LINCOLN, Neb. – Next season's move to the Big Ten will open fresh recruiting areas for Nebraska, and coach Doc Sadler will have a new arena and practice facility to use as bait.
What won't change is the Cornhuskers' struggle to bring in scholarship players from close to home.
"If you look at the good teams throughout the country, most of the time it's when they've got kids either from right there locally or kids from within the state that they have their real good basketball teams," Sadler said. "That's what we're trying to do here."
Sadler hasn't had a freshman scholarship player join the program out of a Nebraska high school since he took the job in 2006. The only native to make a significant contribution under Sadler is senior Drake Beranek, who walked on in 2009 after transferring from Division II Nebraska-Kearney and was put on scholarship before this season.
It could be a couple more years before the Huskers sign a homegrown recruit because, according to the state's top prep coaches, no current high school seniors have been pegged as high-major talent.
And if the state does have a hot prospect?
"Look out, because here comes Kansas or Texas to try to pluck that talent away," said Jerry Meyer, national recruiting analyst for Rivals.com.
In a state that ranks 38 out of 50 with 1.8 million people, big-time recruits are few and far between.
According to STATS LLC, there are 23 Nebraskans on Division I rosters this season, ranking 37th among the states and District of Columbia. That figure includes scholarship players and walk-ons.
There are seven Nebraskans on rosters of BCS-level schools, but only Beranek (Ravenna), Minnesota's Elliott Eliason (Chadron) and Texas' Matt Hill (Lincoln) are on scholarship. The Huskers' key players come from places such as Pennsylvania, Texas, Kansas, Indiana, California, Puerto Rico and Brazil.
Other Big 12 teams, with the exception of those in Texas, also must go out of state to find most of their scholarship players.
Big Ten teams have the advantage of being in some of the most populous states. All five starters for top-ranked Ohio State come from the Buckeye state, and its roster has three other Ohioans. Illinois has 10 in-state players, including all five starters. Purdue has 11, Michigan State has nine and Iowa has eight.
"There are a lot of kids in Chicago, and they can't take everybody at Illinois," Sadler said. "Maybe you can go to Minneapolis and get a kid. Maybe Minnesota doesn't have a scholarship for him that year. You're five or six hours away. They grew up in Minneapolis and they want to play in the Big Ten. So I think that's what is going to help us."
Additional help will come from the new practice facility that opens next fall, and the Huskers will play in a new downtown Lincoln arena in 2013.
One thing that will still be missing: tradition. The Huskers haven't won a conference title since 1950, haven't been to the NCAA tournament since 1998 and have never won an NCAA tournament game.
"Historically, they just don't have the name and the reputation some of these schools have," said Scout.com recruiting analyst Evan Daniels. "If they can't recruit locally, it makes it that much harder."
Greatness in the Nebraska high school ranks comes sporadically. Keeping the best talent at home has been a challenge since the 1970s, when Omaha North's Mike McGee went to Michigan before going on to a productive career with the Los Angeles Lakers.
There was prolific high school talent in the 1980s, but only Omahans Dave Hoppen and Rich King had major impacts for the Huskers. Erick Strickland, who had a solid NBA career, played on some of Nebraska's best teams of the 1990s. But other Nebraska prep stars of that decade such as Andre Woolridge, Curtis Marshall and T.J. Pugh went elsewhere.
Wes Eikmeier, who grew up in Fremont, started his college career at Iowa State and transferred to Colorado State, where he's a starting guard. Eikmeier said the perception among young players in the state is that basketball isn't a priority at Nebraska.
"UNL is more of a football school," Eikmeier said. "When you go there, the buzz is always about football, not basketball. The fan support rallies around football, and there's more media coverage of football. Football always has been the main focus in the state."
Doug Woodard, head coach at Bellevue West, wouldn't dispute Eikmeier's point.
"It's an uphill battle because basketball is kind of a second-tier sport," Woodard said. "I'm not saying that's reality, but it might be in a recruit's eyes."
Rivals.com's Meyer said Sadler probably would continue to look for players overseas and in the junior-college ranks and also use his connections around the country to find a player who slipped through the cracks.
"And it's not like no one in Nebraska can play basketball," Meyer said, "so you keep your eyes open and look for one or two players you can get out of your region."
In-state players now on Nebraska's radar are junior guard Mike Gesell of South Sioux City and sophomore center Akoy Agau of Omaha Central.
When a high-major prospect from the state is available, it's important to sign him, Sadler said.
"You're dealing with a state that's unique in Nebraska, where 99.9 percent of the kids probably grew up wanting to play for the university in whatever sport it is," he said. "It's no different in basketball. You're just going to be more familiar with it, you're probably going to have more pride, you're going to be more committed to your home state.
"Talent is always going to supersede anything, but if you've got two guys close in talent, the guy with the talent and pride and ownership is probably going to be the better player."