OKLAHOMA CITY — Lucas O'Rear was almost a Jayhawk.
He'd never talked it about until after Saturday's historic win over No. 1 Kansas, but the two-time Missouri Valley Conference sixth man of the year almost transferred to play baseball for the Jayhawks after Northern Iowa dropped its baseball program after last season.
O'Rear was the starting pitcher in the Panthers' final game and struck out 15 batters in 17 innings as a sophomore.
"I was upset when we got rid of baseball, because I came here to play two sports and I feel like I have a future in baseball," O'Rear said. "So, yeah, I went on a recruiting trip to Kansas. I don't think a lot of people know that."
O'Rear, who is on scholarship for basketball, came back to Cedar Falls and was leaning towards moving to Lawrence until a sit-down with his father, Michael, and UNI coach Ben Jacobson.
"I just went in coach Jacobson's office and the three of us talked everything out," O'Rear said. "After that talk, I decided to come back."
O'Rear was a physical presence all game against the Jayhawks, battling with both Marcus and Markieff Morris, grabbing five rebounds, including three on offense.
"My attitude towards basketball and baseball are two entirely different things," O'Rear said. "In basketball I'm more emotional, going after whatever I can get. In baseball I have to keep it pretty cool. It's not like you can strike somebody out and start jumping all over the mound and celebrating."
Sorta coach — Jim Berry would like to step on the basketball court to instruct Northern Iowa's basketball players, but it's not the cane that's stopping him.
Two summers ago, Berry, 73, approached Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson with a desire to be a volunteer on the coaching staff. But because the Panthers couldn't add an assistant, Berry and Jacobson settled on the title "voluntary consultant." It allows Berry to be on the bench with the team, but the rules say he can't step on the court.
"It's hard to put into words how special it's been and how much fun it's been," Berry said Friday. "It's just been a big thrill and an honor to be part of this whole thing."
Berry, who coached UNI from 1973-86 with a 144-210 record, was diagnosed with cancer in his kidney 10 years ago, and when it moved into his bones seven years later, he began needing assistance to walk. He's frail, but that doesn't affect his attitude.
"There are days I feel pretty good and days I don't feel so good," Berry said. "I get very tired very quickly. The coaching staff understands that and all the players know what I'm going through, and they've all been very helpful. On a bus trip or something, they'll grab my luggage and take it into the hotel."
UNI's players enjoy having Berry around just as much as he enjoys being with them.
"It's pretty nice having Coach Berry there with us all the time at practices, at road trips, at games," senior Adam Koch said. "He just kind of sits on the side and observes, and you know when he says something to you, it's probably a good point and you should listen to it."
Though the head coach in Berry will never leave him, he said he's found it easy to adjust to his role because Jacobson and his staff give credence to his suggestions, whether they're followed or not. Berry also frequently approaches players with tips on how to improve their play.
"The toughness that he shows up with every day, battling cancer as he is and still showing up to practice with a smile on his face," Jacobson said. "He's always got an encouraging word for the guys or for me or for our staff and just the mentality, his mindset, his toughness, those things have had a real impact on me and our guys."