Nebraska Basketball Review: Walk-On Warriors
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Nebraska Basketball Review: Walk-On Warriors

April 24, 2019

The dust has settled on the beginning of the Fred Hoiberg era, so now seems like a good time to look back at the final season under Tim Miles to take stock of what the Huskers lost and what they have coming back for next season.

Derek Peterson has taken a look at the 2018-19 season through the scope of a handful of statistics (plus/minus, finishing at the rim, defensive shot profile, assists) in his Behind the Box Score (Premium) series. On Tuesday, we recapped the season for Nebraska’s Core Four of James Palmer Jr., Glynn Watson Jr., Isaac Copeland Jr. and Isaiah Roby.

Now it’s time to focus in on the players themselves.

Next up is a look at the Nebraska natives who went from walk-ons to key contributors by the end of their careers.

Senior Center Tanner Borchardt

Stats: 3.3 PPG, 60.8% FG, 57.5% FT, 4.6 RPG, 0.4 APG, 0.5 SPG, 0.4 TPG, 19.9 MPG, 133.7 ORtg, 103.3 DRtg, 5.3 BPM, .132 WS/40

Borchardt’s story has been told many times. The 6-foot-8 Gothenburg native chose to enroll at Nebraska as a student rather than pursuing a college football career, but when the basketball program held a walk-on tryout, he gave it a shot.

Four years later and 25 pounds lighter, Borchardt closed out his career as Nebraska’s starting center. He earned a scholarship as a junior as he played his way into Nebraska’s three-headed center rotation alongside Jordy Tshimanga and Duby Okeke. He was a minor part of what Nebraska did, playing five or less minutes in 12 of his 20 games, but he did have a couple of key performances (8 points and 10 rebounds against Stetson; four points, two rebounds and two blocks against Northwestern) but scored 18 total points in 118 minutes.

Okeke and Tshimanga both moved on from the program after the 2017-18 season, however, leaving Borchardt as the only returning true post. Nebraska had been playing small-ball with Isaiah Roby at the five and 6-foot-11 Brady Heiman enrolled out of Platteview, but that wasn’t enough. Nebraska needed Borchardt to develop into a real contributor, and that’s what he did.

At a slim and trim 250 pounds, Borchardt had reshaped his body over the offseason to improve his mobility and increase his stamina. Though he was never going to give Nebraska much offensively, Borchardt’s rebounding and defensive hustle made him a valuable part of Nebraska’s rotation and he served as Roby’s primary back-up at the five, playing 12.3 minutes per game through the first 19 games.

But when Isaac Copeland went down with a torn ACL, Borchardt was the one who stepped up to replace him int he starting lineup, bumping Roby over to the four. Borchardt played 28.6 minutes per game over the final 16 games. Borchardt had two double-doubles during that stretch, putting up 12 points and a career-high 18 rebounds in 32 minutes against Illinois then closing out his career with a career-high 16 points (on 6-of-6 from the field and 4-of-8 from the line) and 13 rebounds against TCU in the NIT.

Heiman wasn’t ready to play steady minutes as a true freshman, but Borchardt was able to fill whatever role Nebraska asked of him. It’s crazy to think what Nebraska might have looked like this season had the coaches never found Borchardt hiding in plain sight on campus, but they did and he’ll have a heck of a story to tell for years to come.

Senior Guard Johnny Trueblood

Stats: 2.2 PPG, 44.1% FG (25% 3FG), 38.5% FT, 2.4 RPG, 1.2 APG, 0.6 SPG, 0.5 TPG, 11.9 MPG, 105.5 ORtg, 99.4 DRtg, 3.7 BPM, .105 WS/40

Trueblood’s career isn’t all that different from Borchardt’s, albeit it more condensed. He walked on to the team in 2015, left the program after his freshman season, re-joined the team in 2017 and stuck with it the second time.

Through the first 28 games of his career, he was  atypical walk-on — only seeing the court in blowout situations. He scored a total of 20 points in 76 minutes. But after injury and suspension left Tim Miles with very few options on his bench heading into senior day against Iowa, he gave Trueblood a chance to show what he could do.

Over the final six games of the season (against Iowa, three games in the Big Ten Tournament, two games in the NIT) Trueblood played 27.5 minutes per game, averaging 4.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.3 steals as the team’s sixth man. The 6-foot-4 guard out of Elkhorn South went from nearly anonymous to a cult hero in the matter of a few games. He was a plus/minus star as, for whatever reason, the Huskers always seemed to get the better of their opponents while Trueblood was on the floor. He scored a career-high eight points while chipping in three rebounds and three assists in the season-ending loss to TCU in the NIT.

Because Trueblood did not play during his sophomore season, he could technically get back that year of eligibility if he so desired. But he is set to get his degree and chose to take part in the senior day festivities prior to the Iowa game as he seems ready to move on with his life. Trueblood wants to get into coaching. 

Borchardt and Trueblood both proved that walk-on success stories at Nebraska aren’t limited to just the football program.

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