The longest offseason of my lifetime officially comes to an end tomorrow (crossing my fingers and viciously knocking on wood as I type this). The Huskers are scheduled to tip off their season against McNeese State at 11 a.m.
To get you ready for what you’re going to see, we’re offering you a refresher course in three installments on the new-look roster. We’ve already covered the guards and wings. Now it’s time to wrap things up.
Junior: Derrick Walker (6-foot-8, 232 pounds)
Sophomore: Yvan Ouedraogo (6-foot-9, 245 pounds)
Freshman: Eduardo Andre (6-foot-10, 228 pounds)
Nebraska had one of the youngest, smallest front courts in the country last season. A 17-year-old Yvan Ouedraogo was the only true post on the team and fellow freshman Kevin Cross, generously listed at 6-foot-8, was his back-up. Beyond that, you were looking at … 6-foot-5 freshman Akol Arop? Heck, Hoiberg added an offensive lineman from the football team to the roster for the Big Ten Tournament so they could have a little post depth.
Cross is gone, Arop is out for the season and Brant Banks is back on the football field. However, the center position looks to be much improved.
It starts with Ouedraogo, who managed to transform his body over the offseason despite having to deal with global pandemic-related limitations. He’s listed at 6-foot-9 and 245 pounds, 15 pounds lighter than last season, and appears to be much bouncier than he was as a freshman.
“I’m proud of Yvan for what he’s done and how he’s bought into the offseason program to get his body into the kind of shape where he can have a major impact,” Coach Fred Hoiberg said.
Ouedraogo started 30 games as a freshman, averaging 5.7 points and a team-high 6.3 rebounds in 21.4 minutes per game. However, he only shot 41.7% from the field despite 73.2% of his shots coming at the rim, and he wasn’t much better from the free-throw line at 47.7%. Ouedraogo set program records for rebounds by a freshman (203), double-doubles by a freshman (three, tied for most) and single-game rebounds (19).
Ouedraogo wasn’t much of a rim protector (nine blocks in 685 minutes), and he got a crash course in defending the post against the likes of Luka Garza, Kofi Kockburn, Trevion Williams and others, taking his lumps along the way. But now he has all of that behind him and is ready for year two.
“With Yvan’s improvements from where he was in year one to where he is now, a big part of it is he knows what to expect going into year two as opposed to being raw year one and not really knowing what his role was going to be and really being thrust into a starter’s role, a lot of that because of his size and physicality,” Hoiberg said. “He’s still young, obviously, as an 18-year-old going into year two.”
Nebraska doesn’t have time to wait for him; he’s going to have to step up his production, particularly offensively as a finisher. If he doesn’t, Nebraska has other options this season.
**Edit: Nebraska announced before the season-opener that Derrick Walker will serve an NCAA-mandated 16-game suspension for a violation of team and NCAA rules while he was at Tennessee.
Derrick Walker is eligible after redshirting last season. He’s a little smaller than Ouedraogo, but he brings a lot of experience after spending two seasons as a reserve in a winning program at Tennessee. He scored 91 points and grabbed 107 rebounds in 64 games as a Volunteer, averaging 7.2 minutes per game for his career. He shot 29-of-43 (67.4%) at the rim, which is significantly higher than what Ouedraogo did last season (52%).
“Derrick is a really vocal player,” junior wing Teddy Allen said. “He’s a big man you really want to have. He sets good screens, he finishes well in the paint, he’s skilled, he can run the floor. He’s a really good player and he’s a good teammate to have. You’re never going to get caught by surprise on a screen or anything that happens with Derrick.”
The third member of the frontcourt is a freshman who has made many stops on his journey to Lincoln. Eduardo Andre was born in Luanda, Angola, but moved to London, England, when he was 4 years old. He came across the ocean to the United States for high school, playing two seasons at Woodrow Wilson High School in Dallas, Texas, before transferring to AZ Compass Prep in Chandler, Arizona. Andre didn’t start playing basketball until he was 14 years old yet four years later he’s getting ready to play in the Big Ten, which is a testament to his work ethic and physical tools.
“I’ve seen great improvement with Eduardo every day,” Hoiberg said. “Every day he gets better and better. He’s got almost a 7-5 wingspan, so that presents different challenges from what he would go through in a daily battle in practice last year. Just to have that length to have to go up against that will simulate a lot of what he’s going to face in the Big Ten.”
Andre averaged 10.3 points, 9.8 rebounds and 3.9 blocks per game as a senior at AZ Compass Prep. As a junior at Woodrow Wilson, he put up 12.3 points, 11.5 rebounds and 4.3 blocks per game.
Andre could take some time to adjust to the speed of the game at the Division I level and the physicality of the Big Ten, but he provides an intriguing mix of skills and length that could make a difference down the road. In addition to his shot-blocking prowess, Andre has also shown the ability to shoot from the perimeter. In Nebraska’s first official scrimmage a couple of weeks ago, he grabbed 10 rebounds (six on the offensive end) and knocked down a triple while playing for the White team.
Hoiberg has also talked about Lat Mayen’s ability to slide over to the five. His ability to control the glass on the defensive end while knocking down perimeter jumpers on offense give Hoiberg the ability to play a lot of different ways. Regardless of who is in there, Hoiberg said he feels good about where his frontcourt is heading into 2020-21.