Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Huskers Continue to Work as Exhibition Games Approach

October 19, 2021

Fred Hoiberg and the Huskers are entering the stretch run of the preseason. Nebraska is one week out from its first exhibition of the season, and that game can’t get here too soon for a team that has been beating on each other for the better part of the last five months.

“I’m excited, man,” Lat Mayen said. “I’m tired of going at my own teammates. After a while you’re kind of just ready to face somebody else.”

One the one hand, the team has had the opportunity to spend a lot more time together than it did last year because of COVID-19 protocols.

“We didn’t have the luxury of spending the amount of time last year that we have been able to this year, and this goes all the way back to June 8,” Hoiberg said. “That’s when our guys stepped on campus for the first time in the first summer session period and then you have the whole month of July, and then your guys go home for three weeks and then you have fall workouts and then normal practices started, I believe, on the 27th. So there’s so much time now that you’re spending together, and the rules are we can only play against each other until the exhibitions start.”

Hoiberg said players did much less during the offseason back during his playing days and were naturally more excited when the first practice rolled around. It’s a little different now, and the coaches have to play accordingly. Both Mayen and freshman Wilhelm Breidenbach called the daily practices a grind, but they said the key is to focus and be consistent in their approach.

“You just have to try to keep it fresh, try to keep it as competitive as possible and hope you guys go out and respond and take steps in the right direction every day, which I think we have,” Hoiberg said. “We’re getting better. Certainly we have a long way to go, as all teams, I think, do at this time of year, especially when you’re integrating new players in with some of the established guys, younger players, freshmen that are definitely going to have roles on this team, and there are some setbacks along the way. But if you have leadership and you continue to improve, and use those learning opportunities, hopefully come opening night we will be where we need to be.”

On the leadership front, Trey McGowens referred to a players-only meeting he hosted at his place before he and Alonzo Verge Jr. departed for Big Ten Media Days in Indianapolis. Hoiberg said discussion like that have continued to happen after the coaches leave the room after team meetings.

“That’s where you have growth is when you can sit there and have an honest conversation with a teammate that’s sitting across a locker room from you, and have constructive criticism where you’re not taking it personal,” Hoiberg said. “That’s where you have growth, when you have that accountability within your team. We’ve been really good at times and we’ve also been very poor at times where we have taken it personal. You have to avoid those situations and continue to try to put them in adverse situations. That’s going to be the true test is how are we going to be able to fight through adversity? Because those five-minute stretches where things aren’t going your way, if you don’t continue to battle through it you’re going to dig yourself a huge hole … We’ve got a couple weeks, we’ve got a couple games to hopefully learn a lot about ourselves heading into the opener on the ninth.”

The biggest thing Hoiberg still needs to learn is what his rotation is going to look like. He said one day he’ll think he has it figured out and then the next day in practice somebody unexpected stands out while another player takes a step back. Hoiberg said he likely still won’t have the rotation nailed down in time for Nebraska’s exhibition games next week.

“We still have some time to figure it out,” Hoiberg said. “I’ve probably got 12 or 13 right now that we certainly are capable of putting out there in a game, but obviously I can’t play that many, so we’ll see how it all plays out. We get two good opportunities to see some different lineups, different combinations in the exhibitions, and continue to put them in competitive environments in practice. So we’ve got a good core, I think, that that have established themselves, but we’ve also got some guys that are really improving as we’ve gone along, sort of, in this training camp period that we’ve had.”

The opening day rotation may not be the same one the Huskers use once Big Ten play begins either. Hoiberg said it is a good problem to have, but still one he needs to sort out.

Nebraska isn’t participating in a closed scrimmage with another program this year, so Hoiberg’s first look at his team in live game action will be against NAIA Peru State next Wednesday, Oct. 27. After that, the Huskers will take on another high-major opponent in a charity exhibition against Colorado on Oct. 31.

“Looking at Peru State’s roster, I’ve seen a lot of those players when when my kids were going through playing at Pius,” Hoiberg said. “Hard-playing, talented, athletic players; that’s going to be a good test for us, that that that first game against Peru. I know they really liked their team this year, so that’ll provide a great test for us. Then the opportunity to compete against a high major opponent, able to raise money for charity in that game on Halloween against Colorado will be another great opportunity for our team. And again, we’ll play a lot of guys in those games and hopefully learn a lot about ourselves.”

Mayen is heading into his second season with the program, but because of the pandemic he didn’t get the chance to play in front of a full Pinnacle Bank Arena last year. That’s another reason he’s looking forward to the exhibition games.

“Yeah, the love is definitely there, the energy is there,” Mayen said. “I just can’t wait, I can’t wait to see it all together at PBA. But yeah, the love and energy is different.”

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