Basketball is back and a new era has begun in Lincoln with Fred Hoiberg at the reins of the Nebrasketball program. The Huskers opened the season this week so we’re breaking down the roster. We’ve already broken down the faces of the program, both new and old, as well as the frontcourt. Today we’re wrapping things up with a look at the rest of the roster, including the guys that will form Nebraska’s scout team.
Nine guys played 10 or more minutes for the Huskers in their season-opening loss to UC Riverside on Tuesday, and the only one we haven’t covered yet is freshman guard Samari Curtis, so that seems like a good place to start today.
The 6-foot-4, 190-pound guard out of Kenia, Ohio, was the final scholarship piece of Hoiberg’s roster overhaul. He originally committed to Xavier under Chris Mack, but Mack left to take the coaching job at Louisville and Curtis eventually re-opened his commitment. He later signed with Cincinnati, but then Mick Cronin left for UCLA and the Bearcats released Curtis from his commitment. Curtis committed to Nebraska in mid-May.
“Coach Hoiberg, it’s kind of hard to turn him down,” Curtis said. “NBA coach, great career in the NBA. Coach Matt [Abdelmassih], I’m really close with him. He’s from New York, he’s going to keep it real with you and that’s my thing. I like people that are pure and keep it real with you. This was the best choice for me.”
Curtis was named Mr. Basketball in Ohio after averaging 33.8 points, 7.3 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 2.4 steals as a senior at Xenia High School. He totaled nine games of 40 or more points including a high of 52 and three double-nobles including a triple-double with 28 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds. He topped 30 points per game as a junior as well and finished his prep c career with a school-record 2,109 points.
Now, after having the ball in his hands all the time and making every play, Curtis is starting over towards the bottom of the rotation.
“I like that, actually,” Curtis said. “I get to prove myself again. I’m excited just to get the season started … I’m just trying to make a role on the team. Not trying to be too selfish, not trying to be too passive though. I’m just trying to find my spot.”
Curtis has an unorthodox shot but he’s shot it well from the perimeter as a Huskers and has displayed deep range in addition to his overall scoring instincts.
“It fits really well,” Curtis said about his game. “He’s all about shooting and moving the ball and that’s what I’ve been doing my whole life. I averaged a lot of points in high school, so scoring isn’t really that hard for me.”
Curtis put up 12 points and five rebounds in 22 minutes in Nebraska’s exhibition at Doane, shooting 3-of-4 from deep and 4-of-5 overall. He was he ninth man in the season-opener against UC Riverside, recording a block and an assists and missing his only shot attempt in 10 minutes.
Curtis will likely get some minutes here and there depending on the game flow, but he could also see some time on the scout team to help prepare the starters to go against some of the talented scoring guards they’ll see this season.
The core of the scout team will consist of the two transfers who will sit out this season: sophomore wing Dalano Banton and junior forward Derrick Walker.
Banton is a 6-foot-8 wing with point guard skills who hails from Toronto, Canada. He was a top-100 recruit who enrolled to Western Kentucky but saw his playing time fluctuate throughout his freshman season. Overall, he averaged 3.4 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.1 assists in 15.1 minutes per game with 12 starts. He nearly recorded a triple-double against Wisconsin with eight points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists and recorded three double-digit scoring games, but he shot just 40.2% from the field, 21.6% from 3 and 55.9% from the free-throw line.
In addition to giving the starters a challenge in practice, Banton will spend this season refining his jump shot and building up his slender frame.
Walker, a 6-foot-8, 235-pound post from Kansas City, spent his first two years of college as a reserve for a really good Tennessee team, playing behind the likes of Grant Williams, Admiral Schofield and Kyle Alexander. He chose to seek another opportunity after the 2018-19 season and chose the Huskers, committing on the same day as Curtis.
“Fred Hoiberg is a tremendous coach,” Walker said. “He keeps things really simple. He played in the league, played in college, coached in college; he has experience, he knows a lot. For you not to want to gain wisdom from him, that’s bad.”
Walker said his goal for his redshirt year is improving his consistency, particularly with his jump shot and his post moves. Walker was mostly a finisher for the Volunteers, with most of his shots coming on offensive rebounds or dump-offs around the rim. He totaled 91 points and 107 rebounds in 64 games as at Tennessee, averaging 7.2 minutes per game.
Hoiberg has highlighted the importance of Walker’s experience playing on an NCAA Tournament team and hopes Walker will bring that to this year’s team that features just one other player who has played in the tournament.
“Just the pace, the seriousness of every possession,” Walker said. “Coming from the team I was on, we were a lot older so we had a lot of maturity. We held each other accountable at different levels. Bringing that to this team will help the team out a lot.”
Walker said sitting out is going to be difficult this season, but he’s looking forward to pushing Nebraska’s freshman big men, Yvan Ouedraogo and Kevin Cross, every day in practice.
“We’re going to be tough,” Walker said about the scout team. “We’re going to win every drill. We’re winning every drill. But that’s only going to make them better.”
Last year, Dachon Burke Jr. was in the same position Banton and Walker find themselves in now as the leader of the scout team, and he’s looking forward to testing himself against those guys.
“Dalano, he’s young, a 6-8 PG; you can’t find that anywhere,” Burke said. “Derrick has a heart of a lion. They’re going to be getting us better and we’re definitely going to be getting them better as well.”
Hoiberg added three local kids as walk-ons who will fill out the scout team as well.
Charlie Easley, a 6-foot-2 guard out of Lincoln Pius X, made his Husker debut late in the game against Riverside. He grabbed one rebound and turned the ball over once in the final 79 seconds.
Easley led Pius to the Class B state championship as a senior, stuffing the state sheet. His best skill is his shooting ability, but he brings a lot of toughness as well and can play either spot in the backcourt.
The other two walk-ons are both Husker legacies.
Jace Piatkowski, a 6-foot-4 guard out of Elkhorn South, is he son of Nebraska legend Eric Piatkowski. Jace is a good athlete who averaged 18.6 points as a senior and is capable of caching fire from deep at any moment. He’s the third player from Elkhorn South to walk on at Nebraska in the last handful of years, following Johnny Trueblood and Justin Costello.
Bret Porter was the 16th and final member to join the team this year. The 6-foot-6, 215-pound forward from Millard North is the son of Budge Porter, who played football at Nebraska before a practice collision paralyzed him. Porter averaged 13.4 points, 7.1 rebounds and 3.1 assists as a junior before tearing his ACL in June of 2018. However, he attacked his rehab and only ended up missing three games as a senior, though he wasn’t at full strength. Now healthy, Porter brings an element of creativity down low with his ability to make tough shots and his vision as a passer.
Easley, Piatkowski, Porter and scholarship freshman Akol Arop (who will likely play a big role on the scout team as well) all played summer ball together for two years with Omaha Sports Academy.
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.