The Nebraska men’s basketball team welcomed a special group of athletes to the Hendricks Training Complex on Tuesday for a two-hour basketball clinic.
The “Hoops with the Huskers” event featured a collection of close to 40 athletes of all ages from Special Olympics Nebraska having fun and working on their skills. Senior Derrick Walker spear-headed the event.
“We’ve been trying to do a lot of community service this year, just get out in the community more and meet people,” Walker said. “And this is one of the groups that we haven’t been able to get with. So with the help of Dr. [Lawrence] Chatters and some of the staff around here we were able to pull this off, and it’s very special to me because it’s so special to them.”
Walker said a couple months of planning went into figuring out the logistics of the event, which included stretching, fundamental skill work, a Knockout competition and some five-on-five, all with Husker players and coaches guiding the participants.
“I was very anxious just because it’s the first time, so I didn’t know how it was going to turn out,” Walker said. “I knew people were going to be here, but just getting into stations and organizing groups and just not knowing how it’s going to be for the first time ever, that was very anxious for me. But we got through it and we had a lot of fun. So I love the way today turned out.”
Twelve other players joined Walker to help run the clinic. Fred Hoiberg introduced everyone at the start of camp, assistant coaches Adam Howard and Nate Loenser floated around all afternoon and new director of player personnel Emmanuel Tommy served as clinic director. Walker said the support from the whole program meant a lot to him.
“Our coaches, our players, our staff, everyone’s on board,” Walker said. “It’s just about being selfless, and I feel like we’ve got a really good group at being selfless, giving up your time to serve others. That’s what this is all about.”
Freshman walk-on Cale Jacobsen was one of the players in attendance, demonstrating skills and encouraging the Special Olympics athletes.
“It was pretty awesome,” Jacobsen said. “I kind of got a little bit of insight to what Special Olympics was when I did track this spring, so just being able to continue being involved and doing stuff like this was really cool. It’s a good experience for all of us.”
An added bonus for Jacobsen was seeing a couple of familiar faces as two of the clinic attendees were from his home town of Ashland.
“It was definitely really exciting,” Jacobsen said. “I texted Kyle last night, I was like, ‘Hey, are you coming to this?’ And he was like, ‘Yeah,’ so I was really looking forward to it all day and I think a lot of the guys were too. Just having the two guys from Ashland here was pretty cool to connect and just see them in Lincoln.”
One of the highlights of the camp was the Knockout championship that Fremont native Wyatt Spalding won with a 3-pointer. His prize was a signed Fred Hoiberg basketball card. Walker said he also enjoyed some friendly trash talk with another camper.
“The kid that made the one knockout, he’s a really great shooter, but there’s this one kid that just talked so much stuff to me today,” Walker said. “He was just competitive and I loved it. Just meeting them and hearing the stories and just them talking to us, it’s just heart-filling.”
After the clinic wrapped up, the Huskers floated around signing shirts and taking photos with the athletes. The clinic is just one of the ways Walker is making the most of his extra season of eligibility in Lincoln.
“Just the way that he leads on the court, all the things he does off the court, it just kind of shows how good of a guy he is and how good of a locker room guy that he really is for all of us,” Jacobsen said.
A couple years ago at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Huskers couldn’t even work out together during the summer, which makes the opportunity to spend time giving back to the community with his teammates all the more special for Walker.
“It means a lot because COVID took a toll on the world and a lot of people weren’t able to do stuff and everyday there’s people in need,” Walker said. “So for us to be able to have this year, have this summer to take the time off and just meet with people and meet new people every day and just service them, it means a lot to us. Like I said, it’s just being selfless and without basketball, we wouldn’t be here.”
The clinic was just the latest in a series of community service events the Huskers have been participating in this summer. Among others were feeding the homeless, visiting the CHI Health Nebraska Heart Institute, the Nebraska Hoops Tour stop in Grand Island (together with the women’s basketball team) and the Nebraska Road Race.
“I don’t try and count them, because it doesn’t have to be publicized all the time, and it’s just great for us to be with each other but also be with others that support us, and we support them,” Walker said.
Walker is in his final year with the program, but Hoiberg introduced the clinic as the “first annual Hoops with the Huskers,” and the 6-foot-9 forward is hoping to see his teammates pick up where he leaves off and make the clinic a regular offseason event.
“I’m older so maybe I have a lot more time to think about things like this, but I just hope it’s something that’s passed down,” Walker said. “I hope it’s something that my teammates see and I hope it’s something that they take on for the years to come when I’m gone, because like I said, it’s very heart-filling. We don’t want to do it for the recognition, we just want to do it because that’s the right thing to do, and people love us and we love meeting new people.”
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.