When the Cornhuskers took the court at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Wednesday morning, they did so in an almost entirely empty arena.
Outside of team and arena personnel, the only people in the building were media members. At least for game one, even family members weren’t allowed in the doors (the Golden Window Classic is apparently operating under different protocols than Nebraska since there was a small number of family members for North Dakota State’s game against Nevada on Wednesday afternoon).
Outside of bench cheers, on-court communication and music during timeouts, the only sound was an odd artificial crowd noise that played over the speakers throughout the game.
Welcome to college basketball in 2020-21.
Even though they weren’t allowed to be physically present, Nebraska surprised its players by trying to bring their family to them with a special video to announce the roster and starting lineup. The Huskers also shared the video on Twitter for the fans at home.
Every time we take the floor, we’re a family. ✊
Now introducing your 20-21 Nebraska Huskers: pic.twitter.com/0r4Qsh17Qx
— Nebraska Basketball (@HuskerHoops) November 25, 2020
“I thought that video was absolutely phenomenal,” Coach Fred Hoiberg said after the game. “I credit Luca Virgilio, our director of operations, that helped set that up. I thought that was a great start and really got our guys excited for the game. To see the families out there, I know Teddy got emotional when his son talked there and to see all Yvan’s family in France and to see Thor’s dad with Thor’s Iceland national team jersey on, Lat had his whole community there wishing him well, so I thought that was a really cool way for us to start the season.”
Nine Huskers made their Nebraska debut on Wednesday, but it meant a little more to one of them in particular. Just over six minutes into the game, junior wing Shamiel Stevenson checked in for the first time since Dec. 12, 2018, while he was a sophomore at Pittsburgh. Despite the long time between games, Stevenson said he didn’t have too many jitters.
“I guess the no fans played a factor; it was a little weird,” Stevenson said. “They made a little intro video with our families and that made me feel really good and comfortable, I guess. When I got in, it was just basketball from there.”
The Huskers have been preparing to play in mostly empty arenas throughout the offseason. On Tuesday, a reporter asked Western Nebraska Community College transfer Teddy Allen what he thought about playing without fans.
“I’m a hooper,” Allen replied. “I like to hoop. It doesn’t matter to me; it makes no difference at all. I’m just glad we get to play.”
On Wednesday, Allen fired up the empty seats during Nebraska’s warmups.
— Hail Varsity (@HailVarsity) November 25, 2020
The 102 points scored (including 29 in transition), 16 steals recorded and seven dunks thrown down all point to a team playing with a lot of energy.
“We’ve been preaching all preseason that we’re going to have to bring our own energy, and I think we did that from the very beginning of the game,” senior Kobe Webster said. “I think if we come out like that and we’re talking and if we have that effort on defense, I think we’re going to be a great team.”
Wednesday had a completely different vibe than a normal college basketball game, but this isn’t a normal year and the Huskers are simply grateful for the opportunity to get back on the floor, regardless who is in the crowd.
“It means a lot,” Webster said. “Since we set foot on campus in June, we’ve been looking forward to this moment and I think Coach has done a great job preparing us. He’s basically preaching we’re preparing like we have a full season. To see the work that we put it, they way we’ve become comfortable with one another, and to come out and display it like that, it was a great feeling.”
The Huskers should get two more chances to hit the court this week, starting with Thursday’s afternoon tipoff against Nevada on BTN.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.