It may be the offseason for Coach Fred Hoiberg and the Nebraska basketball program, but there was still plenty to discuss as Hoiberg joined Greg Sharpe during Thursday night’s addition of Sports Nightly.
One of the key dominos that needed to fall this offseason was the decisions from the two seniors, Kobe Webster and Thorir Thorbjarnarson.
Webster, the graduate transfer from Western Illinois, didn’t take too long to announce that he was going to the advantage of his extra year of eligibility and run it back at Nebraska.
“As far as Kobe, we’re really excited to have him back,” Hoiberg said. “Another guy that played really good basketball in the second half of the season. After the new year he shot over 40% from the 3-point line, a guy that has experience playing at this level … Having Kobe, a guy that really understands our system, especially again that second half of the season where he really took off with his numbers. We put him in the starting lineup — it started really on senior night with he and Thor — and we kept those guys in there the remainder of the season when we probably played our best basketball of the year. It will certainly be good to have a guy like Kobe back because of his experience.”
Thorbjarnarson took a bit more time with his decision, with Hoiberg and his staff staying in touch and offering advice and support throughout the process. Ultimately, he decided to pursue and professional career and pass on the extra season at Nebraska.
“He was awesome and really represented our program in such a first-class way going all the way back to when Coach [Tim] Miles brought him over as a freshman from Iceland,” Hoiberg said. “I was just really proud of Thor for the way that he finished off his senior year … He got off to a little bit of a tough start shooting the ball but really finished playing some of the best basketball of his career, making plays. He was our leading assist guy the last six weeks of the season, and gave him a little momentum heading into what will be the next phase of his professional career.
“I talked to several agents that were really high on Thor and think he’s got an opportunity to really do well over in the European leagues. He’s playing right now in the playoffs in Iceland with the club team that he grew up playing in and hopefully he plays well and can get some good footage to show some of those other teams where he’ll start his professional career.”
Speaking of playing overseas, Hoiberg also offered some thoughts on Lithuanian center Oleg Kojenets, a late addition to Nebraska’s 2021 recruiting class. Hoiberg compared Kojenets to Eduardo Andre, the freshman center who made significant process throughout the season and earned the back-up center role down the stretch.
“With Oleg, it gives us a little bit of that skilled, big, 7-foot player that’s going to play on his national team this summer,” Hoiberg said. “They’re still working through some of the FIBA rules, the International committee, on how they’re going to approach the world championships. But he’s going to play on the under-18 and under-19 teams as they move forward with that summer. So it should be a great opportunity for Oleg and we’re excited about his future here at Nebraska.”
As for Andre, Hoiberg said he’s already put on 20 pounds this spring and has been working hard to expand his shooting range with new assistant coach Nate Loenser.
The other late addition to the class was Quaran McPherson, a 6-foot-4 combo-guard from New York who spent a post-grad year at Link Year School in Missouri.
“That’s a big, physical guard coming in that can really defend and shot the ball well towards the end of the season last year,” Hoiberg said. “Just a really tough kid that will bring a lot to our program as well.”
Hoiberg also signed a pair of transfers since the end of the season, Xavier shooting guard C.J. Wilcher and DePaul wing Keon Edwards, both of whom will have four years of eligibility at Nebraska.
“I’ll start with CJ; he was a guy that got good, quality minutes a year ago and had some very good shooting games,” Hoiberg said. “A guy that has a high basketball IQ, a good, strong body, tough kid out of New York, and again a guy that can really stretch the floor and space the floor.”
Wilcher was only 10th on Xavier’s team in terms of minutes as he only played in 15 games, but he still gained valuable experience and closed out the season strong, scoring 10 points in 32 minutes (both season highs) in Xavier’s regular season finale against Marquette and following that up with seven points in 20 minutes against Butler in the Big East Tournament.
Edwards is a different story. The 6-foot-7 wing, who was originally part of the 2021 class before reclassifying to 2020 at the last minute, only played in five games as a Blue Demon.
“Keon, a guy that was ranked in the top 50 in his class,” Hoiberg said. “He enrolled mid-semester last year at DePaul and they had ups and downs all year as far as COVID is concerned where they had multiple shutdowns. He gets to campus, he had to quarantine for two weeks before he was even able to join the team and start practicing. He didn’t really get a lot of time on the floor, but it wasn’t because of his ability. It was more because of the circumstances of COVID and what went on last year in college basketball. We’re adding a really, really talented, skilled player. Great kid.”
One of Hoiberg’s primary gals this offseason was to improve his team’s perimeter shooting. The Huskers got a lot of open looks this past season that they need to be able to convert at a better rate in order to compete more consistently, and Hoiberg said he believes both Wilcher and Edwards will help in that area.
“Both of these guys are unbelievable workers; any time you try to get ahold of them they’re in the gym. Two guys that will give us experience and that’s very important to add players like that who have been through some highs and lows already in their college career, so two really good additions to our program.”
For the first time since Hoiberg arrived, Nebraska is set to retain the majority of its production from the previous season, which means the coaches got a lot of time this spring to focus on prioritized skills during workouts. Hoiberg said a lot of those workouts have been focused on fundamental things, particularly pick-and-roll reads as the team looks to cut down on its turnover rate from a season ago.
The players are home now, but Hoiberg said they’ll start returning to campus the first week of June. The team will go through medical testing upon their return and then will get started with summer workouts on June 9.
“I’m looking forward to that,” Hoiberg said. “Our guys are as well. We’ve got a really good group of kids that all love being in the gym. That’s a great place to start, when you’ve got a group that’s going to go in there and work and put in extra time on their games, that’s willing to do that, it certainly gives you a leg up.”
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.