‘Everyone knows that this was my dream’: Sam Griesel’s long path back to Nebraska
LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) – Sam Griesel is living his dream as a Nebraska basketball player.
“The whole arena was just erupting in a Go Big Red chant,” he said. “And I was like, I was speechless in that moment. I just looked around and just smiled. This is why I came here.”
Growing up in Lincoln, Griesel idolized Husker players like Shavon Shields, Toney McCray and Ryan Anderson – hoping maybe someday he, too, could wear the scarlet and cream.
“I remember being that 10-year-old kid,” he said. “And that’s one thing when I come back out here after games, I want to make sure that I sign every single thing that I can sign and interact with the fans and the little kids because I know what it feels like to be there, like exactly what it feels like.”
But the path to play in Lincoln wasn’t easy.
Griesel said he had six Division I offers out of Lincoln East, but Nebraska wasn’t one of them.
“It was my dream to play here,” he said. “But I didn’t necessarily, like, see myself or think I was good enough, especially late in my high school career, to play here.”
Instead, he went to North Dakota State, where he played four seasons, becoming an All-Summit League player.
Griesel said his time in Fargo was when he learned the most about himself, in part due to a scary moment last season.
A stomach ulcer almost cost Griesel his life. He lost half of his blood.
“That experience definitely shaped who I am today and who I intend to be in the future,” he said.
A teammate helped save Griesel’s life that night, a night that changed his perspective on life.
“It’s bigger than basketball,” he said. “To me, true greatness is how you affect other people and the impact that you leave on a city, a state a group of people.”
Just after his season ended last March, Griesel put his name in the portal, and, finally, Nebraska called.
Fred Hoiberg offered him a chance to come home, and of course, he said yes.
“I wanted to have a positive effect on the culture,” he said. “I wanted to win some basketball games. I wanted to do whatever Coach Hoiberg asked me to do to win games for this community.”
And has he ever. Not even a year later, Griesel’s a force on the court for the Huskers.
But his impact off it is just as impressive.
From hosting a blood drive to visiting elementary schools, if he’s not playing ball, you can find Griesel helping others.
“Sam continues to do things that makes everybody around him and everybody in this state and everybody that’s affiliated with this university proud to be a Husker,” Hoiberg said.
Griesel’s been essential for the Big Red, leading the Huskers to a four-game win streak and leading them toward playing in the postseason.
“We’re playing meaningful basketball at the end of February. You know, it’s been a while since Nebraska has been in that position,” he said. “It’s really exciting. It’s exciting for this community, the state. And obviously, you can kind of see how the state is rallying around the basketball team with the buzz that we’re getting.”
It was always Griesel’s hope to bring that excitement back to Pinnacle Bank Arena and make “Nebraska somewhat of a basketball school.”
His passion for Husker hoops runs in the family.
His grandfather, Barry Moore, was the timekeeper for Nebraska basketball for 41 years.
Grandpa Barry loved Nebraska basketball almost as much as he loved watching Sam play.
But Barry died two years ago, missing out on Sam’s homecoming.
And Barry’s wife, Irene, died just before Sam returned to his home state.
“I wish so, so bad that they could be at every single game,” Griesel said. “But it’s like I talked about, I know they have a front-row seat, and just to know how much joy that I know this is bringing them every single day because they first and foremost loved watching me play basketball.”
Every time Griesel hits the court, he honors their memory on his taped wrists, writing their initials, BM and IM. “I kind of just look it down on my wrist, touch my wrist, whatever it may be, and it kind of just gives me a sense of calm,” he said.
And maybe you’ve seen Griesel run and give Kent Pavelka a fist bump before tipoff. There’s history behind that: Pavelka knew his grandpa.
“And then I write a Bible verse on the top of my hand just because I think it keeps me really grounded,” Griesel said. “And no matter what happens in the basketball game, you know, I know God’s going to be with me.”
The verse changes every game. A local family, the Pittengers, and Griesel choose it together.
“I kind of just look it down on my wrist, touch my wrist, whatever it may be, and it kind of just gives me a sense of calm,” he said.
There are just two games left in the regular season. Tuesday is the final home game, senior night, which promises to be a full circle moment to a memorable college career.
“Everyone knows that this was my dream … coming back home, it’s going to be a very emotional night,” Griesel said. “But it’s a basketball game and a basketball game that we need to win.
His message for Nebraska fans?
“We’re going to run with it, and we’re going to fight like hell to make this community proud, to make Husker nation proud,” Griesel said.