Nebraska Cornhuskers forward Derrick Walker makes a dunk against Minnesota
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2021-2022 Nebraska Basketball Preview: Big Men

October 27, 2021

The Fred Hoiberg Huskers, version 3.0, will take the court for the first time this week as Nebraska opens the season with a pair of exhibition games.

To get you ready for the season, Hail Varsity is going position group by position group through the roster to introduce you to the 2021-22 Cornhuskers. We’ve already covered the lead ball-handlers, the wings and the forwards.

To wrap things up, we’ll break down the big men in the middle.

Derrick Walker (JR, 6-foot-9, 239 pounds)

2020-21 stats: 5.9 PPG, 60.0% FG (0-1 3FG), 45.5% FT, 4.7 RPG, 1.6 APG, 1.6 TPG, 0.8 SPG, 0.8 BPG, 20.7 MPG,  16 games

Nebraska opened the 2020-21 season with the 6-foot-9, 205-pound Lat Mayen at center las season thanks to some unfortunate circumstances. With Derrick Walker suspended and Eduardo Andre isolating with COVID-19, Yvan Ouedraogo was the only true big available (he has since transferred to Grand Canyon).

This year, Nebraska’s frontcourt is fully health and eligible, and Walker will likely start the season as the man in the middle after playing in just 16 games last season. Walker was on the team in 2019-20, but he had to redshirt and still hasn’t gotten to play in front of a packed Pinnacle Bank Arena.

“I’m looking forward to it a lot just because I got to experience it but I didn’t get to play in it,” Walker said. “So, for me it means a lot. I want to put on the show for the Huskers. They haven’t seen what what I’ve been able to do, so it’ll be nice to just play in front of a home crowd and have that fan support.”

Mayen is excited to have a full season of playing alongside Walker instead of having to take his place in the lineup.

“Derek is a guy that’s done this for a while, so he knows what he’s doing and he helps us a lot,” Mayen said. “Some people say he’s the glue guy, but he’s one of the main guys too. He does a lot of things that you don’t see on the stat sheet and that people don’t talk about that much, but he’s probably one of my main guys that really helps us, especially in tough situations.”

Walker’s numbers don’t jump off the page, but he made a significant difference once he was eligible. He isn’t a floor spacer, but he is someone who can make plays for others both out of the low and high post within the flow of Nebraska’s offense.

“I thought one thing we really improved on last year is playing through our big,” Hoiberg said. “Derrick Walker showed a great ability — he had eight assists in our last game — to make plays from the elbow, cutting off of him. So it’s not only about the ball screens, it’s about hitting the big and making the right plane reading the defense correctly. We’re much further ahead this year than we were last year at this time.”

Between the 16-game sample size and some occasional foul trouble keeping his minutes low, the sample size is too small to draw any big conclusions about Walker’s effectiveness and utility within Nebraska’s offense. He only had 27 possessions getting the ball as the pick-and-roll screener, shooting 10-of-20 with six turnovers and three trips to the foul line. On the one hand, he missed a few bunnies that he needs to convert consistently. On the other, opposing teams rarely respected Nebraska’s perimeter shooting last season and often had an extra defender or two in the paint to make life tough for him, especially considering he’s undersized compared to most of the bigs he faces.

However, with the added shooting Nebraska will be able to put on the floor and a dynamic pick-and-roll playmaker in Arizona State transfer Alonzo Verge Jr., the pick-and-roll could be a bigger part of Nebraska’s offense this season.

“Zo and I are going to be really good off the pick-and-roll,” Walker said. “Zo’s really good at just finding me in my open spaces and whatnot.”

According to Synergy, Verge was in the 60th percentile (0.776 points per possession, “good”) as a pick-and-roll scorer last year at Arizona State and he was in the 79th percentile as a passer (1.122 points per possession, “very good”). His passes to roll men alone produced 26 points on 23 possessions (1.13 points per possession, “very good”). Nebraska’s roll men as a group scored 0.82 point per possession, which was in the 15th percentile nationally.

