For the second straight spring, Fred Hoiberg has almost completely flipped his roster. As of now, Hoiberg has added five transfers and also has three players coming off a redshirt year while only three players are set to return from this year’s active roster.
The day after the late signing period opened, Hoiberg held a conference call with local media. Whether it was a veiled shot at the roster that just went 7-25 or simply a coach piling on the cliches for a new group, he spoke glowingly of the class he had just signed.
“We’re very excited about this group,” Hoiberg said. “The thing that I like most about them — obviously they all have very unique skill sets and they can do a lot of things on the floor — but what I’m really excited about with this group is their competitive spirit. I think we’re going to have a group of guys that love to work; they’re going to get in the gym. The teams that I’ve had the most success with are the ones that are always in the gym getting extra work and build chemistry together and hold each other accountable during off hours.
“Obviously we’re going to work extremely hard when we’re in our practice, but the teams, in my opinion, that give you the best chance to win are the ones that come back at night or the ones that come in an hour before practice and get shots up and put in the necessary work. I think we’re going to have a group that just loves to play the game.”
Hoiberg said he held a Zoom call with the signees and said they’re all hungry and eager to get to work, reiterating that work ethic was a trait he apparently prioritized with this class. Eventually, he did get to something more tangible — and it’s my main takeaway from Hoiberg’s second team in Lincoln.
“When you look at our roster next year, not only the players that we signed yesterday, but also add the three players that we had sitting out with Dalano Banton, Derrick Walker and Shamiel Stevenson, and then you add the five players that we added yesterday and we’ve put together a group of guys that not only have the competitive spirit and the drive but I think they also have the size and physicality that you need to compete at the Big Ten level,” Hoiberg said.
Nebraska clearly did not have that this season. The opening day starting lineup included and 17-year-old center listed at 6-foot-9 and four guards 6-foot-5 or shorter. Later on, Hoiberg went a little bigger with Thorir Thorbjarnarson starting at the four — at 6-foot-6 and 206 pounds. Nebraska’s back-up center was a freshman in Kevin Cross listed at 6-foot-8 who was closer to 6-foot-6.
The lack of size and roster flexibility resulted in some major rebounding problems and compromised their defense as Doc Sadler had to make concessions when designing defensive game plans, which mostly took the form of double-teaming the post and leaving shooters open on the perimeter.
Western Illinois grad transfer Kobe Webster is small at 6-foot and 170 pounds, but the rest of the additions all have plus size, strength or length for their positions that should allow the Huskers to match up more evenly with other Big Ten teams.
Dalano Banton is a 6-foot-8 guard with long arms. Derrick Walker is 6-foot-8 and 235 pounds and a grown man with three years of college experience under his belt compared to the teenagers Nebraska had at the five this season. Shamiel Stevenson is 6-foot-6 and 245 pounds with a 6-foot-11 wingspan and the athleticism to play on the wing as well as the strength to hold his own inside.
Teddy Allen is 6-foot-5 and well over 200 pounds who feasted on the block in junior college thanks to his strength. Lat Mayen is 6-foot-9 with a nose for the ball on the glass. Kobe King is a physical off-guard at 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds with staring experience in the Big Ten. Trey McGowens is 6-foot-4 and 195 pounds with above-the-rim athleticism.
Hoiberg spent year one in Lincoln establishing the way he wants his teams to play, and now he has a roster better suited to succeed with that style.
“There are some things that we did well as far as a style of play standpoint that we can build on, but within that, the nuances of it, there are things we need to improve on,” Hoiberg said. “Defensively obviously we need to improve in a big way. I think we’re going to have more size and physicality, I think we’re going to have more rebounding all across the board with all five positions and we’ll be able to improve in that area. Hopefully with having guys that can finish plays in the paint will help us overall.”
Nebraska is still looking to add even more size and physicality as well as Adama Sanogo, a 6-foot-9 4-star center from the Patrick School, inlcuded the Huskers when he cut his list from 10 to six recently. Rebounding, defense and finishing in the paint are all strengths of Sanogo, who is currently a 2021 recruit but has the option to reclassify to 2020.
In 2019-20, small-ball was Hoiberg’s only option at Nebraska. In 2020-21, the Huskers will have quite a bit more flexibility with their lineups, which should in turn lead to more wins.
Jacob Padilla has been writing for Hail Varsity since 2015. He covers football, volleyball men’s basketball and prep sports. He also co-hosts the Nebraska Preps Postgame and Nebraska Shootaround podcasts for the Hurrdat Media and Hail Varsity podcast networks. 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.