The college basketball offseason officially came to an end on Tuesday as the Huskers and other teams across the country took the court for their first practices of the 2018-19 season.
This week, Hail Varsity is breaking down the Nebrasketball roster as the most anticipated season in recent program history approaches.
Coach Tim Miles and his staff used nearly every avenue to fill out the 2018-19 roster, bringing in three high school recruits, one junior college transfer and one sit-out transfer from another Division I school.
The first name most of the players on the team mentioned when asked about the young guys was Amir Harris, a 6-foot-6, 205-pound combo-guard from Frederick, Maryland. Harris was a late add to the class following the decommitment of point guard Xavier Johnson but early impressions imply he was anything but a fallback option.
“I like Amir a lot at both ends,” senior forward Isaac Copeland said. “He can attack the rim and defend multiple positions. I think he’ll be big for us.”
As a senior at St. James School in Hagerstown, Maryland, Harris averaged 11.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, 6.4 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.4 blocks per game, a stat line that provides a glimpse into the many ways in which he can impact a game.
"I love the guys. We all get along really well. Everything's great here."
— Nebraska Basketball (@HuskerHoops) August 16, 2018
Harris is a good athlete capable of finishing above the rim when he has a lane to the basket but is also crafty enough to finish over and around defenders in the paint. Harris is an unselfish player with solid vision who likes to get others involved and he’s also willing to mix it up on the boards as well. Perhaps his biggest impact at Nebraska early, however, will be on the defensive end where his length, athleticism and intensity should make him great fit for Nebraska’s switch-everything system.
“I think Amir’s really good; I think he’ll be able to help us out a lot this year, especially as a defender,” junior forward Isaiah Roby said. “He’s strong for a freshman and he’s about 6-7 or so, so he can guard multiple positions, and that’s what we do, we switch a lot, so that will be very useful for us.”
If there’s one area in which Harris needs to improve the most, it is probably his jump shot where his unorthodox shooting form could hold him back from the perimeter. Even so, Harris is expected to play a big role this season and could even push for a starting spot at some point depending on whether Miles is looking for offense or defense between senior guards Glynn Watson Jr. and James Palmer Jr.
Brady Heiman, a 6-foot-11 center from Platteview High School in Springfield, Nebraska, is set to become the first in-state scholarship high school recruit to suit up for the Huskers since Jason Dourrisseau and Wes Wilkinson who finished their collegiate careers in 2006.
Heiman was a four-year starter for Platteview and averaged 13.4 points, 9.0 rebounds and 5.3 blocks for his career. As a senior, he averaged a double-double with 17.3 points and 10 rebounds. He had his breakout year as a sophomore flirting with a triple-double average with 7.4 blocks to go with 13 points and 10.1 rebounds per game.
Heiman’s biggest obstacle in adjusting to the college game has been his slight frame as he weighed around 200 pounds as a near-7-footer in high school. However, since arriving on campus, he said he’s put on 15 pounds of muscle and is now listed at 215 on the roster. Initially, Heiman wanted to reach 225 pounds before the season started, but with the opener rapidly approaching that goal is probably a bit too lofty. Still, the difference now compared to where he was as a senior is significant.
“I knew it was going to matter, but still, when I got here, taking a hit from Tanner [Borchardt] to the chest would knock me back a little bit,” Heiman said. “I think I’m getting to the point now where I can take that and hold my ground, so that’s nice.”
Heiman said he is on a 4500-calorie-per-day diet as part of his training regimen for adding weight to his frame. By the time he’s an upperclassmen, he’s hoping to settle in around the 240-pound range.
“Before I would just eat kind of when I was hungry,” Heiman said. “Now it doesn’t matter if I’m hungry or not; I’m just always eating.”
Heiman’s teammates noticed his early struggles to hold his ground against Borchardt, listed at 250 pounds, but they’ve also seen his progress.
“I know when he first started playing, it was kind of like a shock to him, just the physicality,” Roby said. “He’s down there with Tanner, and Tanner’s got I don’t know how many pounds on him. He learned pretty quick, and you’ve got to be a little bit dirty. He came in and was playing some high school basketball.”
Heiman’s greatest strength is his defensive instincts. He moves well for his size and is a tremendous shot-blocker. Offensively, knowing he was going to struggle to be able to establish position on the block to score in the post at the college level, he has been working to develop his jump-shot both from mid-range and out to the 3-point line.
“I think he got a lot better, a lot stronger,” Watson said. “He got a little beat up out there; Big T’s pretty strong. But I think he’s getting used to it, getting better, knocking down his little mid-range shot and making a couple 3s and things like that. He’s getting a lot better and I think he’s going to help us a lot.”
When Heiman signed with Nebraska, it seemed like he was destined for a redshirt season. However, with Nebraska’s lack of depth in the frontcourt and the physical gains he has already made, that might not be the case.
“He’s very mobile, quick to the ball,” Miles said at a press conference prior to the team’s first practice. “I said, ‘Brady here’s the deal, everybody in the world is going to tell you you’re going to Nebraska and you’ve got to redshirt, but I’m not going to tell you that. I want you to prepare like you’re going to play and if we get to November whatever, 5th, 6th and it’s time for you to redshirt, we’ll make that decision then.’
