Mend It
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Mend It, Don’t End It: Why Tshimanga’s Return Was Right for Nebraska

January 16, 2018

Brian Windhorst, an ESPN NBA insider and one of my favorite reads, published a story Tuesday morning comparing the warring styles at play between the San Antonio Spurs’ handling of unhappy star LaMarcus Aldridge and the Cleveland Cavs’ handling of unhappy star Kyrie Irving over the summer.

The Cavs traded Irving. The Spurs talked Aldridge off the ledge. The Cavs decided not to try and repair a frayed relationship. The Spurs, led by Gregg Popovich, chose a different path. It was the road less traveled but early returns say the Spurs’ method might have been better.

Mend it, don’t end it.

Reading about Popovich’s meeting with his disgruntled star, their subsequent meetings and Pop’s willingness to accept blame for a relationship rubbed raw seemed a little like deja vu. The Huskers just went through the same kind of situation with starting center Jordy Tshimanga; different circumstances sure, but similar in a lot of ways. Tshimanga, with an unsightly 38.1 percent effective field goal percentage this season, was unhappy with the way things were going and unhappy with his place on the team.

A player sat and thought about his future. Coach met with player and the conclusion was to try to fix what was wrong rather than give up. I don’t know what Miles said to Tshimanga when they met before Monday’s 64-63 win over Illinois. What I do know is both parties took the road less traveled. It would have been easy for a player or an assistant or even Miles to lambast Tshimanga for the situation (though that’s not who Miles is). It would have been easy for Tshimanga to decide to walk. It would have been easy to let him, falling back on a phrase I hear all too often: “We only want guys who want to be here.”

But easy isn’t always right. And Tshimanga sticking with the Huskers, and the Huskers with him, was the right move. Let me explain.

For one, it reinforces something I’ve been privately thinking for a while. Irrespective of the win-loss record to this point, Miles is the right man to lead Nebraska. He handled a potentially disruptive situation at a crucial point in the season about as well as he possibly could have. The buzzword during the football coaching search (if you can call it that) was “fit.” There might not be a better fit than Miles. And for those that only look at the wins when evaluating a college coach, Miles has his most talented team yet and the wins have come. Take that for data.

But more importantly, Nebraska’s future looks brighter now than it did last Thursday. Whether this resolution was of the “put it to bed” variety or a “we’ll discuss again in the offseason” type remains to be seen, but Tshimanga sticking in Lincoln is a good thing.

Nebraska missed on 6-foot-10, 240-pound, big Flo Thamba. He chose Baylor. Reserve center Duby Okeke is set to graduate. Without Tshimanga in the picture, Tanner Borchardt is likely the go-to center, and he’ll be a senior next season. Tshimanga will have two more years after this campaign wraps up to continue to develop and refine his skills.

And for a prospect that is still raw in areas, Tshimanga helps now, despite what has been said about him. The offense hasn’t been what you want — thus the frustration in the first place — but Tshimanga holds the third-best defensive rating on the team and you can feel his absence when watching the Huskers on the other end. Not in the team’s guarding, but in its rebounding.

Nebraska ranks 343rd in the country in rebounds given up. Opponents typically get around 40 a game against the Huskers. Still, Tshimanga ranks ninth among regular rotation players in the Big Ten in total rebounding percentage. When he’s on the floor and a rebound is available, he’s grabbing it 17.6 percent of the time. That’s the second-highest mark from a Husker player in the last decade. That’s a huge piece to be missing.

It’s no wonder Nebraska struggled on the glass against Illinois. The Illini are a top-10 team in the country in offensive rebounding and Nebraska played a traditional center for all of two minutes. The 46-29 edge in that area, and the 18 offensive rebounds yielded, is something you talk about, but it shouldn’t be something that keeps you up at night. 

Instead, it should probably give a better appreciation for the guy that decided to work things out. It would have been easy to leave, but easy isn’t always right. Aldridge stuck it out in San Antonio — even signed an extension — and both parties are better for it. Tshimanga has the chance to experience the same with Nebraska. He’s a talented player if you look at him in the right context and the Huskers will need him both now and in the future.

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