Notre Dame coaches told Dave Hoppen he’d become a first-round NBA draft pick and make millions if he signed with the Irish.
Kentucky had a coach lead Hoppen to center court at cavernous Rupp Arena, and staff members dimmed the lights and shined a spotlight on the unassuming 17-year-old Omahan as the public address announcer boomed that he’d just tipped in the winning basket for the Wildcats.
But Hoppen turned down a UK scholarship offer. He also said no to Notre Dame, Missouri, Kansas and Colorado. And yes to Nebraska.
Between 1982 and 1986, the 6-foot-11 center became NU’s all-time leading scorer, and he did it with clinical efficiency, hitting 60 percent of his shots from the field and 77 percent from the line in averaging 19.5 points a game for his career. He joined the Nebraska Basketball Hall of Fame in 1996.
Hoppen rarely ventured far from the basket in coach Moe Iba’s methodical offense, but teammates knew he could hit from 20 feet.
“After practice, you did not want to play Hop in H-O-R-S-E,” forward Bill Jackman said three decades later. “He’d beat you all the time.”
Hoppen, from Benson High, and Jackman, from Grant, were part of probably the best recruiting class in Nebraska prep basketball history. The class of 1982 produced seven Division I players.
Kerry Trotter signed with Marquette. Ron Kellogg picked Kansas. Jackman chose Duke before later transferring to NU.
Even with the recruiting attention from basketball blue bloods, Hoppen said, he never regretted choosing Nebraska.
“I was unbelievably happy with my career at Nebraska,” he said. “I don’t ever look back and think, ‘What if?’”
Not about his school choice, anyway. A knee injury cut short his senior season, costing him a chance to play in the Huskers’ first NCAA tournament game.
It also hurt his NBA career, he said. He spent parts of six seasons in the league with four teams, averaging 5 points, 3.8 rebounds and 14 minutes a game. Recovery from knee surgery sidelined him his entire rookie season.
“After sitting out a year and a half,” he said, “and stepping up and playing against the best players in the world, my confidence just wasn’t there.”
Played for: Omaha Benson High, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Golden State Warriors, Charlotte Hornets, Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Nets
Best athlete from Nebraska played with or against: Probably Ron Kellogg. "I played against him most of the time, but played with him in some summer leagues in high school. He was probably ahead of his time as guards go."
Best moment as an athlete: "That would probably be my junior year at Benson when we made it to the state finals and lost by two to Creighton Prep. That year there were so many good teams, it seemed like every night you were playing Top 10 teams."
Hoppen was No. 82 in the inaugural Nebraska 100 list in 2005. See more about the 2005 list »