Shortly before Charlie Easley walked out to speak to the media ahead of Nebraska’s road trip to Northwestern, a loud round of cheers erupted from the Nebraska locker room at the Hendricks Training Center.
When he walked out, sports information director Shamus McKnight introduced him as “former walk-on Charlie Easley.” Coach Fred Hoiberg had just placed the freshman guard on scholarship.
“It’s a great feeling,” Easley said. “A lot of hard work went into it. Thanks to the coaches, teammates and everybody that helped me. It’s just the start; I’ve just got to keep working.”
Easley is coming off a game where he played a career-high 16 minutes as he helped Nebraska knock off Iowa at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Tuesday.
“I should have had the cameras going in there,” Hoiberg said. “Everybody roots for Charlie. He’s just one of those guys who comes to work every day. He shows up an hour before practice, he’s shooting in a dark gym before anybody else shows up. It’s easy to root for a guy like that that puts in the time. It’s fun any time you can do something like that. Charlie got a little emotional; shoot, I got a little emotional talking to him in there one-on-one and then telling the team … It’s an exciting day for Charlie and an exciting day for our program.”
Easley has been in and out of the rotation this season but was a big part of the win thanks to some momentum-shifting hustle plays. He scored one point, splitting a pair of free throws and missing all three of his 3-point attempts, recorded two steals and grabbed one rebound. The Huskers were plus-5 with Easley on the floor.
“Charlie brings that energy and the hustle; for a guy that scored one point in the game, to go out and have the type of impact that he had against Iowa says everything you need to know,” Hoiberg said. “He can impact winning without making shots and that’s a great quality in a player … Just to see him out there bonding with his teammates, playing out there early on the scout team and just how he’s worked his way up, it’s been really fun to see.”
Easley had a strong 17U season on the Adidas Gauntlet with Omaha Sports Academy (alongside Nebraska teammates Akol Arop, Jace Piatkowski and Bret Porter) and then led Lincoln Pius X to a Class B state title, but the the Division I interest never came. The Citadel offered, but Easley turned that down and no one else came forth with a scholarship offer. He had looks from plenty of schools at lower levels but decided to pay is own way to walk on at the home-town school.
“Looking back to one year ago, I had no clue what I was going to do,” Easley said. “I wasn’t getting the offers that I wanted. That’s just how it works and I had to just keep working and keep going and keep playing my game.”
He said the “love for Nebraska” is what ultimately drove his decision.
“I grew up here, I grew up watching Nebraska and it’s a local kid’s dream to play for their home town in front of everybody they know,” Easley said. “It’s just a great feeling to get on scholarship because that was one of my goals coming in.”
Hoiberg said he didn’t know a ton about Easley when he arrived in Lincoln, but he’d heard about how the 6-foot-2 guard led the Thunderbolts to a state title while playing with bone spurs in his ankle and after speaking with Pius X coach Brian Spicka he liked what he heard and believed Easley’s best basketball was in front of him. Hoiberg’s twin sons, juniors Sam and Charlie, are playing for Spicka at Pius now.
Easley said he didn’t even expect to see the court very much as a freshman, let alone be placed on scholarship. But Nebraska had an open scholarship for the second semester after Samari Curtis decided to transfer and Hoiberg didn’t see anyone worth pursuing on the mid-year transfer market.
“When this scholarship became available with Samari’s transfer, it really was a no-brainer with Charlie and the way he’s gone out there and competed every day and done everything that we’ve asked of him and made a big impact of this team,” Hoiberg said.
Easley was a big-time scorer for the Thunderbolts, but his toughness and all-around playmaking ability stood out on his film as much as his jump shot. He’s only 1-of-7 from 3 so far this season but has still played in 11 games and made an impact.
“I’ve always tried to not be a one-dimensional player,” Easley said. “You’re always going to have games where you don’t shoot well or you’re not hitting your shots but you’ve got to find other ways to impact the game and that’s what I’ve always tried to do, whether it’s defense or rebounding or all the little things that help a team win. Everybody has a different role and everybody can help the team win in different ways.”
Hoiberg did say he has confidence in the jumper falling sooner or later for Easley who shot 45.2% as a senior at Pius. Whether the shot is falling or not, however, the Pinnacle Bank Arena crowd takes notice every time he sets foot on the court.
“You hear the energy pick up in the building any time he takes his warmup off and goes to check in at the scorer’s table,” Hoiberg said. “He’s a guy that’s going to go out there and he’s going to have an impact on the game whether he’s making shots or not, and I do think it’s a matter of time before his shot starts falling. He’s an excellent shooter and once he hits a couple I think he’s going to be off and running.”
Easley said he’s taken notice of the extra noise every time he checks in and makes a play, even if it’s as simple as a box out.
“It’s a good feeling to be able to represent my home city,” Easley said. “I’m glad that everybody’s behind me and I’m just going to keep working my hardest and keep trying to make them proud.”
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.