defensive basketball coach and really stressed defense in practice and games, but he was not a big proponent of blocked shots. He was more focused on denying the ball , helping out your teammates, and being in a good defensive position.

JT: You scored 15 points and had nine rebounds and four blocks in a semifinal loss to DePaul. Did you feel that was your best all-around game of the tourney, and what was the feeling like in your locker room afterwards?

DH: I felt pretty bad after the loss to DePaul. I felt that I had let my team down because I did not shoot the ball well from the field or the free throw line. My team relied on me very much, but I did not play well. We were all so excited to play with the Red/White/Blue basketballs, but when we got to the game we discovered that they were brand new and pretty slick, so the ball handling and shooting by both teams was pretty bad.

JT: You were named First Team All-NIT despite your team not making the finals. Did you consider your run in the tourney to be a success (due to your individual accolades and your team making it to the semifinals) or a failure (due to getting so close but not winning it all)?

DH: We felt that DePaul was a good team and had a much more storied history/coach than we did, but we came away feeling like we gave one away because we did not play as well as we had leading up to the game in New York.

JT: In 1984 you scored a career-high 35 points against Colorado. Do you remember it being just another game, or does it stand out in your mind as one of your best performances?

DH: I do not remember anything about that game; most of the time I had no idea how many points I had scored after a game.

JT: In 1984 you scored a school-record 24 points in the first half vs. South Dakota. Was it just one of those scenarios where every shot you put up seemed to go in because you were "in the zone"?

DH: Most of the time when we played against an opponent that I knew we were supposed to beat handily, my goal was to go out and take it to them and get a big lead so that some of the guys who normally did not get to play would get a chance. I really did not like it when we played down to the level of our competition and let a lesser team stay in a game into the 2nd half.

1984 National Invitation Tournament

JT: You scored 25 points and had 10 rebounds in a win over your in-state rival Creighton, including the game-winning free throw due to a technical foul on Benoit Benjamin at the end of the game. How were you able to combat the nerves to make the free throw, and was it one of the wildest finishes you have ever been involved in?

DH: It was one of the crazier games because it looked like we were going to run out of time or at least go into overtime, and then we ended up winning in regulation. The rivalry made that game huge, and emotions were running pretty high. Although Omaha is my hometown and we were playing on Creighton's home floor, the fans were definitely pro-Creighton and they were yelling and screaming and waving their arms behind the hoop trying to get me to miss. I was scared to death as I toed the line, but I did not want to let my team down or throw away a great opportunity when it looked like we were going to lose. Benoit played a great game, but unfortunately he let his emotions get the best of him at a bad time. That game would have to be one of my best memories from college!

JT: You scored 22 points and had seven rebounds in a loss to Xavier. Was your team exhausted from the previous game, or was Xavier just a better team?

DH: No excuses about being tired; if anything we were riding an emotional high. Xavier just outplayed us. It was a tough atmosphere to play in.

JT: The reason your team had to play two straight road games was because your home arena (the Devaney Center) was hosting the NCAA Midwest Regional at the time. Did you feel it was a huge disadvantage, and do you think you might have beaten Xavier if you were playing them at home?

DH: I do not know if we would have beaten them at home, but we definitely played a lot better at home than on the road. For some reason in college basketball, home-court advantage is huge.

JT: You played abroad for the NIT All-Star team that summer. Did you play with anyone of note and what was the competition like?

DH: I played with some very good players. The best was Xavier McDaniel, who led the NCAA in scoring and rebounding one year; he was a beast. The competition was pretty good in Italy and Yugoslavia, although we were playing against men mostly. The competition in Ireland was bad; in fact, one place we played was an old church that had a gym with wooden backboards. Xavier came down on a fast-break and slammed it so hard that he tore the rim down from the backboard; that was the end of that day! I also played with Terry Gannon who had just won the NCAA title with NC State. It was neat to hear all of his stories about that season.

1985 National Invitation Tournament

JT: You scored 21 points in a win over Canisius. Were you getting sick and tired of playing in the NIT, or was it still a thrill to not have your season come to an end?

DH: I was mostly sick of playing in the NIT. We did not have a very good team that year, and so even though we were glad to still be playing, we just wished we could have been playing better.

JT: You scored 23 points and had nine rebounds in a loss to eventual NIT champ UCLA. Could you tell at the time that Reggie Miller was going to become a star?

DH: Actually no;his sister Cheryl was much more famous at the time, and was thought to be a better player. Reggie had a good game against us, but I do not remember us trying to game-plan to specifically stop him.

JT: At the 1985 World University Games you lost the gold medal to Russia when they beat Team USA on a three-pointer with three seconds left. Could you tell at the time that Ron Harper and Chuck Person were going to become stars, and what was the feeling like in your locker room afterwards?

DH: We were devastated. The Russian team had a lot of older guys that played professionally in Italy and Spain (like Arvydas Sabonis), so we knew they were good, but we played very well and felt like we had a good chance to beat them. We did not play with a three-point line or shot clock yet in college, and it takes a lot of adjustment to play under the international rules. Ron was just so smooth that even though he went to a smaller school (Miami [OH]), everyone knew that he was good enough to play. Chuck was just an animal, and our guys followed his lead on the court; he played very aggressively and we all followed suit. Chuck felt like he could score on anyone at anytime, and he pretty much could: what a great player!

