Doc Sadler took a turn on Sports Nightly’s Nebraska Basketball Coaches Show on Monday night, sitting in for an hour and taking questions from host Ben McLaughlin and listeners.
As assistant coach Armon Gates was preparing to install the offensive game plan for Florida A&M on Friday, the Huskers got some bad news — the game was off because of COVID-19 issues within the A&M program. Suddenly, Nebraska didn’t have a game to prepare for any more, but practice still went on.
“You would think at that point maybe that practice would not be a really good practice but the thing that I’ve learned about this team is we’ve not had many bad practices,” Sadler said. “We’ve got a group of guys that when they get to the gym, they’ve responded to Coach [Fred Hoiberg] and to coaching. Friday we had another really good practice.”
Sadler said the team practiced again on Saturday before the football game, took Sunday off then got back at it on Monday to begin preparing for the Big Ten/ACC Challenge rematch with Georgia Tech.
“It’s that time of year where these guys need to be playing some games and that was a game that we would have really liked to have played just for no other reason than to get 40 minutes of game time with each other again,” Sadler said. “But when you have a team that practices the way that they do, it wasn’t as disappointing maybe as we thought it might be.”
Sadler wasn’t surprised by how well the team handled losing a game.
“This team has been fun, fun group,” Sadler said. “I’ve been doing it now 38 years and I can put this team with one of the fun teams to go to practice with. They just seem to come to get better, they don’t have a lot of bad days, we have absolutely zero attitudes or jealousy as you might expect when we have as many new guys as we’ve got. But this team is really, really a fun team to be around each and every day and to practice with.”
Sadler’s primary responsibility is to coordinate Nebraska’s defense. Through four games, the Huskers are holding teams to 62.5 points per game and 36.8% from the field. The level of competition is about to increase starting with this week, but Sadler said the team is only scratching the surafce on defense.
“We’ve gt a long way to go still, but I do like the length of this basketball team and we’re going to only continue to get better each and every day that we practice,” Sadler said. “They’re giving the effort that you would like for them to give, so it’s just a matter of now getting into the routine of doing the same thing and doing it the right way every single time and becoming good habits. We don’t have good habits yet, but they’re getting better and by the time Christmas gets here, the first of the year, we’re only going to get better and better.”
That length — with 6-foot-9 point guard Dalano Banton, 6-foot-9 forward Lat Mayen and three 6-foot-6 wings in Teddy Alen, Shamiel Stevensn and Thorir Thorbjarnarson — gives the Huskers a lot of flexibility on that end, but their lack of a true center in the middle elevates the importance of perimeter and help defense.
“We are a team that has a lot of length and with length, it allows you to do several things,” Sadler said. “The thing that I’m still trying to get us to do is be really, really aggressive around that lane. When the ball gets close to that lane, we’re supposed to be in there tight and close to each other. Take some chances, go make some plays. Actually today in practice it happened twice that we got aggressive and good things happen.”
The Huskers are averaging 12.0 steals regime, good for seventh in the country. Sadler doesn’t necessarily want his players to recklessly gamble, but he does want to see even more aggressiveness while attempting to keep the ball out of the paint.
One player who should help the Huskers’ interior defense once he’s eligible is junior Derrick Walker, a 6-foot-8, 233-pound forward who is serving a 14-game suspension for a rules violation committed while he was at Tennessee.
“Obviously as he said he made a mistake prior to being here and he’s dealing with the consequences,” Sadler said. “But Derrick has been a player that has been really, really fun to be around. He comes to practice and practices hard. He’s a great teammate, probably if not our best communicator on the floor he’s one of them. You don’t play this game just to practice, though. He’s got to be getting tired of practicing and he’s looking forward to playing. We for sure will be looking forward to having him when he does get eligible.”
Walker’s return date will depend on whether or not Nebraska has more games canceled or schedules a replacement for the Florida A&M game.
Perhaps the highlight of the show was the voice of Nebraska basketball, Kent Pavelka, calling in under a false name to give Sadler a hard time. You can listen to the full show here.
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.