Freshman and eighth grade hoopers from all over the state traveled to Lincoln Northeast High School this weekend to compete in the 31st annual Nebraska Basketball Development Association Freshman State Tournament.
Some of the best players from the classes of 2025 and 2026 teamed up to rep their high schools and battle it out for the title. A unique feature of the tournament is how many programs have alumni coach the teams. Among those alumni this weekend was Sam Griesel, the Lincoln East product who will be suiting up for the Huskers this season after transferring from North Dakota State.
Griesel played in the tournament himself back in the day, and this weekend he got a chance to impart some knowledge on the next generation of Spartan players.
“I played both years,” Griesel told Hail Varsity, decked out in a Husker T-shirt. “My freshman year I went to state soccer so I didn’t really practice but I was here. But yeah, it’s weird. It was like seven or eight years ago and that’s crazy to think about.”
East’s roster included 10 players who just wrapped up their freshman year plus two incoming freshmen. They won their first two games handily before dropping their final pool game to a talented Omaha Skutt/Papillion-La Vista co-op team that made it to the semifinals, but the 2-1 record qualified the Spartans for the Gold Bracket.
“I thought they had really good chemistry,” Griesel said. “They’re all good kids. I wasn’t shocked, being a Lincoln East grad myself. They played really hard together and it was fun deal.”
East ran into a tough Norris team led by Barret Boesiger, the cousin of Nebraska volleyball player Maisie Boesiger, who started for the Titans’ varsity team as a freshman. The game was close throughout with both sides making runs, but the Titans pulled away down the stretch for a 52-44 win, ending East’s run in the tournament on Saturday night.
“It was really fun game to be a part of, definitely their best game from this whole tournament,” Griesel said. “Their body language, the energy that they played with was really awesome to see. It was our last game, but I’m glad that it was our best game.”
Chris Garner, an incoming freshman at Norris and the son of former Husker hooper Bernard Garner, took over in the second half for the Titans and made some big plays in each half. Garner was one of many talented 2026 players who played well throughout the weekend.
East didn’t make it to championship Sunday, but Griesel said he still had a great time coaching up the young guys.
“This is what it’s all about,” Griesel said. “This is kind of what I feel like I was put on this Earth for, just to give back and serve others. I’m glad that this is kind of my first thing back in the community, in Lincoln and it was really fun.”
Lincoln East head coach Jeff Campbell said he appreciates one of the best players to come out of East giving back to the program, but it isn’t an isolated incident for Griesel.
“Sam has always been a really good role model and our guys have always kind of kept up on where he’s been and what’s what’s he’s been doing,” Campbell said. “A lot of times when he has come back for weekends and weeks and stuff like that, he comes in the gym and stuff like that. I know he knows a lot of these kids from when he was here earlier because we did a bunch of stuff with the youth. We love having him back. He’s that type of kid where he’s going to bring positivity to anything that he does.”
Griesel said the Freshman Tournament was just the beginning for him and his involvement in the community now that he’s back home in Lincoln. The previous weekend, he was helping out at the concessions stand at Speedway Village during a summer basketball tournament. You can expect to see Griesel in his Husker red at some East games this winter, but Campbell expects that to be a two-way street.
“I do think there is probably going to be an increase in season tickets, at least from the east side of Lincoln, to go out and watch him play,” Campbell said.
As for the tournament, Millard North took down Wahoo 56-51 on Sunday afternoon to finish 7-0 and take home the title. Triston Collins led the Mustangs with 10 points while Pierce Mooberry chipped in nine points and eight rebounds. Dylan Simons, Braylon Wimer and Henry Stuhr scored 11 points apiece for the Warriors.
Millard North beat Skutt/Papio in the semis while Wahoo knocked off the reining champion in Lincoln Southwest to punch its ticket to the final.
Additionally, the tournament created a girls division for the first time and Bennington took home the Gold championship by beating Elkhorn 47-24 in the final. The Badgers avenged a pool loss to Millard North in their first bracket game to advance to the final and finish 4-1 in the six-team tournament that the NBDA is hoping to see grow moving forward.
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.