Fred Hoiberg’s coaching staff is complete and on Monday, his three assistants — Matt Abdelmassih, Armon Gates and Doc Sadler — as well as special assistant Bobby Lutz met with local media to share their thoughts on Nebraska, the players still on the roster, each other and much more.
Let’s dive right into the notebook highlighting some of the most noteworthy tidbits from Monday.
>> Everyone really likes Dachon Burke, the Robert Morris transfer guard who sat out the 2018 season. Abdelmassih recruited him to St. John’s when Burke was going through the transfer process and said the two hit it off immediately. So much so, Abdelmassih texted Burke after it was finalized that he was coming to Lincoln and “he was ecstatic.” Abdelmassih said he loves Burke’s game and has the toughness needed to be really good in the Big Ten.
Gates has shown film of the way Iowa State used Monte Morris and DeAndre Kane together to showcase what Burke and JUCO guard Jervay Green could look like together.
“One of the most dynamic backcourts in the country they have a shot at being, just based on if you’ve watched Coach Hoiberg’s Iowa State teams play,” Gates said.
>> Glynn Watson Jr. has been going through workouts with Hoiberg, Gates said. “He wants to be a part of that NBA style of workouts.”
>> Sadler said that in his opinion, junior forward Isaiah Roby’s game could stand to benefit a ton from playing in Hoiberg’s offense, but no coach on staff is going to try and talk Roby out of the NBA if that’s the decision he comes to. There’s a healthy respect for his decision-making process from everyone involved.
“Everything these kids work for is the moment he’s going through,” Abdelmassih said. “We certainly want him to and fully support him going on this journey to see if this is an opportunity he takes now or returns.”
But that also means that as these new coaches go about evaluating the Huskers’ current roster and piecing together their recruiting board, a huge piece of the equation is just a giant question mark. Abdelmassih called Roby a “significant piece” and on several occasions said they’re in wait-and-see mode. Amir Harris is another piece, but he hasn’t been fully available for the staff to get a look at him on the court as he rehabs an injury from the end of the season.
“We just want June 10 to come as fast as possible where we could have whatever team it may be on campus, all together, where we can get to work with them,” Abdelmassih said. “There’s a lot of time between now and then and that’s great, because we do need the time, but we’re really excited about having these guys here the entire summer — June and July, both summer sessions — and then we go to Italy August 3 through the 13th, so to have that experience is going to be a huge positive for us. To be able to play four games there against competition and see what we have.”
>> Gates said that sophomore wing Nana Akenten, who Tim Miles suspended indefinitely after Nebraska’s loss at Michigan State in early March, is still with the program but that he has to “take care of some things academically.”
>> Freshman wing Karrington Davis is continuing his rehab from a torn Achilles tendon suffered during preseason practice that kept him out all season.
“KD is doing well,” Gates said. “KD is hanging in there. He’s rehabbing — he’s still getting his hip strong and obviously his Achilles, he’s been working very hard. he’s one of our hardest workers, to be honest with you, so I’ve been impressed with him.”
Davis arrived at Nebraska with a hip injury that limited him during his senior year of high school
“There’s always a lot of uncertainty when there’s change, especially when there’s a coaching change when it’s not the coach that recruited you,” Gates said. “So there’s a lot of uncertainty and I’m sure there’s a lot going on in his head, 100 miles per hour. At the same time, he’s trying to finish up his finals. I think there’s a time and place where he’ll really sit down and let things digest. But as of right now, Karrington has been fine, and the same thing with the rest of the guys.”
>> Gates said everyone in the program has embraced the Hoiberg era and all the changes that it is bringing.
“It’s just a fresh start for everyone involved in the program, and that goes from the strength coach to the athletic trainer to the janitor,” Gates said. “Everybody’s roles are going to change now; you have to adapt to who the boss is. Coach Hoiberg lets everyone pretty much kind of set their own stage. The players have taken advantage of this new start. In terms of workouts, they’ve been working hard, the guys that are injury free and available for classes — finals week is coming up. These guys, they’re really enjoying it. It’s a different approach now and I’m glad that these guys are open to the change.”
>> When Hoiberg was announced, Tim Miles texted him congrats and offered up a list of evaluations of his coaching staff, including strengths and weaknesses of each guy and why they deserved a look at being retained. Gates said he thought Miles handled everything in as good a way as one could towards the end of the season and set a strong example for the rest of the team.
>> These guys absolutely love Nebraska’s facilities. Hoiberg has gushed over them during every availability he’s done to this point and Abdelmassih did the same on Monday.
“It was definitely an unbelievable weekend, just experiencing a scrimmage when there’s… I don’t know what the official attendance was, but a lot more than I’ve seen at Giants Stadium for games,” Abdelmassih said. “Just special. The commitment from the fanbase, the energy they bring, the passion is second to none and incredible to see.
“To bring a kid on campus here, you don’t really have to speak that much, you just let everything speak for itself. Certainly that makes our job a lot easier when you have a commitment from not only the fanbase but clearly this university and athletic department where they’ve separated themselves as having the best facilities in the country.”
>> Lutz said the entire staff, himself included, has hit the ground running and that their familiarity with each other has made the transition fairly smooth. In fact, Lutz — whose position includes both administrative and basketball duties — said he has already nearly completed Nebraska’s nonconference schedule for next season.
“When I got here, we technically had one game scheduled, and that was the Creighton game, so we needed 10 nonconference games and today we need one,” Lutz said. “We’ve got to get the contracts, but the verbal commitments are there for every game but one.”
>> Sadler offered some insight into his decision to step down from his head coaching position at Southern Miss so that he could accept and assistant coaching job at Nebraska.
“Bottom line, that level right now is hard because the rules are changing to where the Power 5s are running it,” Sadler said. “They change the rules every year and it makes it harder for a mid-major team that doesn’t win the conference tournament to get into the [NCAA] Tournament. Let’s be real — I’ve been fired once and I didn’t want to be fired again. We had a really good year but also understand I’d been there five years. It doesn’t even matter that we couldn’t go to the conference tournament two of those. People want to go to the NCAA Tournament and the clock’s ticking.
“The clock’s ticking and even though we’d win 20 games or 21 or 22, in two years, probably, if I don’t go to the tournament they’re going to make a change. I wanted to go out on my terms now and I can do that.”
>> Sadler once went 45 days without drinking water, according to Abdelmassih. While the other three coaches available Monday had water bottles at their table, Sadler had a Diet Mountain Dew. He even joked with Nebraska’s sports information director that next time his Dew needs to be on ice.
>> Fit aside, the first thing Abdelmassih looks for when he’s scouting a potential recruit/transfer is athleticism.
“One thing I’ve always prided myself on is they better be athletic,” he said. “We want to have length, we want to have athleticism.”
Shooting is a premium in Hoiberg’s offense, but this staff believes that can be taught with the right mechanics and coaching. This 2019 class might not go perfectly to plan, as they’re a little behind and Abdelmassih said they can’t be picky, but the goal is to lay the foundation for what things are going to look like down the road, because that will help them in selling the program to future kids.
“Our first year at Iowa State was such a significant year for us because we laid our foundation on how we wanted to play and what our philosophy was going to be recruiting-wise, and being .500 that year at least gave us the opportunity… we knew we could make that jump,” Abdelmassih said. “Not to say that our goal is to finish .500 by any means, but the goal is to make sure we make our mark, where people know what the path is going to look like for us to get this place to the top of the conference.”