Two big pieces of news came out of this week’s NCAA Division I Council meetings, which concluded on Thursday, that will have a big impact on the Nebraska basketball program.
First, the council passed the new transfer legislation granting first-time transfers immediate eligibility wherever they land so long as they meet certain prerequisites. That should apply to Xavier transfer C.J. Wilcher who will join the Huskers for the 2021-22 season.
“As far as the rule change, I think it’s good,” Coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I think it will give some consistency now for the transfers that are moving on, that you have the ability to play right away on the one-time transfer exception. The legislation’s been on the table the last couple years.”
Hoiberg and his staff are known for being very active in the transfer market, and Hoiberg said the new rules won’t change his staff’s approach to recruiting.
“Obviously you’ve seen in the couple years that we’ve been here that we’ve taken players from all different areas as far as freshmen, junior college players, international players and transfers,” Hoiberg said. “I think there’s 1400 in the portal right now, 1300 or 1400 of them, and obviously a lot of them have very talented, unique skill sets and are very good players. We’re evaluating that constantly as all coaches and all programs do, on how you can add talent, how you can get your team better.”
In his first three recruiting cycles in Lincoln, Hoiberg has added nine transfers from other four-year schools, nine high school prospects and five junior college transfers. Of the eight transfers in the 2019 and 2020 classes, three had to redshirt while the other five were grad transfers and received a waiver to play right away.
Because of the proliferation of grad transfers and the number of players who have received waivers to play in recent years, Hoiberg said he doesn’t think the new rules will dramatically change the landscape.
“It’s something where you’ve seen numbers steadily climb as far as players going into the transfer portal, and with all the turnover you have on your roster, to try to bring somebody in to fill a need or be a player that can get you over the hump, can come in and be a guy you can build a program around,” Hoiberg said. “There’s just so many of them and the fact that the numbers have gone up and you see pretty much every school in the country now adding transfers to their rosters. The fact that it’s been happening now for the past several years, I don’t think it’s going to be that big of an adjustment for our sport.”
That being said, the landscape has changed dramatically from when Hoiberg and Matt Abdelmassih built Iowa State into a highly successful program primarily with talented transfers a decade ago.
“I think the biggest thing is you’re competing against so many more schools than maybe we were our first go-around at Iowa State where we really built our team that first year with transfers,” Hoiberg said. “We got four high-level kids in that sat out that first year in Royce White, Christ Babb, Chris Allen and Anthony Booker, and they really helped jumpstart our program and I think really attracted four-year players that came in and were huge parts of our program. We still recruited transfers, but getting on the map and showing success and an exciting style of play got us the opportunity to recruit better players than we would have been able to early in the process.”
Iowa State went 23-11 in Hoiberg’s second year in Ames with those four transfers he mentioned playing a big role, and based on that success and the success that followed, players like Georges Niang, Monte Morris and Matt Thomas (4-star recruits who went on to play in the NBA) chose Iowa State out of high school. That’s the model Hoiberg is looking to use in Lincoln, and although the success hasn’t come on the court, recruiting is definitely picking up with the 2021 class featuring the program’s first 5-star commit in Bryce McGowens as well as a 4-star big man in Wilhelm Breidenbach.
With immediate eligibility making transfers even more attractive, the competition will continue to be fierce, but the Huskers will continue to put themselves in the thick of it.
“Now you look at transfers being such a huge part of recruiting for all schools,” Hoiberg said. “We weren’t recruiting against a lot of the teams that are getting transfers now, and that’s just the landscape of where things are in college basketball right now, and really college sports with so many transfers leaving and looking for better opportunities.”
The other significant change is the decision to end the recruit dead period on June 1. At that point, prospective student-athletes will be allowed to begin taking campus visits again, and coaches will be able to hit the road to recruit in person whenever the NCAA schedules live periods this summer.
“I’m really going to miss the Zoom calls,” Hoiberg said with a chuckle. “I’ve gotten kind of used to them, the daily Zooms that we’re doing right now with recruits. But I’m excited about it. I know our staff is excited about it as well. Hopefully being able to get official visits back, which would start almost immediately in getting players here to see firsthand what we have and what they will experience if they do come to Nebraska. To be able to get out and see players and evaluate, it’s going to be, I think, welcome for everybody that’s in this business.”
For over a year, coaches have had to do all their recruiting virtually as no in-person contact has been allowed throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Many 2021 recruits had to commit to a school without ever meeting their coaches in person or setting foot on campus.
“You do the best you can with the hand that’s dealt,” Hoiberg said. “Right now, it’s a lot of recruiting through Zoom and we feel we’ve made good progress. We’ve had a very successful recruiting class with going through the Zoom and now to hopefully open it up and get some normalcy back with recruiting, with getting fans back in your building, I just think it’s going to be great as we continue to move forward. Obviously safety is the number one thing, but if it’s determined that we can do this safely and without getting anybody sick with what’s going on in our world with the pandemic, then I think it’s going to be welcome by everyone.”
Nebraska’s four-man class of McGowens, Breidenbach, Oleg Kojenets and junior college sniper Keisei Tominaga is ranked 14th nationally and third in the Big Ten according to the 247Sports Composite team rankings. Whatever the Huskers did during the pandemic clearly paid off, and Hoiberg expects they’ll continue with some of the methods they’ve used over the past year.
“You just have to put so many things together virtually,” Hoiberg said. “You have to send out virtual tours of your campus, your locker room, your facilities. Even the strength and conditioning staff, our sports scientist Chris Bach, he spent time on Zooms with us, our academic adviser Dennis Leblanc would spend time on the Zooms as well. To be able to be face to face obviously is ideal, but again, you adapt and you adjust and hopefully you go out and make some headway.
“With the class we put together, a top-15 recruiting class, with everything we’ve been through, I think speaks volumes to everything that we have to offer here. It is what it is. Hopefully we’ll move past it and get back to in-person, but these Zoom calls will be something that we continue to do moving forward.”
The staff will have to continue with the Zoom-only approach for another month-and-a-half, but the end of the dead period is fast approaching and the Huskers will look to capitalize on the momentum they’ve created in the last recruiting cycle.