INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana (KETK) – 2019 brought a lot of uncertainty to then UT Tyler assistant basketball coach Dave Nedbalek.
The coronavirus pandemic in 2020 provided even more doubt.
Fast-forward less than twelve months later and the East Texas native is preparing to coach in the Sweet 16 of the Big Dance as a graduate assistant for this year’s most noticeable Cinderella Oral Roberts.
“It’s surreal. My whole life I’ve dreamed about being a part of March Madness. As a kid it was as a player, as I became as a coach. So just to be in this situation with these guys,” said Nedbalek.
Life works out in interesting ways sometimes, from being the youngest athletics director in East Texas at King’s Academy in the Rose City before getting a shot at the college level on Jamon Copeland and Jake Deer’s staff at UT Tyler for three years.
“They gave me my start in college coaching. They didn’t know me from atom. And they trusted me, and they mentored me, and guided me. I know for a fact, I would not be here today if it were not for them,” Nedbalek explained.
Now on the bench in the NCAA tournament, Nedbalek said he’s received an incredible amount of support from many here in the Piney Woods as well as those who helped mold him.
“I think I was at 494 text messages. And so I’m sure even my parents, and family, and friends have reached out, and I just have been unable to keep up with the messages. I did I got to talk to Jamon. I’ve got to talk to some former players. It’s just cool to share those experiences with the people that you love.”
But Nedbalek saw his coaching future in limbo amidst a coaching change at UT Tyler two years ago, and even after spending last season on the Patriot women’s staff, he again found himself in an insecure position.
Then came his current opportunity, and he took a leap of faith.
“Someone text me yesterday amidst the chaos and just said what a cool story that the Lord has written over the past year. My wife and I moving away during Covid jobs uncertain. There’s just this fear where I can’t control what’s happening. And God has been faithful to me through it all. He’s writing a story that is for his glory and I am just blessed. I am blessed to know the people I know. I am blessed to have coached with the people I coached with. I am blessed to be at ORU,” said Nedbalek.
As a small world would have it, in his first season with the Golden Eagles, he’s helping mentor one of the most entertaining players now under the March spotlight in Rockwall native Max Abmas, who is the Country’s leading scorer at 24.5 points per game.”
“We actually recruited Max while I was at UT Tyler. So what a cool story to get to coach him. I actually text him when I got the job, and was like how cool is this, like I recruited you, and now we are gonna link back up and be family together.”
Oral Roberts, only the second No. 15-seed ever to reach the Sweet 16 takes on third-seeded Arkansas on Saturday at 6:25 p.m. for the right to move on to the NCAA’s South regional final.
Watch the video to see the story.
Some images and footage are courtesy of ORU Athletics or Duncan White.