Second chances are not guaranteed, and Tanner Borchardt is planning to make the most of his as he rejoined the Nebraska basketball team midway through the Big Ten season as a walk-on.
Borchardt, a 6-foot-8, 275-pound product of Gothenburg High School, made the team last season through a walk-on tryout and appeared in eight games, hitting all three of his shots for six points and grabbing nine rebounds in 28 minutes.
However, after the season ended, Borchardt decided to walk away from basketball and return to life as a normal student. It did not take long for him to regret the decision, however.
“Last year I was real bull-headed, stubborn,” Borchardt said. “Something happened that rubbed me the wrong way right at the beginning; maybe it was just a culture-shock or whatever … I didn’t have a negative outlook on the season, I just knew I didn’t think it was for me. That was just me being stubborn. Everybody else was trying to say hey, this is for you. After a month making that decision, I knew it was the wrong decision.”
The only time Borchardt was able to get his basketball fix since leaving the program was in pick-up games as intramural rules required student-athletes to be a year out from playing before being allowed to compete. However, he maintained contact with assistant coach Kenya Hunter throughout the year.
Then, an opportunity presented itself.
“About a week before Purdue, they asked to see if I was in shape, if I wanted to come scout for [Isaac] Haas because they needed someone big down there,” Borchardt said. “So I practiced once or twice with them — kind of a tryout they took it as. I’ve been talking to assistant coaches, talking indirectly to Miles, just seeing where my relationship with him was and finally got a meeting a couple days after the Purdue game, I think Tuesday, and just asked to be back on the team. He accepted; he welcomed me back with open arms and it just snowballed from there.”
With sophomore Ed Morrow Jr. sidelined with a foot injury and a Purdue team that included the 7-foot-2, 290-pound Isaac Haas and the 6-foot-9, 250-pound Caleb Swanigan, the Huskers needed an extra practice body in the frontcourt.
“With Ed being such a question mark, Tanner approached us and we did a tryout during Purdue,” Coach Tim Miles said. “He really did a nice job and he expressed an extreme interest to come back to the team. Normally I wouldn’t add a guy during the season but because of his size and strength, we really need it. I think the guys are really happy to have him back too; I polled some of the guys and they were all fired up about it. I had a long meeting with Tanner and he was really excited about it.”
Borchardt said his time away from the game has helped him mature, and he’s looking forward to his second chance to play basketball.
“I just missed it, man,” Borchardt said. “It’s hard to get away from.”
Borchardt said he’s still trying to work his way back into basketball shape, but the mental transition has been much easier than when he joined the team last year.
“Last year was a tryout where I really hadn’t worked out at all, and going from high school ball to just taking nine months off then going to college ball,” Borchardt said. “That was a big one. Coming into this one, I kind of knew how practices worked, I knew what they expected of me. I was still out of shape, but I knew mindset-wise what I had to deal with.”
In fact, Miles said Borchardt has been more locked in than some of the scholarship players.
“It was funny the other day, I was talking about a play that we run on offense, which [Borchardt] hadn’t even run — he’d only been on our scout team — but he’d had to guard it,” Miles said. “I said ‘Hey guys, who can remember when we run 44-Fliparoo (that’s not the play)’ … I said ‘who can remember what happens?’ I said ‘Tanner, can you?’ He said ‘Yeah, the five-man does this and the four-man does that and then the guard comes off.’ I’m like ‘Yeah. See guys? He’s been here four hours and he already knows the offense better than some of us.’”
There are only a handful of regular season games left for the Huskers this year, but Borchardt is all in on the program and doing what he can to help Nebraska turn things around.
“It’s a second chance to prove myself, what I can be, to prepare Jordy and Ed and Mike for the battles that they have,” Borchardt said. “I know my role on the team.”
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.