Bellevue west guard dribbles the ball down the court
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Padding the Stats: Let the In-State Recruiting Battles Begin

June 28, 2019

If a recent flurry of high-major offers — in addition to those that were already in place — is anything to judge by, the basketball talent in Nebraska is on the rise.

After a strong performance at the Midwest Showcase, 2020 Millard North forward Max Murrell received 11 offers in less than two days, six of which were from high-major schools. The first of those came from Creighton.

The Midwest Showcase also led to an offer for another player from Millard North, 2022 forward Jasen Green. That one came from Nebraska.

As things currently stand, Nebraska hasn’t offered Murrell and Creighton hasn’t offered Green (though it’s still early regarding the latter), so they aren’t going head-to-head for them. That isn’t true for a couple of other in-state players, however.

Nebraska and Creighton have both been pursuing 2021 Millard North wing Hunter Sallis for a while. Sallis is a 4-star recruit who also holds offers from Drake, Ole Miss, Iowa State and Kansas State. As a sophomore, Sallis averaged 18.2 points on 58.1% from the field, 39.6% from 3 and 77.1% from the free-throw line.

Sallis is long, athletic and smooth with an easily projectable skill set, which is why high-major schools jumped on him last fall. I watched him play three games at the Border Battle between Nebraska and Iowa teams on Thursday and he finished with 18, 12 (on 4-of-6 shooting) and 22 points while scoring in a variety of ways. His ability to get to the rim in transition in addition to his advanced pull-up game make him a perfect fit for both Nebraska and Creighton’s up-tempo, spread-out systems.

Chucky Hepburn, the 2021 point guard from Bellevue West, has long been a Nebraska target. The previous staff, with assistant coach Michael Lewis leading the way, was very high on Hepburn, and Fred Hoiberg and his staff have since re-offered the heady floor general and had him on campus for an unofficial visit. After a strong showing at a team camp in the Chicago area last weekend, Creighton — who has been monitoring him for a while — finally jumped into the race with an offer. Minnesota and Wisconsin have also offered him.

Hepburn started from day one at Bellevue West and last year he put up 18.3 points, 5.1 rebounds, 5.0 assists and  3.4 steals per game while shooting 44.9% from the field, 30.1% from 3 and 76.6% from 3. Hepburn has outstanding court vision and is one of the best in the state at pushing the tempo, whether it be leading the break himself or hitting floor runners in stride with outlet passes. He’s athletic enough to finish above the rim when he has space but can also absorb contact and finish at a high level. Defensively, his hands and anticipation are outstanding. 

Hepburn is close with Armon Gates, the assistant coach from Tim Miles’ staff that Hoiberg retained, and he got a chance to meet the team during his unofficial visit. He’s also stated in the past that Creighton is one of the team dreamed of playing for, and he’s gone to Creighton games while growing up and has played pick-up with the team. Both Nebraska (Erick Strickland) and Creighton (Josh Dotzler, Antoine Young) have had success with guards coming out of that high school.

The battles between the two programs aren’t limited to just in-state prospects in that 2021 class. Matthew Mors, the power forward from Yankton, South Dakota, is a prospect from the region that both schools are high on. Mors began his varsity career in seventh grade and had surprised 1,000 career points before the end of his freshman season. He’s visited both campuses, though his visit to Nebraska came under the previous staff.

As a 6-foot-7 forward with perimeter skills and a great feel for the game, Mors is a great fit for both Nebraska and Creighton. He’s also received offers from Iowa, Iowa State, Colorado, TCU and Wisconsin among others, and the Badgers might be sitting in the driver’s seat at the moment. Nebraska has re-offered Mors, but Creighton’s history with him runs deep. Hepburn and Mors appear to have struck up a friendship based on social media, which adds another wrinkle to the situation.

Both Creighton and Nebraska also have offers out to 5-star wing Kendall Brown out of St. Paul, Minnesota, and 4-star center Adama Sanogo out of Centereach, New York as well.

The Huskers and Jays have a few similar offers in the 2020 class — 4-star power forward Ben Carlson (St. Paul, Minnesota), 3-star guard Luke Kasubke (St. Louis, Missouri) and 3-star guard Kerwin Walton (Hopkins, Minnesota) — but Nebraska currently doesn’t have any spots left in that class after retaining the commitments of Donovan Williams (Lincoln North Star) and D’Andre Davis (Indianapolis, Indiana). The Huskers will continue to recruit in that class because attrition seems to be the only constant in college basketball these days, but I wouldn’t expect the battles between the Huskers and Jays to truly heat up until that 2021 class.

Nebraska hiring Hoiberg has drastically changed the outlook for the Huskers, and that potentially extends to in-state recruiting in addition to future on-court success. Though Nebraska had invested in local recruiting at the tail end of Miles’ tenure, none of the in-state players the Huskers landed — Platteview center Brady Heiman (who has since transferred to South Dakota), Omaha Creighton Prep forward Akol Arop and Williams — had like offers from Creighton, so we never truly saw the two go head-to-head. With the success of Creighton’s program in recent years — driven in part by players from Omaha like Khyri Thomas and Justin Patton — it seems like the Jays have had the leg up, particularly with players in the Omaha Metro area.

Based on Hoiberg keeping Williams in the class and re-extending offers to Sallis and Hepburn in addition to the new offer to Green, Hoiberg seems committed to recruit locally even if that wasn’t something he did much of at Iowa State. No offense to Miles, but Hoiberg’s name seems to carry a bit more weight in basketball circles and his track record of winning at the college level and putting players into the NBA speaks for itself. The way he likes to play is also very similar to Creighton’s style. If Creighton sees a player as a good fit, chances are Hoiberg and his staff will feel the same way. If Hoiberg can get Nebraska turned around in a hurry, he’ll have a lot to sell to players like Sallis and Hepburn and Mors come 2021.

Let the battles begin.

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