After taking in a Nebraska practice a couple weeks back, CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein engaged in one of his favorite offseason games: projecting starting lineups for college basketball teams.
His projection for the Huskers?
Early prediction on Nebraska's 19-20 starting five: Cam Mack, Jervay Green, Haanif Cheatham, Matej Kavas, Yvan Ouedraogo.
— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) July 16, 2019
That’s not a bad guess at this stage. The center spot is a complete wildcard but despite his youth, Yvan Ouedraogo is the player best suited physically to hold his own in the post against Big Ten big men. Junior college guards Jervay Green and Cam Mack were two of Fred Hoiberg’s biggest priorities after his staff took over in Lincoln. Grad transfers Haanif Cheatham and Matej Kavas were brought in as stop-gap options to provide some experience and leadership to Hoiberg’s first roster at Nebraska.
There’s a good chance those are the five guys that take the court first when the Huskers open the season with an exhibition game against Doane on Oct. 30.
If there’s one guy who has a chance to prove Rothstein wrong, however, it’s Dachon Burke Jr.
The 6-foot-4, 180-pound guard is one of two players back from last year’s team, though he had to sit out last season after transferring from Robert Morris. Burke totaled more than 800 points, 300 rebounds and 100 assists in two seasons at Robert Morris, and he’s since had a full year off to work on refining his game.
“Dachon is very talented,” Hoiberg said before the Huskers left for their tour of Italy. “He’s got one thing on his mind a lot of times and that’s scoring the ball, which some people just have that mentality and he’s got that in his DNA is to go score the basketball. He can do it in a lot of ways. He’s shot the ball well — he shot it very well in June and July, he’s going through a little bit of a slump right now — but he’s a guy that can get downhill and get to the basket.”
Burke shot 33.3% from 3 over the course of his two seasons at Robert Morris, so Hoiberg’s praise for his shooting in practice is worth emphasizing. He scored nearly 18 points per game as a sophomore without a reliable perimeter jumper, so improvement in that area could mean big things for the Huskers.
“Our biggest thing to Dachon is making simple plays,” Hoiberg continued. “He at times tries to force the issue, drive through two, but when he draws the defender, his job is to make the simple play … I’ve been very pleased with Dachon. The one thing, that kid, you know you’re never going to have an issue with is he’s going to go out there and play hard.”
Burke had more turnovers than assists in both of his seasons at Robert Morris, and that’s certainly an area in which he needs to improve. But if he can find the sweet spot between making plays and trying to do too much, he could be one of Nebraska’s most valuable players. He used his redshirt year to learn as much as he could.
“When I first came in I was trying to go up and down, not really slowing the game down, and then I started watching film and I feel like that helped me a lot,” Burke said. “I watched film a lot, more than my freshman or sophomore year. I was watching practice, and as soon as it’s over, calling up the video guy, asking, ‘Can you put film on?’ Just embracing everything.”
In addition to what he does offensively, Burke also spent the last year guarding guys like James Palmer Jr., Glynn Watson Jr. and even Isaac Copeland Jr. in practice, and he takes pride in his defense. He nabbed 118 steals in 65 career games at Robert Morris and has the length and toughness to guard multiple positions.
“I learned a lot from James,” Burke said about his battles with the former All-Big Ten performer who has signed an Exhibit 10 contract with the Los Angeles Clippers. “Overplay him and he’ll go backdoor on me. He had a couple cheat codes to the game that he had from being a vet around the game that he taught me. Hooking during something the ref can’t see, he just taught me a lot of things offensively and defensively, so I appreciate James.”
A lot has changed since he first arrived in Lincoln, but Burke is looking forward to embracing this new challenge.
“I’m taking it well,” Burke said. “Obviously I got recruited by [Tim] Miles and things happen for a reason — I love Miles still to this day, me and him have a good relationship — but Hoiberg’s a great guy. Since he’s been here, things have been going well as a team. I get to start a new chapter in my life, new teammates and people I’m going to call my brothers for the rest of my life.”
With the news that Mack won’t be making the trip, Burke has a big opportunity in front of him. The Huskers will be without their point guard and a big-time playmaker, which puts more responsibility on Green, Cheatham and Burke in particular. If Burke can show off the scoring prowess that has caught Hoiberg’s attention while limiting his mistakes, he’s going to give his coach a lot to think about when it comes time to determine starting — and finishing — lineups.
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.