After an extended offseason, official preseason practice began last week for college basketball teams across the country. For sophomore Dalano Banton, who had to redshirt last season after transferring from Western Kentucky, that’s a big deal.
“Every day going into practice now it’s like I know I have a game at the end of it all,” Banton told reporters during a recent Zoom call. “Some days last year I would have down days or I wouldn’t be as much into it just because of the fact I knew I wouldn’t have a game coming at the end of it.
“But just being able to push through and get through that year has been great for me. Knowing now that I have games at the end of it, it gets me going a lot more and it makes me want to limit all down days to not having any down days because me being one bad apple could help spoil the whole team. So I’m just trying to be there every day and push through it knowing it’s been a long road throughout this year but the games are coming and we know what we have to do.”
Banton had to watch from the bench all season as Nebraska went 7-25, unable to help the team out on the court according to NCAA transfer rules. However, he took advantage of the time away from live competition to improve his body and game.
Then the pandemic hit, and Banton had to head home.
“It was definitely hard,” Banton said. “I went back for the majority of the pandemic, or the lockdown, I went back to Toronto. When I went back, I couldn’t get into any gyms because it was serious and we’re a big city in Toronto, so they locked down everything. I kind of lost weight, and then when I finally came back here after a couple months of being home I had to put that weight back on. So it was kind of a backtrack for me, but I’ve been getting better and I put it back on, all the weight that I lost.”
Last season, Banton was listed on the roster at 6-foot-8 and 195 pounds, This year, he’s 6-foot-9 and 204 pounds. The former top-100 recruit showed flashes of his significant potential throughout his freshman year at Western Kentucky, but the consistency wasn’t there and a few areas in particular held him back. Those are the areas — his jump shot and physical strength in particular — he spent his redshirt year fine-tuning.
“I definitely feel like I improved on my jump shooting,” Banton said. “Coach took me back to the basics on form and keeping body straight and my head still [while] shooting and just the little simple stuff that will help you be a better shooter in the long run. So definitely my shooting and also putting on weight and trying to get stronger in the weight room. I’ve been going hard with Coach [Tim Wilson] in that and I feel like those are the biggest two improvements I’ve made.”
Banton shot 8-of-37 (21.6%) from 3 and 19-of-34 (55.9%) from the free-throw line while playing 15.1 minutes per game as a freshman. He chipped in 3.4 points, 2.5 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game as his role fluctuated. His best stretch as a Hilltopper came in four games in late December and early January — against Belmont, St. Mary’s, Wisconsin and Charlotte. He averaged 10.0 points, 7.0 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game while shooting 53.6% from the field, 36.4% from 3 and 66.7% from the foul line.
Banton also flashed some playing ability on defense with 14 steals and 16 blocks in his limited playing time, and that’s an area of his game he’s been working on unlocking even more.
“Working with Doc [Sadler] — Doc’s a great defensive mind and also a great defensive coach, and him just teaching me the simple things on how to stunt and recover and when to do certain stuff like double team or when would be good for me to double team because of my length and versatility,” Banton said. “Just using everything that everyone has taught me and trying to put it together.”
Banton is a unique player — at 6-foot-9, junior guard Teddy Allen has called him a true point guard, and that’s the position he expects to play for the Huskers. Fred Hoiberg has plenty of experience maximizing unorthodox primary initiators — see Royce White at Iowa State.
“The best quality that Dalano has is his playmaking ability, and when you have that at almost 6-9, it’s such a great quality to have,” Hoiberg told reporters last week. “You just look at what he did at Western Kentucky — I think it was two points away from a triple-double at Wisconsin. So the versatility is what I like most about Dalano’s game … He’s in the gym every day. He was actually getting a workout in this morning with our GAs and he’s a guy that’s consistently getting better in every aspect. The good thing about Dalano is he wants to be great and he’s got a heck of a future in this game.”
While Banton expects to play at least some point guard, he also understands that Hoiberg likes to spread the ball-handling opportunities around and is willing to fill any role his coach asks of him.
“The thing with Coach’s offense is it’s a very fluid offense,” Banton said. “You could find yourself on the wing, on the block, with the ball. And we have multiple guys who can play positionless as well as myself. If it’s on the ball that Coach needs me, then I’ll be on the ball, or if it’s on the block, just being anywhere I need to be is the most important part to me. I feel like that’s the thing about this team is that we’re all here to win and just be where we need to be.”
Banton is one of just a handful of players who were here last year to experience Nebraska’s 7-25 season, and he’s determined to do everything he can to make sure this season doesn’t follow a similar path.
“I feel like the last year has been a great learning experience for me,” Banton said. “I used it, took all the ups and downs we had, and turned it and just used it in a positive manner this year. Learned that you have to be able to fight through the fire and get through the adversity when times are rough. Oftentimes we found ourselves on our backs last year and not being able to get over that hump and push through the adversity that we needed to push through.”
Big Ten play won’t get any easier this season. Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Rutgers and Indiana return almost everyone from 20-win teams. Maryland, Ohio State and Michigan bring a lot back as well. Under Tom Izzo, Michigan State reloads every year.
“Knowing it’s going to be a very talented and hard-fought league where nothing’s going to be handed or given to you and knowing that you have to go out there and take what’s yours and if you get punched in the face, you have to be able to punch back,” Banton said. “Just knowing that there’s going to be a lot of adversity throughout the year and just telling that to the guys because we saw it first here with the returners.”
Banton has waited a long time to make his debut in a Nebraska uniform, but the light at the end of the tunnel is bright. One more month of practices and Husker fans will get a chance to see why the coaches have raved about Banton since he arrived in Lincoln.
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.