When Dalano Banton opted to keep his name in the NBA Draft, the Nebraska coaching staff easily could have gone into the season with the roster as it was. Even without Banton, Nebraska had 13 scholarship players on the roster.
That isn’t Matt Abdelmassih’s style, though. He’s recruiting 24/7, always looking for the next addition to upgrade the team’s talent. Because Trevor Lakes and Kobe Webster don’t count toward the scholarship limit as returning seniors, Nebraska had two scholarships to play with.
Enter Alonzo Verge Jr.
After spending two seasons at Arizona State, the 6-foot-2 guard entered the NCAA Transfer Portal in late May. He had also declared for the NBA Draft a few weeks prior and was evaluating every option available to him. Verge called the process stressful as he debated whether to go pro or spend another year in college, and if so, where he would do that.
“It was very stressful, knowing that this is my last go-round and I have to make it right,” Verge said. “That was the most important thing, knowing that this is my only shot. That was where all the pressure was, it wasn’t any pleasure playing basketball or anything else.”
Verge’s last workout leading up to the early entry deadline was in Charlotte. Verge said the Hornets liked him and wanted him to play for their G League team, but he said he felt he didn’t have the time to evaluate that situation enough to feel comfortable with it. He withdrew from the draft and committed to Nebraska the following day, citing the family-oriented vibe he got from the program.
“I just went with my heart,” Verge said. “I felt like I wanted to win in the NCAA Tournament before I stopped playing college basketball, so I wanted to give myself that chance.”
Verge went the junior college route out of high school and put up huge numbers there before committing to Bobby Hurley at Arizona State. The Sun Devils went 20-11 and finished third in the Pac-12 as Verge won the conference’s sixth man of the year award, but the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the NCAA Tournament.
Arizona State entered the 2020-21 season with big expectations but fell far short of them, finishing 11-14 and missing the postseason. Choosing Nebraska, the only high-major program who has not won an NCAA Tournament game, might seem strange, but he thought he saw something special brewing in Lincoln.
“I feel like we’re a very talented team,” Verge said. “We have individuals that are talented, of course. But altogether we’re a great team. I’ve seen a lot of teams that have very good talent individually, but as a team I feel like we’re stronger than us individually.”
Verge ultimately chose to take advantage of his extra year of eligibility, but not before receiving valuable feedback from the professional ranks.
“They loved that I was vocal and liked to talk and keep the energy up,” Verge said. “They said they didn’t know I could facilitate the way I did, so I showed that which I was happy to do. They said they wanted to see me work on my body, which is typical for a team to say. I was used to that. That’s pretty much the feedback I’ve been getting back from all the teams is just my body. I can score the ball, I can shoot the ball, pretty much score on all three levels. It’s just they want to see me get a little bit bigger.”
Verge is listed at 6-foot-3 and 170 pounds. He’s the lightest player on the roster, tied with two 6-foot walk-ons and a couple of pounds lighter than Kobe Webster who is also listed at 6-foot. Adding weight to his frame will be key to his professional future.
As for the other feedback, Verge is known for his scoring. He famously exploded for 43 points off the bench during his junior season, scoring all but 13 of Arizona State’s 56 points in a 40-point loss to St. Mary’s. He averaged 20.8 points as a freshmen and 30.9 as a sophomore at Moberly Area Community College. He averaged 14.3 points in his two seasons at Arizona State.
It was his passing that most impressed his new teammates during his first week of workouts, however.
“Zo was one of the guys that surprised me the most because when we watched highlights of him it was just a lot of scoring,” Trey McGowens said. “Of course there’s not going to be a lot of passing in highlights, but Zo makes the right play at the right time. That’s what I like about this team — everybody makes the right play, especially this year.”
Webster said Verge is a better passer than he thought as well, and C.J. Wilcher praised his basketball IQ.
zo's got some zip ⚡️ pic.twitter.com/EYGRTwaOcY
— Nebraska Basketball (@HuskerHoops) July 19, 2021
Verge averaged 2.3 assists, 2.1 turnovers and 12.9 shot attempts as a junior at Arizona State. Last season, he averaged 3.8 assists, 2.4 turnovers and 12.3 shot attempts despite playing on a roster loaded with guys who liked to have the ball in their hands. At Moberly, Verge averaged 8.2 assists per game his sophomore year, and he sees a roster at Nebraska that will allow him to put that part of his game on display more so than where he was previously.
“I feel like Coach [Hoiberg] has the perfect system to show that I can create for my team,” Verge said. “I’ve been showing that in practice with these guys, just showing them that I’m a true point guard. This is what I do. Just the way Coach runs his system, it’s spaced out and once you get into the seam of defense you can spray it wherever you want. We have great shooters — C.J., he can shoot the lights out of the ball; Bryce [McGowens], he can shoot the ball. So we have guys on the wing that can shoot the ball, so I’m very confident that they’re going to make the shot.”
Teammates also praised Verge’s ability to guard the ball and apply pressure on defense. The key for him will be improving his offensive efficiency. He shot 41.7% from the field including 31.2% from 3 during his 51 games at Arizona State.
Verge’s first month in Lincoln was something of a whirlwind as a late commit and arrival, but he’s taking it day-by-day and putting in the work to make his final season of college basketball what he wants it to be.
“It’s been a lot, just trying to adjust to the system, new teammates, new coaches and a whole new program,” Verge said. “It’s a lot to take in. It’s just gradually, day-by-day, you have to take your time and try not to force everything and just let everything slowly fall into place.”
Nebraska easily could have went into the season with 13 scholarship players, but they saw enough from Verge’s tape to make him a priority, and now that’s he’s in Lincoln he’s hoping to use his extra season to make program history.
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.