Basketball season is almost here.
Official practices begin next week and the Huskers will welcome fans into Pinnacle Bank Arena on Friday, Oct. 1, for Opening Night with Husker Hoops.
As we inch toward the starting blocks, Nebraska held its annual (minus last year) photo shoot day for local and in-house media on Wednesday. Hail Varsity got a chance to chop it up with a number of players, and the Huskers got a chance to have fun as they bounced around the various photo shoot stations.
“I honestly forgot about some of the stuff that we would do in preseason just because COVID didn’t allow us to do it,” junior forward Derrick Walker said. “So this is kind of new for this year for me; I mean, I got to do it my redshirt year, but not being able to do it last year, you kind of forget about some of the things that go to a full season.
“So today has been fun especially, just having people around to enjoy us. We love times like this, where we can just take pictures and be out there.”
Tominaga Impressing Early
Keisei Tominaga was one of the last players to arrive on campus thanks to his time with the Japanese Olympic 3×3 team. He’s been in Lincoln for about a month now, but in that time the “Japanese Steph Curry” has already made a big impression on his new teammates.
“Man, I haven’t seen a shooter like Keisei, ever,” DePaul transfer Keon Edwards said. “His shooting talent is like no other. Anytime he has open look, we get him the ball and it’s basically like you don’t even need to go rebound, you can just turn around. You know it’s going in. And he’s impressed me with his ability to get the shot off, I didn’t know he could do that. But yeah, his shot is different.”
In his two seasons of junior college ball at Ranger College in Texas, the 6-foot-2 guard shot 48% from 3 on 7.1 attempts per game, including 48.7% last season.
“Some of the things that Keisei does, you just can’t believe your eyes,” freshman walk-on Sam Hoiberg said. “You hear that he’s this amazing shooter, but you really don’t know until you actually get to see it when you watch him. I mean, even guarding him, you just have to be aware of him at all times. He can just pull it from anywhere and just get it off so quickly. But he’s definitely bringing a really good offensive piece to our team.”
The Huskers shot 33.3% from deep last season, though that took a slight uptick to 34.2% in Big Ten play. Teddy Allen was a big part of that as he was second on the team in both makes and percentage, and he isn’t on the team this year.
Lat Mayen led the team in 3s with 48 of them, connecting at a 34.8% rate. Kobe Webster wasn’t far behind with 46 makes, and he led the team at 38%. Adding more consistent shooting was a big focus for the coaching staff and Tominaga was a big part of that along with others like Bryce McGowens, C.J. Wilcher, Keon Edwards and Wilhelm Breidenbach.
“He’s a problem, he’s a big problem, man,” big man Derrick Walker said. “He can fire the ball from deep, he can hit three, four, five in a row. It’s not even just him alone. Everyone better watch out. We’ve got some guys that can shoot the ball and that’s what this team is built around, shooting.
“I’m happy he’s here, I love when he’s on the court because you have to play him honest. He’s one of those guys where you literally can’t give him an inch of space or he’s making it. I’ve seen him make some of the toughest shots so far. I’m excited for him and I’m excited for this team.”
Welcome Back, Husker Nation
Opening Night with Husker Hoops, set for next Friday, will be the first time the Huskers play any sort of basketball in front of a fan-filled Pinnacle Bank Arena since the 2-19 season. Walker and walk-on Jace Piatkowski are the only players still on the team from that season, and both of them redshirted that year. Webster is the only player on the team that has played in a full PBA as he played against the Huskers as a sophomore at Western Illinois. This year’s team includes nine newcomers and that group got a preview of what the Nebraska fan base is like at the football team’s home opener against Fordham.
The team attended the game and had the chance to hang out on the sidelines before kickoff and take in the atmosphere of Memorial Stadium on game day.
“I’m excited,” Arizona State transfer Alonzo Verge Jr. said. “I saw the football game. I went and I was by the field, and the energy is crazy. The fans are crazy. I love our fans, they are so dedicated and it’s so family-oriented. So everybody’s just kind of one unit, I love that and it reminds me of my JUCO. I went to Moberly Community College in Missouri, and that’s the type of feeling I get when I’m here.”
Walker got the chance to play in the Opening Night scrimmage two years ago, then had to sit out the season as a transfer. He’s looking forward to experiencing the real Pinnacle Bank Arena atmosphere this season after making his Nebraska debut in a mostly-empty arena.
“This feels amazing,” Walker said. “COVID affected everything last year for us especially, not having any fans, not even having Opening Night. It means the world to us to be able to play in front of a crowd and just have our fans and support back.”
Opening Night will also be a big recruiting event as the Huskers will have a number of prospects on campus. Bryce McGowens, who didn’t get a chance to go through a normal recruitment because of the pandemic, said he’s looking forward to doing some peer recruiting and showcasing what Nebraska has to offer.
“Just being able to have people on campus, I know what it feels like to be a high school recruiting coming up,” McGowens said. “The energy is going to be great, I already know.”
The musical guest for this year’s Opening Night is Chicago-based rapper G Herbo, whose last two albums — “PTSD” and “25” — both reached the top 10 of the Billboard 200. The concert portion of the event is as much for recruiting purposes as it is for the players, but G Herbo does have some fans on the team.
“I’m a G Herbo fan,” Bryce McGowens said. “People say I look like him a little bit. When they put out the they, they were like ‘Why’s Bryce…’”
Walker said he was a big fan as well.
“When I was about 15, 16, he was kind of booming,” Walker said. “Him, Chief Keef, Lil Durk, those three. I kind of grew up listening to him in high school, so he had a big impression on my life.”
Walker said he didn’t have any songs in particular he wanted to hear, so long as he plays his old stuff.
“All his old songs, songs from before he was before he made it,” Walker said. “I feel like that was some of his best music.”
A Family Affair
As the son of the head coach, Sam Hoiberg has been around the Nebraska program since the Hoiberg family arrived in Lincoln. He and his twin brother Charlie starred at Lincoln Pius X during Fred’s first two seasons at the helm of the Huskers.
A couple months ago, the 6-foot guard went from unofficial member of the team to the real thing as he opted to walk on, and he’s enjoyed every minute of it so far.
“It’s been amazing,” Sam Hoiberg said. “I’m having a lot of fun here and just being a part of this program, like officially part of it, it’s just been super cool. All of it’s been as much fun as I expected, so it’s been really good time.”
With Fred Hoiberg busy coaching the Iowa State Cyclones and Chicago Bulls for most of the twins’ childhood, he didn’t get many opportunities to coach Sam directly. He’ll finally get that chance when official practices begin next week.
“I’m really excited to get the official stuff started,” Sam Hoiberg said. “Having him be my coach is awesome. He’s never been able to do this before, so it’s been really fun and I’m excited to get officially started.”
Opening Night will give the Nebraska newcomers a chance to play at Pinnacle Bank Arena in from of fans for the first time, though Sam Hoiberg already has an idea of what it will feel like after playing at PBA with the Thunderbolts during the state tournament in high school.
“I’m really excited,” Sam Hoiberg said. “I got to play there at state and that was that was really cool. So I just can’t wait to be back there and I know that these newcomers are going to love it there. I’m just excited to get back out there.”
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.