Hoiberg's Huskers Ready to Get Started as Basketball Practice Begins
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Huskers Hoping to Build Good Habits this Summer

July 18, 2022

Wins have been hard to come by for Nebraska during Fred Hoiberg’s tenure, though the Huskers have found themselves in plenty of close games over the past few years.

The Cornhuskers have competed, but they’ve found ways to lose far more often than hey’ve found ways to win in late-game situations. That has to change if the program hopes to take a step forward.

Executing in the clutch isn’t something that just happens; it’s the result of habits built up over time — on the practice court, in the weight room and outside the facility in addition to in live action.

The process for building those habits started this summer for a Nebraska team that adds nine new players to a returning core of rotation players and group of redshirts. Key among the newcomers are fifth-year seniors Sam Griesel and Emmanuel Bandoumel, two veterans that come to Lincoln from winning programs.

“I’ve been really impressed with the new guys,” Hoiberg said. “The thing that I’ve really noticed when you get guys like with Emmanuel, when you get guys like Juwan [Gary], when you get guys like Sam, that are coming from winning programs and have played in the NCAA Tournament, have played postseason basketball, you see the leadership that comes with that. They really exceeded my expectations as far as what they’ve done for the chemistry of this group. It’s not only in this gym, but these guys are hanging out together, they’ve been together as a team off the court every week. They’re doing a couple team activities together. 

“It’s really been a lot of fun to see how this group has come together in a short amount of time. They genuinely want to be with each other and the pickup that they’re playing on the weekends, they’re coming in and organizing that on their own. So yeah, I’ve just loved everything that this group has shown and is all about.”

The North Dakota State Bison won 82 games and earned one NCAA Tournament berth in Griesel’s four years in Fargo, and the Lincoln native has brought all that experience with him back home for his extra season of eligibility. Though he hasn’t yet begun competing on the practice court, his early impression of Nebraska has been a positive one.

“It’s been amazing, honestly,” Griesel said. “I’ve been around college basketball for a really long time and I can kind of sense vibes, if you’d say that, and I can tell that, just being here for a month, that there’s just a really good vibe in that locker room and in the weight room and in the practice gym. It’s been a joy to to be around and I just can’t wait for this year.”

Hoiberg has noticed a different vibe as well. He’s seeing and hearing things that weren’t necessarily present the past few years, at least not consistently.

“You just see everybody using their voice,” Hoiberg said. “If the young guys aren’t talking, which they generally don’t when they first get there, that’s a big adjustment for young players, but you see the older guys getting on them and then it gradually picks up … You just see everybody using their voice, and you don’t have to say it as a coach. Those guys are talking to each other about it. When we call a play, they don’t start the play until everybody echoes the call. 

“Just those little things, I think, make a big difference. It’s why we lost so many close games last year. The little things are what are going to get us over the hump, they’re going to get us above that line, and I’m seeing a lot of that right now. I’m very optimistic about this group, doing the little things that it takes to win those close games, to execute down the stretch to where we can be on the other end of those close ones this year.”

The improved vocal leadership is a big deal, especially for senior Derrick Walker, who said he felt at times like he was the only one speaking up the last few years. Kobe Webster alluded to that lack of communication and correction from player to player (and coach to player) in his infamous radio appearance last season.

“This year I hear a lot of voices and it’s good because that’s what we need,” said Walker, who has been around for Hoiberg’s entire tenure in Lincoln. “It’s not wrong for a big to correct a guard, but when you’ve got another guard correcting a guard it means a lot. So just having those players just coaching their own positions is great because it makes everyone better.”

The Huskers have leadership in the backcourt with Griesel and Bandoumel, from the wing in Gary (who played on two NCAA Tournament games at Alabama) and, of course, from “Grandpa” Walker in the frontcourt. The 24-year-old big man said the summer provides a big opportunity to build leadership.

“We’ve got young kids coming in that have never played at this level that are adjusting to 1000 things every day,” Walker said. “So what I try and do is just help them keep it simple so they’re not overthinking. The more you overthink, the more you mess up. I can tell when they’re overthinking and I just calm them down and let them know everything we do is really simple, and once you get the hang of it, everything will click. Having those older guys like Emmanuel and Juwan where they can pick up on it quicker than the younger guys, it’s such a big help to me because we’ve got leadership from all around and with those guys being here, they step up, they speak up and they hold others accountable. So we’re just more well-rounded this year as far as leadership and things like that, effort, people not taking it personally.”

Griesel’s advice for the young newcomers was the same as Walker’s: keep the game simple, especially as they continue to learn the new terminology, offensive sets and defensive schemes.

Leadership is important, but the Huskers are looking to make strides in more tangible areas as well. They’re looking to build those good habits, including in the weight room using their offseason workouts. Griesel has followed the program even before he became a Husker and knows about the team’s late-game struggles last season.

“I think when you get to the last five minutes of a workout, it’s really easy to kind of hang your head and be tired,” Griesel said. “But when you say you’re not going to let that get to you and that last five minutes you really finish, it really translates to winning games and winning with a minute left on the floor, like you’re not going to just hang your head and be tired and go to the bench. You want to be in that situation and you want to come out on top, so when you do that, when you start in the weight room and in the practice gym, that translates.”

The offseason is all about positivity. It’s easy to have good vibes when it’s all workouts and pick-up games and there’s no chance for losses to pile up. However, Hoiberg said he has seen a difference this summer compared to years past and the Huskers are hoping the work they’re putting in now will show up this winter when it really matters.

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