"He’s worked very hard to improve his body and do some things. You don’t flip the switch but you get a little better and a little better. It’s almost a certainty that he’ll play.”
The final member of the freshman class is Karrington Davis, a 6-foot-6, 215-pound wing from St. Louis, Missouri. After a standout junior season at Chaminade Prep in St. Louis that saw him average 19 points and six rebounds, he transferred to prep powerhouse Montverde Academy in Florida for his senior year. He played alongside the likes of Duke signee RJ Barrett, the top-ranked player in the 2018 class, and seven other Division I recruits.
“I played against RJ [Barrett] and other D-I guys,” Davis said. “It was good, going against them in practice and stuff and I think it’s prepared me for this moment.”
Davis was limited by a hip injury throughout his senior season and still hasn’t been completely cleared for full participation in practice, though Davis said he’s getting closer. Miles said that one of his legs was considerably weaker than the other when he arrived on campus and the team is still trying to get him back to full strength. Could a redshirt season be in store for him?
“Right now, I’m looking forward to playing; that’s my approach right now,” Davis said. “Just getting better every day, taking it day-by-day, so we’ll see what happens.”
Davis has a strong frame, a soft touch and a smooth release on his jump shot. He’s a crafty scorer who can knock down shots while spotting up as well as create his own offense off the dribble.
“Anything that Coach needs me to do — I play defense, I can shoot I can drive — really, any role that Coach wants me to play,” Davis said. “We’ve got a lot of good guys here.”
Following the departure of center Jordy Tshimanga, Nebraska turned to the junior college ranks to bolster the frontcourt and brought in Dedoch Chan, a Minnesota native who spent last season at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.
After averaging 16 points and eight rebounds as a senior at John Marshall High School in Rochester, Minnesota, Chan enrolled at Mississippi Gulf Coast to continue pursuing his dream of playing at the highest levels. After receiving several mid-major offers following a freshman season that saw him average 16.8 points and 8.3 rebounds, Chan visited Lincoln, received an offer and committed to the Huskers.
“There were times when I thought it was going to be tough,” Chan said. “I didn’t see it coming. But I knew I could do it; deep down I knew I could play at this level. That was my goal.”
The 6-foot-8, 210-pound forward isn’t necessarily a high-flyer but he’s skilled offensively, he moves well and he plays hard. Chan called scoring and rebounding his biggest strengths.
“I can shoot 3s; my 3-point is getting better, I’m getting more consistent,” Chan said. “But I can slash too, post up, set screens and roll, pick-and-pop, stuff like that.”
Chan has worked mostly at the four and a little at the five for the Huskers and should provide depth behind Roby and Copeland as another undersized but skilled forward who can defend multiple positions.
“He can bring a lot … He’s pretty athletic, he can shoot and space the floor; he’s pretty long too and can play defense,” Copeland said.
Chan will have three seasons of eligibility at Nebraska.
The final member of the team isn’t eligible to play this season, but he still represents a big recruiting win for Miles. Dachon Burke Jr. is a 6-foot-4, 180-pound transfer from Robert Morris who averaged 17.6 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.1 steals as a sophomore.
Miles’ track record with transfers like Terran Petteway, Palmer and Copeland played a part in Burke choosing Nebraska, but it was more than that.
“I had looked into the school history as well,” Burke said. “You know when you’re getting recruited, everybody tells you what you want to hear. Here, what they were telling me was the truth … I talked to Isaac before I committed, I talked to James and he was like ‘Yeah, it’s a go; come in here, you sit out that year, you adapt and the coaches let you play.’ I feel like since I’ve been here in practice, they’ve let me play. They give you the system in your hand and then they let the players make the plays. I like that; I love it.”
Burke will have two seasons of eligibility remaining after he sits out this season in accordance with NCAA transfer rules.
“It’s starting to hit me,” Burke said. “In the summer time, I was like ‘The redshirt’s good.’ But you know, today’s media day, then October, then November, so now it’s starting to hit me. I’m just going to be the best teammate I can be on and off the court. On the bench, I’m going to be excited for my team, trying to see them win. Hopefully we get to the dance this year and make a lot of noise.”
Burke is arguably the fastest player on the team and is a pest on defense, and he plans on using those attributes to make the team’s best players even better in practice this season.
“I try to D up Glynn, James, Cope, just the team’s best players because I’m going to get better off guarding them and they’re going to get better of my defense as well,” Burke said.
Living in Lincoln has been a bit of an adjustment for the native of Orange, New Jersey who spent his first two years of college in a suburb of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. but the program itself has lived up to expectations.
“Everything’s been as expected,” Burke said. “The culture shock is a little different from the east coast but other than that, everything is good. The fans are tremendous, from watching the football games, the volleyball games; now I just can’t wait for our time, for the season to start.”
The Huskers’ time is rapidly approaching. Just over one month remains until the team’s exhibition game against Wayne State on Nov. 1, and the season officially starts five days later with a game against Mississippi Valley State on Nov. 6.
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.