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Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Huskers Preparing for Short-Handed Roster During Spanish Tour Games

July 24, 2023

The Nebraska men’s basketball team is gearing up to depart for its overseas trip to Spain, but unfortunately they’ll be short-handed — and, quite literally, short — for the games they play during the trip.

According to coach Fred Hoiberg, several players — including most of the team’s frontcourt — will be unavailable because of other obligations or injury.

Bradley big man transfer Rienk Mast and returning leading scorer Keisei Tominaga will not join the Huskers on the trip as they compete with their national teams. Matar Diop, the 6-foot-9 forward who committed to Nebraska over the weekend, also will not make the trip.

New Mexico transfer forward Josiah Allick was recently cleared for non-contact activity but won’t be ready for full competition during the trip. Hoiberg hopes that Allick will be full-go once the team returns to the practice court for workouts in August.

“Unfortunately, they have not deemed me clear to play, or at least full go yet, “ Allick said on Monday. “So that part kind of stinks. But on the other side, I get like a 10-day, all-expenses-paid trip to Spain. I get to watch some basketball and go to the beach and eat some Spanish food; definitely not upset about that. But definitely obviously wish I could spend two hours on the court with the guys those days.”

While Allick’s recovery from ankle surgery is ahead of schedule, Blaise Keith’s is not nearly as far along. He is just working his way back into spot shooting and lateral movement and also will not be available to play in Spain.

Walk-on sophomore Sam Hoiberg will also sit out as he is dealing with knee pain, though Allick, Keita and Hoiberg will all still make the trip even if they won’t be playing in the games.

Forward Juwan Gary, who saw his first season as a Husker cut short by a shoulder injury, got cleared for full activity on Friday, though theta is being cautious with him. He participated in a 10-minute scrimmage in practice Monday, and Hoiberg is hopeful he’ll be able to play limited minutes in Spain.

“It’s going to give Juwan a chance to knock some rust off,” Hoiberg said about the trip. “He won’t play a lot of minutes, but hopefully we’ll be able to get him about 10 minutes a game just to get his timing back and get the speed of the game, get used to it again.”

That leaves Nebraska with a nine-man roster — Jamarques Lawrence (6-foot-3), Ahron Ulis (6-foot-3), C.J. Wilcher (6-foot-5), Ramel Lloyd Jr. (6-foot-6), Brice Williams (6-foot-7) and Eli Rice (6-foot-7) plus walk-ons Jeffrey Grace III (6-foot-3), Cale Jacobsen (6-foot-4) and Henry Burt (6-foot-4) — in addition to whatever Gary is able to give the team. While this trip won’t provide a true preview of what the Huskers will look like at full strength, it will provide a chance for less experienced players to see significant playing time.

“The thing that I’m excited about is it gives guys opportunity that didn’t get a lot of minutes a year ago,” Hoiberg said. “It gives Ramel a great chance to get good, quality minutes over there. Cale Jacobsen has been really good. I’ve been really pleased with Cale, and he’s played a lot of positions. He’s played the five for us in some of the scrimmages that we’ve done. He’s just a guy that really understands the game. So I’m excited to see what Cale can give us over there as well … 

“It gives opportunity for Eli Rice, who is really talented. He got it going in a big way today in the scrimmage that we did when Juwan was out there. He’s a guy that still is learning and it’s going to be a learning process for Eli, but he had his best day today in practice. So it gives him a good opportunity as well. Eli, he’s got some things that you just can’t teach. He’s long, he’s athletic, he’s got a beautiful shooting stroke, and it was good to see him get it going today.”

Williams, the transfer wing who spent his first three seasons at Charlotte, is looking forward to the opportunity to get to know his teammates better during the trip.

“It’s going to be 10 days; that’s a long trip,” Williams said. “But it’ll be a good time to bond, a good time to get to know the guys. This is all new to everyone. And then it’ll be a good experience throughout the country, taking in the sights, spending a little bit of money, eating different foods. It’ll be a good time, just something different to bring us together.”

Hoiberg has taken teams on overseas trips twice before, once at Iowa State and once at Nebraska, both times to Italy. Hoiberg said the off-court bonding is even more valuable than the on-court time, especially with limited cell phone service that forces players to find other ways to full free time (like conversation).

“These trips to me, it’s all about bonding, it’s all about chemistry,” Hoiberg said. “It’s an opportunity to go over to a beautiful country and really learn a lot about their culture, and we’ve got a lot of sightseeing things that we will do over there. I’m just looking forward to getting our guys over there on on a trip where they can really spend a lot of quality time together.”

He Huskers till take Tuesday off before returning to the court for their last two practices on Wednesday and Thursday. They’re scheduled to depart very early on Friday to begin their journey to Spain.

Other Notes:

>> Keystone Athletic Academy forward Matar Diop announced his commitment to Nebraska on Sunday, and Hoiberg confirmed the roster addition on Monday.

“I just wanted to start out this morning talking about how excited we are with the addition of Matar Diop,” Hoiberg said. “We got a commitment from him a couple days ago and he’s officially signed now. So he add some much needed depth for us on the front line — 6-9, almost 6-10 with a 7-3 wingspan and a tremendous motor. So I’m really excited about about that addition to our roster. It just really brings us an element that we didn’t have on this team with the ability to protect the rim, athleticism, gives us a lob threat and a really good pickup for our team.”

The Nebraska staff has continued searching for ways to fill the two scholarships they had available for next month, which took assistant coach Ernie Zeigler to the NBA Academy Games in early July. There, Diop caught his eye, and an offer came soon after.

“He played in an event in the first recruiting period in July in Atlanta, the NBA Academy, and Ernie Ziegler was down there watching,” Hoiberg said. “He called me right away after the game and said ‘I’m telling you, there’s a kid down here that I really think can help us.’ And then he watched him in another game and said, ‘He’s better than I thought.’ And then he played a third game and he said, ‘All right, we’ve got to offer this kid.’ So we got in there early and then some other schools, a big school threw an offer at him. We were very fortunate to get him on a visit before the dead period started and he really liked what he saw here. To add a quality big with that type of size this late in the game is a huge pickup for us, especially needing depth on our front line with everything that we’re dealing with right now.”

>> Mast participated in the team’s first six practices before departing for his native Netherlands a couple days ago, and Hoiberg said he was impressed by the big man’s ability to fill some of the playmaking and leadership void left by Derrick Walker’s departure while also providing floor spacing with his 3-point shooting.

“He brings us a just a different dimension at the five spot because of his ability to shoot the basketball,” Hoiberg said. “He’s got a beautiful stroke, as good a stroke as anybody in our roster. And when you have a big that can step away and draw the other big away from the basket, it just opens up a lot of really unique things that you can do with your offense when you have a five that can stretch the floor like Rienk does.”

>> Hoiberg said his staff will continue to track international players and monitor the transfer portal, but they are in no hurry to fill the last remaining scholarship. It would have to be a perfect fit for Nebraska to make another roster addition this late in the process, and there can be value to having a scholarship available heading into the season with the potential for early enrollees or midseason transfers.

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