Fred Hoiberg is always looking for ways to improve his program, and signing the highest-ranked class in Nebraska basketball history was only one part of that this offseason. Hoiberg also made some changes on his coaching and support staff, and the newcomers have already gotten to work with the Huskers who are on campus.
The first domino to fall was Bobby Lutz resigning from his position as special assistant to the head coach so that he could pursue active coaching positions. Lutz played an important role behind the scenes, assisting Hoiberg with a variety of things.
Instead of hiring a direct replacement for Lutz, Hoiberg decided to shuffle his staff and slide Doc Sadler into that role. With Sadler in the at-risk demographic and the program getting hit hard by COVID-19 during the pandemic this season, Nebraska limited Sadler’s travel and hands-on coaching during practice, and now some of those changes will be permanent.
“Doc’s still going to be a huge part of what we do and how we play,” Hoiberg said. “It’s similar to kind of last year with not being able to travel with what Doc did and still had the impact that he did as far as game-planning and putting together a defensive scheme for us to go out and be able to execute. So even though he won’t be doing as much on the floor as he has in the past, he’s still going to have a huge part in what we do and how we play.”
Sadler’s reassignment opened up an assistant coaching position, and Hoiberg went back to his Iowa State roots to hire Nate Loenser, who he also worked with in Chicago. Loenser has filled just about every role one can within a basketball program throughout his career, and now he’ll get a chance to put all that experience to use in Lincoln.
“Nate and I go back a long way, back to our time at Iowa State, and that’s where I saw how good he was all across the board,” Hoiberg said. “I know I’ve talked a lot about his development on the floor with skill work, but if you see him with a scouting report, in a film room commanding the room, he’s got such a great presence to him. The fact that he was a head coach in the G League in the inaugural season of the Windy City Bulls, and as the head coach at that level you do everything. You’re a huge part of the development, obviously putting the game plans and the scouting reports together, even doing film stuff. So Nate’s done everything, and he started at the bottom. He’s as good as I’ve been around in all different areas.”
The player development part is what’s most important right now, however, as the Huskers go through individual workouts throughout the spring. Loenser has been in Lincoln for about a month now and has gotten a chance to work with the returning Huskers.
— Nate Loenser (@NateLoenser) April 17, 2021
“If you see the connection already he’s made — we’re doing just a lot of individual skill work with our players right now,” Hoiberg said. “You can see the trust building between Nate and the players. And that’s a huge part to get those guys hopefully to go out, to have that trust level where they’ll run through a wall for you … Nate’s phenomenal. I’m really excited to have Nate on board and it’s great to be back with him.”
Loenser isn’t the only newcomer who is building up some chemistry with the team. New director of men’s basketball strength and conditioning Kurt Joseph is looking to make his mark with the Huskers in the weight room this spring.
“With Kurt Joseph, I’ve seen that same thing in his short amount of time here as well is just his ability to connect with players,” Hoiberg said. “That’s such an important part of this level, to be able to do that to get those guys to go out and play their best.”
Day ✖️ Day. pic.twitter.com/lUqDoa29e6
— Nebraska Basketball (@HuskerHoops) April 23, 2021
These spring workouts and everything Loenser and Joseph are able to accomplish now should serve as an important launching pad for the program because, for the first time since Hoiberg arrived in Lincoln, Nebraska has a core group of players returning, and Hoiberg said that’s something he’s excited about.
“We’re going to have continuity with our roster for the first time since we’ve been here,” Hoiberg said. “The first year we had under two points [per game] coming back from the previous year. Last year I think we had 15. This year, almost 70% of our production will be back and has been through the system when I think we saw dramatic improvement over the course of the season, especially after the shutdown and we got back playing and got into a rhythm. I’m excited about that, and then the additions that we made.”
The 2021-22 season will be a big one for Hoiberg and his staff with 14 total wins the last two years and a top-15 recruiting class coming in, and the preparation for it has already begun at the Hendricks Training Complex for returners and newcomers alike.
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.