JT: In the fall of 1985 your team had an "illegal" pre-season practice at Mabel Lee Hall. Did you know it was illegal at the time, and what happened once the media found out about it?

DH: As a team, we were just following what the coaches told us to do. We knew the coaches were not supposed to be there, but mostly it was conditioning/defensive drills. We definitely were not doing any offensive drills or scrimmaging. The school newspaper wrote about it, and the administration talked to Coach Iba, but otherwise we forgot about it.

JT: In 1986 you were having a great senior year until you blew out your knee that February. What did it feel like to have your college career come to and end all of sudden, and were you surprised that you were still named an All-American despite missing the rest of the season?

DH: I felt awful when I heard from the doctor that I had torn my ACL. At that time there were not a lot of players who were coming back from that injury to play at the same level prior to their surgery, so that was scary. It was very satisfying to be named All-American after all that I had gone through that year. It was so disappointing because that was the best team I had played on at Nebraska. I was very proud of the way the team played without me and made it to their 1st NCAA tourney.

JT: You became the first basketball player in school history to have his jersey retired. Where does that rank among the greatest honors in your life?

DH: It is in the Top 10 for sure; it was a tremendous honor to go to your home state school and succeed.

JT: In the summer of 1986 you were drafted in the third round by Atlanta (five spots after future Hall of Famer Drazen Petrovic). Were you thrilled to realize your dream of making it to the NBA, or disappointed that you did not get selected earlier?

DH: I was totally thrilled! I really thought there was a good chance that I would go undrafted because of my injury. Hall of Famer Willis Reed was an assistant with the Hawks, and had been head coach at Creighton when I played at Nebraska, so he knew how well I had played against his teams (and Benoit in particular). He was instrumental in bringing me to Atlanta.

JT: You averaged 5 PPG and 3.8 RPG during your six-year NBA career. Was there any specific highlight, or did you just sit back and enjoy the entire ride?

DH: There were plenty of highlights. The first year that Charlotte had a franchise and all the excitement that generated was awesome. Playing against the Celtics in the Boston Garden and being on the floor with DJ, Danny Ainge, Robert Parish, Larry Bird, and Kevin McHale was great; I had idolized those guys and that team so that was thrilling. Playing with Charles Barkley and Hersey Hawkins on the 76ers was cool; they were 2 of the best players I have ever seen. The opportunity to play against Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing, etc. was an unbelievable thrill. To me, the ten-year stretch from the mid-1980s through the mid-1990s was the renaissance of the NBA.

JT: In 1991 you made the playoffs with Philadelphia, who had a roster full of players who were the best NBA players from their respective schools (Charles Barkley, Mario Elie, Robert Reid). What are your favorite memories of that team?

DH: It was a team full of characters, but also a team that was great on the court. We had a very good coach for that team in Jim Lynam; he was very easy-going (not a big yeller) and treated the guys as professionals and men, and expected us to respect the game as well. Along with the aforementioned Charles and Hersey, we also had Manute Bol, Johnny Dawkins, and Rick Mahorn. We were the only team to beat the Bulls in the playoffs when they won their first title, and I think we could have gone pretty far if the Bulls had not been in our conference. That team had the most fun as well as the most turmoil of any team I ever played for, but overall it was a great time! We would bicker and fight amongst ourselves, but would come together and play hard on the court every night.

Hoppen is also on Jon's list of the Big 12's best fantasy players

Baylor: Terry Teagle (1982) 2,189 PTS (#1), 805 REB (#4), three-time All-American, conference Player of the Year
Colorado: Cliff Meely (1971) 1,940 PTS (#3), 971 REB (#2), 123 BLK (#4), two-time All-American, two-time conference Player of the Year
Iowa State: Jeff Grayer (1988) 2,502 PTS (#1), 910 REB (#4), 199 STL (#5), All-American
Kansas: Danny Manning (1988) 2,951 PTS (#1), 1,187 REB (#1), three-time All-American, three-time conference Player of the Year, national Player of the Year, NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player
Kansas State: Rolando Blackman (1981) 1,844 PTS (#2), 314 AST (#4), two-time All-American, conference Player of the Year
Missouri: Doug Smith (1991) 2,184 PTS (#2), 1,053 REB (#1), 178 STL (#3), 129 BLK (#2), All-American, two-time conference Player of the Year
Nebraska: Dave Hoppen (1986) 2,167 PTS (#1), 773 REB (#4), 60 FG% (#2), All-American
Oklahoma: Wayman Tisdale (1985) 2,661 PTS (#1), 1,048 REB (#1), 57.8 FG% (#2), three-time All-American, three-time conference Player of the Year
Oklahoma State: Byron Houston (1992) 2,379 PTS (#1), 1,189 REB (#1), 222 BLK (#1), 159 STL (#4), All-American, conference Player of the Year
Texas: Travis Mays (1990) 2,279 PTS (#2), All-American, two-time conference Player of the Year
Texas A&M: Bernard King (2003) 1,990 PTS (#1), 232 3PM (#1), 550 AST (#2)
Texas Tech: Rick Bullock (1976) 2,118 PTS (#3), 1,057 REB (#3), 149 BLK (#2), 56.5 FG% (#2)