August is fast approaching and so too is Nebraska’s tour of Italy. With that being the case, the Huskers have begun in earnest their preparation for the trip with the start of their 10 official practices.
Tuesday afternoon marked the fourth of those practices, and afterward Coach Fred Hoiberg, senior Haanif Cheatham and junior Dachon Burke spoke with the media.
Hoiberg said he did not have an update regarding Nevada transfer Shamiel Stevenson and his pursuit of a waiver for immediate eligibility. Sophomore point guard Cam Mack, a junior college transfer, was in street clothes for practice as he finishes up one last class. Hoiberg said they’re hoping for good news in the next 48 hours regarding his eligibility.
Cheatham, a graduate transfer from Florida Gulf Coast, was one of the last guys to arrive but has already taken up a leadership role on the team.
“Everything’s been good,” Cheatham said. “Came quicker than we expected. Guys are learning on the fly and learning quick. It’s only July but as long as we show progression and improvement every day in practice, I think it’s going to be good for us, especially with this trip coming up.”
Hoiberg said he’s seen a lot of that progress, but it hasn’t necessarily been steady.
“For the most part, our guys are competing,” Wiberg said. “We went a little lighter this morning — this is our second two-a-day, our fourth practice. Our message to our players is to grow each day. There are times where you see progress and then there are times where we take steps back. Our biggest thing is fight through adversity. Our guys are really good when things are going well out there but when the tough times hit that’s when they have a tendency of shutting down, which you see at all levels. We’ve just got to continue to battle through those times and we’re trying to figure out which of our players are mentally tough enough to go out there and perform at a high level 100% of the time.
“This is the benefit of these 10 practices that we have right now. We had three weeks with nine of our guys and now we’ve got the other six in, and the one that has not been here is Yvan [Ouedraogo] who will meet us in Italy. But they’re out there working. We’ve had a lot of film sessions with these guys. We’re throwing a lot at them — maybe too much at this point — but our big thing now is trying to figure out who can pick things up in a short amount of time and apply it to the floor, who can translate from a drill into live play. And again, the important thing is fighting through the tough times.”
This stage is all about learning, both what Hoiberg wants them to do and how he wants them to do it. Burke said they’re still towards the beginning of that process.
“I would say we’re still at the caterpillar phase,” Burke said. “We’re not at the butterfly yet, we’re still a new team, we’ve only been here for like a month. Fast-paced, breaking it down piece-by-piece, going through the sets, certain play-calling, certain actions. So far it’s been good.”
With everything still so new, Hoiberg is keeping a close eye on how all the players handle everything he’s throwing at them and the attitude and mindset each guy brings to the practice floor.
“We’re going to experiment with lineups a lot on the trip,” Hoiberg said. “I just put in a new set and a new system yesterday that we need to start picking up better. But the thing that we’re looking for most with our players is to go out there and compete. It’s as simple as that. If you go out there and play hard — if you make mistakes and you have errors, if you’re out there competing you can live with those.”
The Huskers will use the rest of their practices this week and next week before leaving for Italy on Aug. 3.
>> Assistant coach Armon Gates is one of the few people retained from Tim Miles’ program, and Burke said having that familiar voice on the practice court has made the transition smoother.
“It’s helpful because you have somebody that was there with you last year on the coaching staff, which is a blessing,” Burke said. “Gates is always staying on me, and also his energy as well — him and Doc [Sadler] both have great energy, good days or bad days they’re always on your side telling you when you’re good, telling you when you’re bad.”
That energy is something Cheatham highlighted with Sadler as well.
“Doc’s a guy full of energy,” Cheatham said. “You’re going to hear him throughout practice. That’s somebody you want to be around on a daily basis, a guy who’s got great energy, a guy who’s well-respected and a guy who knows what he’s talking about.”
>> As far as early standouts go, freshman guard Samari Curtis was the first name that came to mind for both Cheatham and Burke.
“Coming out as a freshman, he’s been confident, he’s been playing hard, he’s been bringing energy as well and that’s what you want from your young guys,” Cheatham said. “Somebody who brings energy from day to day in practice and gets better.”
Curtis was one of the last players to join the program as he flipped from Cincinnati following coach Mick Cronin’s departure for UCLA, but he’s made a good early impression.
“Everybody I feel like has their days but Samari, out of all the guys coming in, he’s been very aggressive as a freshman,” Burke added. “I stay in his ear a lot too, I tell him there’s going to be days where you go in the gym and shoot 1,000 shots and you might have a day where you come in practice and you might not make any, but I tell him you gotta stay with the process, stay with the process and just believe in the coaches that they’re going to put you in the right positions defensively and offensively and allow you to get better.”
>> Hoiberg had a lot of good things to say about the future of Western Kentucky transfer Dalano Banton, a 6-foot-8 guard who will sit out this season and will be eligible as a redshirt sophomore in 2020-21.
“He’s got all the potential in the world with his size and his ability to pass the ball, play-make, he’s athletic, he’s improving with his shot, he’s putting a lot of time and effort into it, so with a full year of being able to work on his overall skill, I think he’s got a chance to be special when it’s all said and done because of his size and his length and his ability to make plays,” Hoiberg said.
>> Banton will be joined on the scout team by another sit-out transfer in Derrick Walker, a 6-foot-8 forward from Tennessee. Those two won’t be able to play this season but Hoiberg still expects them to have an impact on the team.
“They’ll play very key roles on this team, even if they’re not playing on the floor,” Hoiberg said. “They’ll be running scout team, they’ll hopefully see on the sideline, build chemistry with each other, help with leadership when they see a guy come off the floor and maybe they’re frustrated or upset with something. Those guys are going to be asked to do a lot of things because they’ve been in it. You look at Derrick, a guy that spent his first two years at Tennessee in a high-level program playing for a great coach. He can help these guys through some growing pains even though he won’t be on the floor this year.”