YOU'RE AT LINCOLN MUNICIpal Airport, you say, and you need
directions to Nebraska Wesleyan University? That's a cinch. Head east
on the Cornhusker Highway and get off on Adams Street. Hang a right
on 56th. Wesleyan will be that vest-pocket school on your right,
across the street from the university. You know, the University of
Nebraska, home of the Cornhuskers. In town for the football game, are
No? Well, if you need a room, try the Cornhusker Hotel on 13th
Street. It has cheap parking and free apples at the front desk. And
do yourself a favor: Try the Husker Special at the cafe -- turkey and
ham on an English muffin, smothered with hollandaise sauce. Comes
with salad and a roll for just $4.95.
Smothered as they are by omnipresent Cornhuskers, no one would
blame the Plainsmen of Nebraska Wesleyan if they came down with a
Dean Steinkuhler-sized identity crisis. But thanks to basketball
coach Jerry (Midas) Schmutte and his band of suburban jump shooters,
the folks at Nebraska Wesleyan have plenty to be proud of. With three
Final Four appearances in the past four years, the Plainsmen are to
Division III basketball what Miami (sorry, Cornhuskers) is to
big-time college football. In fact, given the Huskers' dismal
postseason history -- they are 0-1 in NCAA tournament games -- they
probably should be the ones with the identity crisis.
Comparing postseason achievements in Division III to those in
Division I is like mixing apples and oranges, you say? Well, you're
right. In a sense, the Plainsmen have a tougher row to hoe. They're
competing against 293 other , schools for 32 NCAA tournament berths,
as compared with the same number vying for the 64 berths in Division
I. Should the Huskers, by some minor miracle, win their first Big
Eight basketball title this spring, they would automatically be
invited to the NCAA's show. Should Schmutte, on the other hand, win
his fifth Nebraska Intercollegiate Athletic Conference crown in five
seasons, that accomplishment and $1.95 will get him a Nebraska Nectar
at the Cornhusker's Cafe.
''We qualify by our record alone,'' says Schmutte, a 1967 Nebraska
Wesleyan alumnus who earned seven letters playing baseball and
basketball. ''Every game is important because unless you get those 20
wins, the tournament selectors say, 'Well . . . ,' and pass you
So Schmutte makes sure he gets his 20. Says point guard Jim Moran,
''I never knew you could prepare so much for a game. We know what
we're going to do when we go into games, and it works.'' Moran, who
lived in York, Neb., before his family moved to Baton Rouge in 1983,
is the only starter not from Lincoln. The locals are 6 ft. 7 in.
center Charlie Burt, forwards Steve Brugman and Scott Miller and 6
ft. 3 in. guard Bill Weed.
Schmutte is content to let the Division I coaches pile up frequent
flier mileage and live on hotel food. He has found the building
blocks for his national powerhouse without leaving the state, often
without crossing the city limits. This dovetails conveniently with
his travel and recruiting budgets, which are comparable to what the
Huskers pay their aerobics instructor every year.
But at least Schmutte is spared the aggravations that beset his
brethren in the big time. ''I don't have to worry about opening the
morning newspaper to find out who signed with what agent,'' he says.
And at Wesleyan, he adds, ''Proposition 48 is irrelevant.''
Typically, four of the Plainsmen's five starters last season were
Schmutte remembers the incredulous looks people gave him in 1980.
He was a fresh-faced first-year coach who had spent the previous four
years resuscitating basketball at Norris High in Firth, Neb., where
his record had been 81-11. The Plainsmen had won six games the
previous season, and here was this Norman Vincent Peale sound-alike
saying the program was headed ''for national prominence.'' They
thought he'd been puffing on some funny corn husks.
But in 1982, Schmutte recruited forward Kevin Cook and center Dana
Janssen, both from Lincoln Northeast High. They became Plainsmen, and
Schmutte was on his way. Cook and Janssen led Nebraska Wesleyan to
the Division III quarterfinals in 1984 and to the Final Four the next
The Plainsmen made it back to the Final Four last season, but lost
87-71 to eventual champ Ohio Wesleyan, one of 20 colleges in the U.S.
that, in one way or another, are named after John Wesley, the
18th-century Englishman who founded Methodism.
''We've tasted the cake,'' says Moran. ''Now we intend to eat our
fill.'' If they do, perhaps the proprietors of the Cornhusker would
consider an addition to their menu: the Plainsmen Special. Hold the
BOX: SMALL COLLEGE RANKINGS
NCAA DIVISION II
1 Kentucky Wesleyan
2 Florida Southern
3 Troy State
4 S.E. Missouri State
6 Virginia Union
7 Cal State-Bakersfield
10 New Haven
NCAA DIVISION III
1 Nebraska Wesleyan
2 Trenton State
4 Illinois Wesleyan
5 Southeastern Mass.
8 Jersey City State
9 Ohio Wesleyan
10 Clark (Mass.)
1 David Lipscomb
2 Wis.-Eau Claire
3 Grand Canyon
4 Central Washington
5 St. Th. Aquinas (N.Y.)
6 St. Xavier (Ill.)
9 So. Oregon State
10 Fort Hays State