A line of fans stretched from the doors of Pinnacle Bank Arena all the way down the block, past the post office on R Street on Wednesday night, waiting for the doors to open to give them their first glimpse of the 2018-19 Cornhuskers.
Nebraska held its 2018 Husker Hoops Preview on Wednesday night, opening up practice to the fans for about 45 minutes then closing the night with a 16-minute scrimmage and autograph session.
“With fans lined up that early and with that many of them, I think it’s great for our guys, that’s great for our program, but it really tells you a lot about the Husker fans,” Coach Tim Miles said. “They’re so loyal and they’re so into it. It’s cool stuff. It doesn’t happen very often and it doesn’t happen a lot of places. That’s what makes Nebraska so special.”
The highlight for the estimated crowd of 3,700 was a strong performance by Robert Morris transfer Dachon Burke in his only appearance at Pinnacle Bank Arena this season. The 6-foot-4 guard will sit out this season according to NCAA transfer rules and will have two seasons of eligibility remaining starting in 2019-20.
Burke led all scorers with 10 points as he guided the Red team to a 36-17 win over the White team.
“It felt like game seven, Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers,” Burke said. “It was definitely a great experience. I didn’t think it would be this big because it was an open practice but it was more than what I expected. I love Nebraska, from the volleyball games to the football games, it’s just a great atmosphere and I love it so far.”
The scrimmage was split into four segments with timeouts coming at the first dead ball following every four minute interval. The White team led 8-4 after the firsts segment with six different players scoring a bucket, but then Burke and senior point guard Glynn Watson jr. took over. The backcourt duo combined for all 12 points in the period as the Red team blanked the White to lead 16-8 at the second break.
The Red team continued to dominate the rest of the way, outscoring the White 11-6 in the third and 9-3 in the fourth.
Burke knocked down one of his three 3-point attempts and also showed off his quickness, getting to the basket several times including once in transition where he blew by his defender with an in-and-out dribble then finished through contact from the help defender for an and-one. Defensively, he’s an absolute pest who will attack every match-up. At one point, Isaac Copeland had him buried in the post and he managed to get around the seal and knock the ball loose for a turnover. He had a handful of steals throughout the evening.
During the scrimmage, each of the coaches took a turn at the microphone with play-by-play man Kent Pavelka and during his segment, assistant coach Armon Gates made sure to hype up his senior point guard, calling him a “new Glynn Watson.” Watson responded with nine points on 3-of-5 shooting including 1-of-3 from deep and 2-of-2 from the foul line.
Overall, Miles said he was pleased with what his team got out of the event.
“We had practiced earlier and I was fine with them,” Miles said. “I thought we practiced well. I don’t really pay attention to the scrimmage, but since we’ve came back from Iowa State I think our practices have been good. I think the guys realize that there’s this event, which excites them, then all of a sudden we have a day off, then we get going for game planning because in a week, we have a game. Ready or not, here we come.”
The Huskers traveled to Iowa State on Sunday for a closed scrimmage in which the Huskers lost the overall game 78-74 but won the second half by 10.
“We got smacked around early and then we played really well late,” Miles said. “I think it was a good wake-up call early, that first half, we did not play well … You tell them not to read their press clippings and they don’t know what you’re talking about because there are no press clippings any more, but when you look at things, I think that human nature softens you up when things are going well. For me, it’s a long season so you have to pick and choose when you're going to push buttons. I think that was a great event for us.”
Overall, Burke said practices have been great as the team’s exhibition against Wayne State on Nov. 1 draws nearer and nearer.
“It’s been going great,” Burke said. “Me and James Palmer, we’re like cats and dogs in practice but it brings great energy. Everybody feeds off of us. Some days James is dominant and I’m on the other team being dominant as well, and it’s only going to get us better. We have a lot of pros on this team. I’m coming in from a mid-major so I’m just learning every day and just being a competition and going hard every day.”
Notes and Observations:
>> The coaches tried to split the teams up fairly evenly, balancing the vets and young guys on each.
Red: Glynn Watson Jr., Dachon Burke Jr., Amir Harris, Isaiah Roby, Tanner Borchardt, Justin Costello, Dedoch Chan
White: Thomas Allen Jr., James Palmer Jr., Thorir Thorbjarnarson, Isaac Coepland Jr., Brady Heiman, Johnny Trueblood, Nana Akenten
>> The Huskers were ice-cold from the perimeter in the scrimmage. The two teams combined to shoot 3-of-26 from 3, unofficially, with redshirt freshman walk-on Justin Costello, Watson and Burke each hitting one. The White team went 0-for-12 from deep.
In fact, both teams got off to a slow start with seven straight misses with a handful of turnovers between the two teams before Copeland threw down a two-handed slam in transition to open the scoring.
That being said, the team scrimmaged full-court some during the practice portion of the evening and shot much better from the perimeter. Watson, Allen and Akenten each knocked down multiple triples during that period.
>> Before the scrimmage, Nebraska brought the players out one by one to introduce them to the crowd and let them pick their own walk-up music.
Two of the favorites from Twitter were from Johnny Trueblood, who chose “Turn My Swag On” by Soulja Boy, and Tanner Borchardt, who chose “Whatta Man” by Salt ’N’ Pepa.
>> Freshman guard Amir Harris has the look of someone who is going to make an immediate impact for the Huskers as a utility man. The long and bouncy combo-guard can defend one through three and some fours and uses his length well to get to the basket and finish. His perimeter jumper needs a lot of work, but he’ll be able to help the team.
>> Sophomore wing Nana Akenten showed off some serious athleticism throughout the night. He didn’t shoot well during the scrimmage but still led the White team with six points, with two or all three of his buckets coming on dunks. While the team was going through the practice portion, the 6-foot-5 Akenten went with the bigs during the position drills, working on pick-and-rolls and pick-and-pops.
>> Isaiah Roby didn’t get a lot of shots to fall, misfiring on all three of his 3-point attempts and finishing with six points on 3-of-9 shooting, but he didn’t let that hurt his confidence. Roby was aggressive all night, handling the ball and initiating offense quite a bit for the Red team. He even took one or two 3s off the dribble.
>> Twelve of the 14 Huskers cracked the scoring column with Allen and Heiman the only ones shut out, and they only got a combined three shots off.
>> As someone who is in the gym every practice but won’t be playing in games this year, Burke offered his evaluation of the team heading into the season:
“We have a lot of vets coming back, but we’re also I’d say a little young; we have a lot of newcomers as well, it’s kind of mixed,” Burke said. “I feel like we’re great, honestly. We’re not great, but so far since I’ve been here from the summer all the way put to now, I think we’re ready. Every day we’re just learning. Coach Miles, Lew, Gates, Mo, the whole staff, they’re on us every day. Just the details count so we’re working on the details and watching film a lot. It’s just a good experience and I feel like we’ll be ready when game time comes.”
>> Donovan Williams, a 2020 Nebraska commit from Lincoln North Star, was one of the fans waiting in line outside the Vault and was sitting at center court for the event. Williams said he was blown away by the atmosphere.
“The turnout was much more than I expected it to be,” Williams told Hail Varsity. “It’s really awesome to see how much excitement all of the fans have for the season. The atmosphere made me want to get a jersey and go play and have fun. It couldn’t have been a better night for the program.”
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.