Fred Hoiberg will make his official coaching debut at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Wednesday night as the Huskers host Doane for an exhibition game.
Hoiberg coached his group (minus a few key pieces) for the first time during the team’s tour of Italy and then again in its closed scrimmage with Wichita State on Saturday, and the Huskers got a chance to scrimmage in front of the fans at Opening Night with Husker Hoops last month. But this will be the first organized game of the Hoiberg era in front of the fans.
“I’m excited to be out there, I really am,” Hoiberg said. “This is what everything that we’ve been through up to this point, it’s all about getting ready for that first opportunity to get on the floor. We had the scrimmage, but this is the real thing now and we’re going to approach that with the game on Wednesday and then leading into our opener. We’re going to play a good team that following Tuesday, against Riverside. I’m excited, our staff is excited and our players can’t wait to get out there.”
Hoiberg hasn’t been on a college bench since 2015, but he has plenty of people around him to help ease him back into the flow of dealing with the game day set-up, particularly at Nebraska and in the Big Ten.
“Obviously Doc [Sadler] has been here and he’s a guy that I have a very good comfort level with because we worked together in the past,” Hoiberg said. “The fact that he has coached in the Big Ten as a head coach, so Doc’s been great in that area. Bobby Lutz has been doing the same thing for, I think this is his 38th year in the business. I have a great trust level with Matt [Abdelmassih]; he and I have worked together going all the way back to the Timberwolves days and then five great years together at Iowa State. Armon [Gates] was here last year, coached in the Big Ten in this building.
“There are a lot of guys I lean on. I’ve been really pleased with our staff, I think our staff is doing an unbelievable job.”
Doane is located in Crete, Nebraska, and competes at the NAIA Div. II level. The Tigers are 0-3 so far this season, averaging 66.7 points and giving up 75.7. Anthony Laravie, a 6-foot junior guard from Omaha North, is leading the way at 24 points per game wile shooting 7-of-13 from 3. Laravie missed Doane’s last game but is expected to give it a go against the Huskers.
Miguel Lopez, a 6-foot-5 forward from the U.S. Virgin Islands by way of Otero Junior College, is second in scoring at 12.3 points per game and first in rebounding at 8.7 per game. Millard South wing Jaxon Harre has started all three games and contributed 6.7 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. Lincoln Pius X product Joe Burt is among a group of other Nebraska natives that have mixed in off the Doane bench.
Trace Tupper, a 6-foot-10 Lincoln Northeast graduate, averaged 11.4 points and 6.4 rebounds while shooting 74% from the field as a sophomore last season but will miss this year with a knee injury. Chukwudi Onwumere is the tallest player in the starting lineup for Doane at 6-foot-6 and 220 pounds.
Ian McKeithen is the head coach at Doane, and he and Hoiberg go way back. McKeithen served as a basketball operations intern with the Minnesota Timberwolves from 2007 to 2008 before embarking on his coaching career, and Hoiberg — then a front office member with the Timberwolves — was part of the group that hired him.
“He’s a great person and I know he’s going to do really good things at Doane,” Hoiberg said. “He worked our camp this summer and it was good to reconnect with him. He was a really, really hard worker when we hired him with the Timberwolves.”
The Huskers learned a lot about themselves against Wichita State on Saturday. Doane won’t offer the same kind of challenge the Shockers did in terms of size, but Hoiberg still wants to see the Huskers give it their all on Wednesday.
“Like I talk to our team about every day, just go out there and compete at the highest level, leave everything that they’ve got on the floor,” Hoiberg said. “I saw a lot of stretches like that on Saturday [against Wichita State]. For us, every time we step out on the floor is an opportunity to learn and an opportunity to hopefully get better. First time playing in front of the fans, which will be a great experience for our guys in a game setting against another opponent.
“So it’s all a part of the process as far as where we are, going through the preseason and inter-squad scrimmages, the exhibition game, now we’ll get a chance to go out and play against another team in our home building and then prepare for the opener next Tuesday.”
Hoiberg said on Monday that he had not yet settled on a starting lineup for the game. Sit-out transfers are not eligible to play in the exhibition game, so don’t expect to see Dalano Banton, Derrick Walker or Shamiel Stevenson on the floor. The Huskers are still awaiting word on a waiver to get Stevenson eligible immediately. The Huskers came out of Saturday’s scrimmage in one piece and everyone else should be available for Hoiberg.
Tipoff on Wednesday is set for 7 p.m. and a stream will be available at BTN+.
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.