“It’s going to be crazy,” Verge said. “It’s very hard to stick me coming off the screen, I can go downhill, I can pull up, and then I see the floor. So it’s going to be fun. These guys love playing with me, I love playing with them, and it’s just gonna be a total different year. New vibes and you guys are just going to see.”

Walker isn’t an intimidating rim protector, but he’s important to Nebraska’s defense as well because of his experience and ability to be in the right spots and hold his ground against guys bigger than himself.

Eduardo Andre (FR, 6-foot-11, 236 pounds)

2020-21 stats: 2.7 PPG, 64.7% FG, 45.0% FT, 2.2 RPG, 0.5 APG, 0.5 TPG, 0.3 SPG, 0.3 BPG, 8.8 MPG, 20 games

Andre was the other big man who missed time to begin last season, though his was the result of catching COVID-19 rather than an NCAA suspension like Walker. After clearing protocols and regaining some of his strength and stamina, Andre made his debut against Doane last season, scoring nine points and grabbing four rebounds in 14 minutes.

Andre logged 16 total minutes and a DNP-CD in Nebraska’s next six games. After that however, Hoiberg moved him into the rotation after that and he averaged 10.4 minutes per game in his last 14 games. He logged double-digit minutes as the primary back-up five in Nebraska’s last six games.

Nebraska Cornhusker forward Oleg Kojenets (33) and Nebraska Cornhusker forward Eduardo Andre (35) battle for the ball during Nebraska men’s basketball Pro Day practice Tuesday, October 5, 2021, in Lincoln, Nebraska. Photo by John S. Peterson.

“It was good for me,” Andre sad about that last stretch. “I felt like I should have been playing from the start, but COVID held me back so I didn’t really get enough burn, then coming back, I missed like a month and a little bit, so I had to get back in shape and stuff like that. Then I had to get acquainted with everybody, so it was kind of a drop off. And then once I got playing, I felt like I was good and it helped a lot because you don’t get that experience anywhere else, really, playing in the Big Ten.”

At 6-foot-11 with a wingspan that stretches nearly 7-foot-5, Andre provides a change of pace to Walker. He converted six of his seven shots as the roll man and drew five fouls in limited pick-and-roll touches and shot nearly 65% from the field overall. Andre was slight for a center coming into the program but said he added 20 pounds to his frame over the offseason.

“He’s going to be big,” Mayen said back in July. “Ed has improved a lot in a short period of time that we’ve had. He put on a lot of mass, he’s jumping higher, he’s more athletic, he’s much stronger than he was two weeks ago. Definitely he’s going to help for sure. He definitely got stronger, he can slide like a guard, he can do a lot of stuff. He’s agile.”

Andre said he was focusing on developing his jumper over the offseason, hoping to add some versatility to his game so that he can pick-and-pop, space to the corner and hit shots as a trailer. It’s the defensive side where Andre could provide something unique with his length, added muscle and improved familiarity with what Nebraska is trying to do on both ends.

“I know the system a lot better, I know where to be, where to go, how to help other people, how to be a better playmaker and stuff like that,” Andre said. “I just know how to put myself in better positions than I did last year.”

Andre will likely be battling with true freshman Wilhelm Breidenbach — who could slot in at either the four or the five — for minutes as the primary back-up center behind Walker.

Oleg Kojenets (FR, 7’, 223 pounds)

A true 7-footer with international experience, Oleg Kojenets (pronoucned Oh-leg Co-yah-net) provides Nebraska’s staff with a developmental option to add depth to the program. With 14 scholarship players on the roster, some will make their biggest impact on the practice floor this season, and Kojenets will likely be one of them this season with Nebraska’s depth in the frontcourt.

“It’s been real helpful,” Breidenbach said about having Walker, Andre and Kojenets to practice against. “They’re all big, they’re all long, they all kind of play a little bit differently, so just being able to guard them and adjust on the fly.”

The Lithuanian big man was born in Hungary, grew up in Kaunas, Lithuania, and spent his senior year of high school at Western Reserve Academy in Hudson, Ohio.

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