New Nebraska coach Fred Hoiberg introduced himself to the collection of national and conference writers on Wednesday morning at Big Ten Media Day in Chicago, and he hit on a lot of the same topics he’s been discussing throughout the offseason.
During a nearly two-minute opening statement, Hoiberg talked about all the new faces on his team, the two returners from last year’s roster, the chemistry-building benefits of the team’s trip to Italy and early-morning practices.
“Sometimes you have to kick them in the butt a little bit to get them going, but they’re very competitive,” Hoiberg said. “They like to get after it. We’re going to have to be a team that plays fast, especially seeing some of the student-athletes here in the breakfast room this morning. We’re going to be undersized at pretty much every position, so we’re going to have to try to play fast, get out and play with great pace and try to win games that way. But I do like this group. I hope we go out and play with a chip on our shoulder every time we step on the floor. But we’re hoping for a great year.”
Hoiberg talked about the fan support, citing the nearly-full house for Opening Night with Husker Hoops on Friday, the football sellout streak and season-tickets selling out for this basketball season before anyone has even seen Hoiberg’s team play. He praised Nebraska’s basketball facilities and ran through his list of familial ties to Lincoln and Nebraska.
As for on-court progress through one full week of practice, Hoiberg said the team isn’t quite where he’d like for it to be, just like every other team in the conference.
“I don’t think — you talk to any of us — we’re where we want to be,” Hoiberg said. “It’s still somewhat early in the process. Again, I’ll go back to our guys’ mentality and their approach. Every day they come in with a workmanlike approach, and that’s the thing that I’ve really enjoyed about this group. I do think they’re going to go out there and compete.
“Right now, the battle that we’re having with our players, and this is whether we were playing the exhibition games over in Italy or we have our inter-squad scrimmage, when things are going well we’re pretty damn good. We’re going out there, we’re playing with a swagger, we’re playing fast. When we hit a little adversity, that’s when we’ve got to find a way to break through and continue to go out there and fight. That’s human nature, I think, with everybody, especially when everybody right now is still so new and trying to figure each other out, is how do you stay together collectively and fight through those tough times, because we’re going to hit it every time we step on the floor.”
Hoiberg talked about the struggles in the face of adversity before the team left for Italy, during his pre-practice press conference in Lincoln and now at Big Ten Media Day.
That being said, Hoiberg said he still likes the upside for his team. Nebraska was picked to finish 13th in the conference in the Big Ten media poll conducted by Brendan Quinn of The Athletic and Adam Jardy of the Columbus Dispatch, but Hoiberg is hoping to surprise some people.
“That’s what we’re going to strive for,” Hoiberg said. “I know we’ve been picked towards the bottom and I understand that with all the new faces. People just haven’t seen our guys very much. We have high school kids, we have a couple grad transfers that are eligible for us, and we have a couple junior college players. But if we can really buy in to going out there and playing together, buying in and going out there and being a low-turnover team, every night we’ve got to find a way to defend and we have to rebound. That’s going to be our biggest challenge I think is rebounding, just with the size of our team, but if we can get that I am confident that we can get out and run with anybody. Hopefully we’ll stick to that, but like I said, it’s a group I really like because of their competitive nature.”
The conference released its 10-player preseason All-Big Ten team as voted on by the league’s coaches, and Nebraska was one of six teams without a representative.
The team includes Cassius Winston (preseason player of the year) and Xavier Tillman of Michigan State, Anthony Cowan and Jalen Smith of Maryland, Penn State’s Lamar Stevens, Ohio State’s Kaleb Wesson, Illinois’ Ayo Dosnumu, Iowa’s Joe Wieskamp, Purdue’s Nojel Eastern and Michigan’s Zavier Simpson. Winston, Wesson and Cown were unanimous selections.
Michigan State topped the poll, and the Spartans will likely be preseason No.1 when the AP and Coaches polls come out. Hoiberg spoke about his relationship with Tom Izzo as his oldest son, Jack Hoiberg, is a walk-on for the Spartans.
“Coach Izzo is one of my favorites,” Hoiberg said. “When I got let go in December of last year in Chicago, I spent a lot of time in East Lansing. For me, it was more beneficial to go up and watch the practices because Jack had a huge role running the scout team as the point guard. I’ve spent days with Coach Izzo, even on a game day we spent three hours together just writing ideas on the board and talking about different things Xs and Os-wise. I have relied on him and I’ve talked to him a lot. I consider him a very good friend in this business and there’s not a better guy to lean on than Coach Izzo who has done as much as he has and is respected as much as he is.”
Hoiberg wrapped up his time at the dais — which lasted the entire 10 minutes allotted — by discussing the impact his time in the NBA with the Chicago Bulls had on him as a coach.
“I know this: I’m a lot better coach for being in that league for four years,” Hoiberg said. “When you’re going up against the greatest minds on the planet on a nightly basis, just game-planning against Gregg Popovich one night, Mike D’Antoni the next night, [Mike] Budenholzer, there are so many great basketball minds that you learn from, and it helped me. I’ll always cherish my time that I had here in Chicago. It was very important for me as a coach and hopefully we can apply some of those things that we learned and be better because of it.
“I’m looking forward to getting back on the sidelines. I’d had enough of waking up and drinking coffee and watching game shows and doing puzzles. I’d had enough of that, so I was ready to get back out here and I’m really excited to be at Nebraska.”
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.