Official practices for college basketball begin on Wednesday, and that includes Fred Hoiberg’s Huskers. Nebraska has been holding team workouts for weeks, but the Huskers will get a chance to start ramping things up with 20-hour practice weeks as they work their way toward the Nov. 25 start of the season.
“I’ve been really impressed with our players as far as commitment,” Hoiberg said about what he’s seen thus far. “It’s a group that just loves to compete. They love being in the gym. We’ve almost had to talk to them about taking some time off; some of them would come in three times a day if we allowed it. We worked very closely with our sports scientist, Chris Bach, as far as work loads and making sure we understand this is a marathon here.”
Hoiberg said they held their first big team scrimmage last Wednesday, and since then the Huskers have been off as they prepare for the start of practice. The Huskers have been able to go about their business the last four or five months with minimal disruptions.
“Knock on wood, but our guys have done great job as far as staying safe and making the right choices and the right decisions,” Hoiberg said. “We have had one positive case and that’s it. Everybody else has stayed away from it. We feel good about that for the fact we have not had to quarantine a large portion of our team. We’ve been able to stay on task and been able to get in the gym and work, starting with individual workouts then we went to small group workouts and for the last several weeks we’ve actually had full team workouts, and we’re making good progress.”
Hoiberg said the COVID-19 case is not active. He also reiterated how much he’s been struck by the team’s competitive spirit and how much they love being in the gym.
“I think there’s accountability with the guys when certain guys don’t come into the gym,” Hoiberg said. “We were only allowed a certain number of hours with them, so a lot of the time spent in the gym was with each other. That’s where you grow chemistry, that’s where you grow together as a group when the coaches aren’t in there and you can have the team in there working together.”
A consistent theme of last year’s preseason was handling adversity. Hoiberg saw some things during the preseason that gave him pause. Hoiberg said it’s always a concern.
“It’s going to hit you every time you step on the floor and you try to do the best job you can in practice settings and putting your players in adverse situations and try to get them to handle it the right way,” Hoiberg said. “And if they don’t handle it use it, as a learning opportunity for the next time it happens.”
Hoiberg said that in addition to more tangible things on the court, the team scrimmage also provided an opportunity to evaluate how the players handle tough situations.
“When one team jumps out, gets out to a big lead, do you put your head down?” Hoiberg said. “Do you stop talking to each other? Do you start taking bad shots? Do you start trying to get it back individually? So a lot of those types of things happened in our first scrimmage.”
With just three returners with playing experience at Nebraska, Hoiberg said rotation spots and starting positions are very much up for grabs as the team begins preseason practice. That will all work itself out on the practice floor.
“From tomorrow we’ll have 42 days until we open our season and that’s what you look for is who’s going to be the players that give you the consistency that deserve to be on the floor, not only at the start but obviously more importantly as the end of the games,” Hoiberg said. “Do I have an idea? Yeah, sure. I think we all have an idea going into it who’s going to be in your rotation. But things haven’t obviously are fluid and things could change. I’ve liked this group and the competitive spirit that they’ve brought to practice every day and I do think we have pretty diverse, unique group of players that can go out and play with multiple skills.”
Last week, a new player officially entered that mix when Pittsburgh transfer Trey McGowens received a waiver from the NCAA to play immediately, and Hoiberg said there’s no doubt his availability will help.
“We have clarity that Trey will be on our active roster this year and we approached it that way going in, that he would be available for us, you always prepare for that, and we’re thankful,” Hoiberg said. “We’re thankful that Trey got his waiver and we’re really excited about him. He’s a two-way player. I think he can have a huge impact on both ends of the floor. He’s a tenacious defender and you can look at his stats, last year leading the ACC in steals. He’s got great anticipation on that end, he moves his feet, he’s tough, he’s physical. And then offensively, he’s very versatile. He can play multiple positions. He’s really done a good job working on his shot. That was a big point of emphasis for us early in the process, was doing individual skill work, getting the fundamentals right with his shot and his footwork and his body position. He’s worked extremely hard in that area.”
McGowens averaged 11.5 points and 1.9 steals per game as a two-year starter for the Panthers, but he also shot 31.7% from deep.
“He’s a guy that can play multiple positions on the floor because of his size and his ability to get downhill,” Hoiberg continued. “He’s shown a great willingness, as we’ve gone on, to make simple plays and when you’ve got guys like him and Dalano Banton playing together in the backcourt, with Kobe Webster, with other guys, we will have multiple players that can initiate our offense this year. But I love Trey McGowens, I love his makeup, I love everything he’s all about, and the good news that we got lost week in regards to Trey being eligible last week was huge for our basketball team.”
Nebraska still doesn’t have any clarity on its 2020-21 schedule, but Hoiberg said the Huskers are preparing to open the season on Nov. 25. He couldn’t speak specifically about the Golden Window, the MTE scheduled to take part in Lincoln that multiple teams have reportedly signed on for, as Nebraska is still waiting on word from the Big Ten about nonconference availability. However, Hoiberg did say he wants to play the full 27-game schedule the NCAA is allowing this season, and to do that the Huskers would have to play in an MTE.
“We’re preparing as if we’re going to play a 27-game season,” Hoiberg said. “Now if the Big Ten tells us otherwise, then obviously we’ll adjust. But we just feel we have to get out in front of it and try to prepare as if we’re going to play a 27-game schedule.”
Stay tuned to Hail Varsity for more from Hoiberg and the Huskers as the march towards the season-opener begins.
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.