Nebraska got a head start on the Fred Hoiberg era thanks to the team’s trip to Italy during the summer, but now the work begins in earnest for the Huskers as college basketball practice officially begins this week.
Coaches are allowed four hours per week with their teams during the offseason, but that number jumps to 20 on Tuesday. Nebraska’s first practice will be on Wednesday morning after the team takes one of its required 12 off-days on Tuesday.
“It feels like we’ve been practicing for about two years,” Hoiberg said on Monday. “That’s really the benefit of the trip to Italy is the fact that we had an opportunity to spend a lot of time together as a new group. When people ask me the best part about the trip, it really was the bonding time that our players had. We don’t have anybody that played together on the floor in an actual game last year. Thor [Thorbjarnarson] and [Dachon] Burke played a little bit but Thor had a sit-out year last season. The fact that our guys got to spend all that quality time with each other during that trip was as important as anything, probably way more important than the Xs and Os.”
Nebraska continued to encourage team bonding by bringing in The Program, an organization also used by the football team that focuses on developing leadership and building team chemistry.
“To have everything that we’ve had so far with all of the new players, it’s all part of it,” Hoiberg said. “I have seen tremendous growth with chemistry. When we were first together, it was everybody off individually trying to figure each other out. The fun thing now is you see their personalities starting to come out and you see the guys getting more comfortable with each other as we move forward. Having what we experienced the last couple days as far as being a better teammate, as far as how body language affects the team, as far as discipline and accountability, there are a lot of things that we’ve really been working on with this group of new players. We’ve still got a long ways to go, there’s no doubt about that, but I feel pretty good going into the season here on Wednesday.”
Based on the social media exploits of assistant coach Doc Sadler, it seems like the coaching staff has already established that bond.
“What I see with the staff is staff chemistry is so important to hopefully carry that over to your players,’ Hoiberg said. “We’ve got to have that chemistry in order to expect that from our guys and we certainly have that.”
Sadler, assistant coach Matt Abdelmassih and special assistant to the head coach Bobby Lutz all worked with Hoiberg previously while Armon Gates, the assistant Hoiberg retained from Tim Miles’ staff, continues to impress his new boss with his energy and enthusiasm. Hoiberg added Luka Virgilio as director of basketball operations and Buzzy Caruthers in a player development role.
After bringing in 11 new players, Hoiberg had his concerns about how they’d all fit together. Because of the newness of the whole situation, he’s kept things pretty basic so far.
“I think you always have those concerns with any team, especially when you have the amount of new faces that we have with our team this year,” Hoiberg said. “If we had 10 of our 13 guys back, obviously you can start further ahead in the game. But we’ve really had to stay at the lower level, at the basic level, really since we started on day one and we’re not ready to go up level two quite yet. It’s really just trying to, since we’ve been back from the Italy trip, we went back and watched all the games, how do we correct the mistakes that we were making and how do we become a more consistent group?
“Now the fact that we get to start on Wednesday with the 20 hours, we’ll be able to spend a lot more time with them. We’ll be able to to have individual film sessions with our guys to really address the things that we feel we need to grow at. We’re a lot better than we were on day one, but we still have a long way to go.”
Starting on Tuesday, Nebraska has 42 days until the season-opener to figure things out and go beyond “level one.” He’s started to see some glimpses of things clicking for the Huskers, but it’s not there consistently yet.
“With our guys right now, with the way that it is, they are picking things up, but then we’ll have three days off and then you get back in the gym and they forget everything you worked on the week before,” Hoiberg said. “The fact that we’re going to be able to have more consistent practices should help in a big way towards that. We’re starting to make better reads, we’re starting to figure out when a defense plays you a certain way, when to take a lane to the basket, when to run out of a screen as opposed to popping your feet and setting it, when a guy goes under the automatic re-screen, that needs to become second nature and right now it’s not. Once we’re able to get more consistent days put together, that should definitely help.”
This process has elicited both excitement and stress from Hoiberg, but he said he’s doing his best to stay patient.
“There is a lot of excitement with the players we brought in, but there also is some frustration at times just because we’re constantly looking for those guys to go out there and play together every time they step on the floor, understanding that we know there’s going to be a greater learning curve with this group than a lot of teams that have a lot of production coming back,” Hoiberg said. “It’s just about every day, stressing it, film sessions, we watched a lot of film even with these offseason workouts of how we want to go out there and play and we’ll continue to do that both individually and team film sessions.”
Hoiberg said the Huskers didn’t have a great workout on Monday morning, but they’ve got some time left over and will use it to watch some individual film to set expectations for what it’s supposed to look like. At this stage, however, he wants to see total effort and progress every time the Huskers set foot on the court, and if he gets those two things he thinks the results will take care of themselves.
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.