We’re one week into the season, but sophomore Dalano Banton is already emerging as the face — and voice — of this Nebraska basketball team.
Through three games, Banton is leading the Huskers in rebounding (7.3 per game), assists (6.0) and blocks (2.0) and is second in scoring (14.7 average). He’s also stepped up and spoken to the media after each of the last two games as well as during Monday’s Zoom call looking forward.
“He’s got an infectious personality,” Coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We’ve got a group that has that … Dalano is certainly an energy-giver with his ability, and he doesn’t have a bad day … Guys respect him because they see how he works, they see how he talks and they see what he’s all about. He’s a very unselfish player and he’s a fun guy to be around.”
At 6-foot-9, Banton has started at point guard in the Huskers first three games and is one of the more intriguing players in the country from a role and statistical standpoint. The sophomore from Canada said he shot up from 5-foot-11 to 6’” heading into his junior yea of high school, and he’s been growing since. But his coaches never moved him off the ball and he continued to develop is feel and skills as a point guard.
Now he’s stuffing the stat sheet for the Huskers, and Hoiberg isn’t at all surprised.
“That’s what we saw out of Dalano in his sit-out year,” Hoiberg said. “He’s such a versatile player and you just see the energy that he plays with. He’s the guy that gets us off to really good starts with his communication, with his voice. He does a great job talking; you can see it even before the game starts, he’s out there trying to get the guys pumped up, using his voice. I’ve been really impressed with how he’s stepped up as a leader in this group. I knew he would go out and play well just because of the versatility, the size, the length. But what he’s been doing is phenomenal, especially after sitting a full year and coming back out, not skipping a beat. His timing has been really good.”
Hoiberg has plenty of experience with sit-out transfers from his time at Iowa State, and he said it typically takes them a while to get up to speed coming off their redshirt year. That hasn’t been the case with Banton, and Hoiberg said it’s a credit to his work ethic.
“The kid does a phenomenal job getting himself in the gym,” Hoiberg said. “He really worked hard on his shot — that was one area he needed to improve — and then on his body where I thought he made great strides in the year that he had off. I’ve been really proud of Dalano and all the things he has done for our team, most notably the leadership.”
Banton is just 3-of-14 from 3 this season after shooting 21.6% (8-of-37) as a freshman at Western, but his shooting form looks notably different than when he first arrived in Lincoln. Banton said he can call up Hoiberg to get in the gym with him and work on his shot at any time.
“Just squaring me feet to the basket, keeping my head straight when I shoot, just the little mechanics that go a long way with every shot you take,” Banton said. “Just really trying to focus on shooting the same way every time and not let my elbow flare out or whatever the case may be on that jump shot. Coach Hoiberg has been there for me every day.”
Banton made his Nebraska debut in the season-opening win against McNeese Stet last week, finishing with 14 points, six assists, six rebounds, four blocks and three steals. It was his first live game action at the Division I level since March 15, 2019.
“I feel like I was pretty comfortable,” Banton said. “It’s been a long time so I never knew what it was going to feel like going in, but once that tipoff happened it felt like I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be, playing here, playing with these guys, playing under Coach Hoiberg. It all felt right, so I felt good. I’m not going to say that I wasn’t nervous; I haven’t played in a long time, so I had a little bit of nerves in me, but I had a great time out there my first time back. It felt like no other and I wouldn’t want to be playing anywhere else other than with these guys.”
Banton spent the last year on Nebraska’s scout team as well as working on his body and game outside of structured practices. He was a tp-100 recruit coming out of high school but his role fluctuated throughout his freshman year at Western Kentucky where he averaged 3.4 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.1 assists in 15.1 minutes per game.
“I definitely feel like I came a long way, working with Coach Hoiberg, working with Coach Doc [Sadler], working with all our coaches and all our weight and strength coaches,” Banton said. “I feel like everyone has put in a part to help me build to what I’m trying to build towards. I feel like just every day, going out and grinding and knowing that throughout the grind it’s going to pay off. I’ve been at it for a year-and-a-half, almost two years now so every day, just trying to keep that same mentality going into it that it’s going to be a journey, it’s going to be a long road and it’s not a race … These guys made it a great time for me to have sat out here and it’s been great every day.”
Banton didn’t get to play during the 2019-20 7-25 campaign, but he was around and saw everything that went wrong with that team. He said he learned from that situation that the program was going to need more vocal leadership to turn things around, and he’s embraced that role alongside others.
“We have a lot of guys the are talkative, a lot of the sit-out guys, Derrick [Walker] and Shamiel [Stevenson], and a lot of newcomers who have came in and got the ball rolling with me. Leaders lead by example, so I feel like if I can talk I can get that to trickle down to everyone. But sometimes it doesn’t start from me, sometimes it starts from Trey [McGowens], Teddy [Allen] or whoever it is. We have a bunch of leaders on this team and that’s what’s great. We’re all leading each other and we never hang our hands down. With this team, we’re looking to head in the right direction, so we’re all just trying to get better.”
With guys like Banton leading the way, fast starts have been a trend so far during Nebraska’s 2-1 start. Even in the loss to Nevada where the Huskers struggled mightily on offense, the defense was locked in from the opening tipoff.
“It’s something that we stress a lot, the importance of getting off to good starts, and we’ve been stressing that really since day one, going all the way back to our workouts when we were coming in in small groups,” Hoiberg said. “I talked about how, most likely — this was back a couple months ago — we were going to be playing in the same atmosphere as we had in practice with no fans. We talked about being self-starters and coming out and getting off to fast starts in practice and then carrying that over into games. We have. I’ve been very proud of the way the guys have come out of the locker room all three games.”
Nebraska will look to get off to another fast start against a 0-2 South Dakota team on Tuesday. The Coyotes will travel to Lincoln for an 8 p.m. CT tipoff at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
South Dakota lost to Colorado 61-48 last Wednesday and then fell to Drake 69-53 on Friday. Former Nebraska center Brady Heiman has started the first two games after redshirting during the 2019-20 season, though he’s only totaled two points and six rebounds in 35 minutes. He’s also blocked five shots. Fellow Nebraska native Kanon Koster, a Kearney graduate, is eligible this season as well after transferring from Nebraska-Kearney and sitting out last season.
Stanley Umude (6-foot-6, 210 pounds), the only returning starter from a year ago, is leading the Coyotes at 17.0 points and 6.0 rebounds per game, though he’s struggled mightily with offensive efficiency.
Hoiberg said a big emphasis for the game will be cleaning up the defensive rebounding effort after giving up 22 offensive boards to North Dakota State.
BTN will televise the game.
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.