Nebraska is one week into its six weeks of preseason practices. With a roster featuring nine newcomers plus a few redshirt freshmen, Fred Hoiberg has plenty of work to do to get his team ready for the Nov. 7 season-opener.
While full-length practices have only just begun, that work started back in the summer and has continued throughout the offseason between on-court work-outs and off-court team activities,
“We definitely have jelled a lot,” sophomore Wilhelm Breidenbach said. “We spend a lot of time with each other, have gotten to know each other pretty well. So it’s been pretty easy to work with everybody and we’re just all good friends really, which I think is important.”
This year’s team features four transfers from other four-year schools (including two fifth-year seniors and one walk-on), one junior college transfer, four true freshmen (including two walk-ons), four redshirt freshmen (including one walk-on) and four players who saw the court for Nebraska in 2021-22. Derrick Walker is the only player on the team who has been in the program for more than one season.
After three losing seasons that have featured plenty of roster turnover, Hoiberg seems determined to do what he can to prioritize developing team chemistry. That includes the implementation of “Culture Fridays.”
“Team bonding, speakers, just getting together and making sure that we’re living up to our core values, just all those things that are so important,” Hoiberg said. “This group has been so tight … The fact that our guys are able to put [distractions] aside and come together is a great sign. Now, is that going to translate to wins and losses? It can’t hurt. It’s going to help when those guys have a genuine care factor for each other out there on the floor. And I think part of that is chemistry and part of that is culture. If you can get that where it needs to be it’s going to help you win those close games. It’s going to help you in your overall bottom line of having more wins than losses.”
Hoiberg also formed a leadership group made up of six players — mostly older, one younger — that will meet once per week to discuss how things are going. The leadership group is also taking the lead with the Culture Fridays, and Hoiberg said he’s already seeing them pay dividends.
Kobe Webster made some waves last year when he talked publicly about accountability issues on last year’s team, both player to player and player to coach. This is a different group, with two new coaches in addition to the new players, and SMU transfer Emmanuel Bandoumel said they haven’t had any problems thus far connecting and having difficult discussions.
“It has been pretty easy with this team,” Bandoumel said. “I think everybody kind of loves each other, like genuinely loves each other. I think we hang out a lot together. After practice we love to do stuff together as a whole team, all 16, 15 of us are all just together doing some stuff, going to football games and stuff like that. So it’s actually easier to translate that to the court and have tough conversations. It’s easy for us to have them and take the critique and move on with it. I think we do a good job of that. So it’s been pretty smooth.”
Breidenbach said that off-court togetherness translates to on-court chemistry as well in terms of communication and knowing teammates’ tendencies. He also echoed Bandoumel’s thoughts on team-wide accountability.
“It’s good because we do have, obviously, some leaders, but I think everybody works together and everybody gives each other feedback rather than just one or two people,” Breidenbach said. “Everybody’s been very good about talking to each other and not getting upset when we correct each other. Kind of holding each other accountable has been very easy and it’s definitely a valuable thing to have in a team.”
Hoiberg said he’s counting on the veterans — both returners like Walker and newcomers like Sam Griesel and Bandoumel who come from successful programs — to help with the jelling process.
“This team is really close” is a preseason cliché that you hear in the preseason from programs all across the country every single year. Team chemistry won’t truly be tested until the Huskers face real in-season adversity. However, Hoiberg is spending this offseason trying to prepare his team for the moment when that adversity hits, because the Big Ten isn’t getting easier to navigate any time soon.
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.