Notes and Observations from Nebraska Basketball's First Practice
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Notes and Observations from Nebraska Basketball’s First Practice

September 25, 2019

College basketball season is finally here.

After a long, long offseason filled with change, the new-look Huskers filtered onto the practice court at the Hendricks Training Center on Wednesday morning to begin the 2019-20 season with the first official practice under Fred Hoiberg. 

Hoiberg said on Monday that he was looking forward to getting to work with his team and continuing to instal his offense and ingrain tendencies.

“We’re still in the very basic stages of putting in our system, but now we get the opportunity to grow that … The fact that we get extended time with our players now to really start growing our system is what I’m most excited about,” Hoiberg said.

Nebraska opened the first 30 minutes of practice to the media. Here are some observations from Wednesday’s action.

>> All but one of the 16 players on the roster participated in practice. Thorir Thorbjarnarson was over on the stationary bike but everyone else was suited up and going through practice. That includes sophomore point guard Cam Mack and freshman forward Yvan Ouedraogo. Neither one made the trip to Italy or participated in the full complement of practices that led up to it. Tennessee transfer Derrick Walker also did not play during the trip and missed some practice time with a minor injury but appears to be good to go.

>> Speaking of Ouedraogo, he looks to be every bit of the 265 pounds Hoiberg described him as on Wednesday. The French forward won’t turn 18 until March.

John S. Peterson
Freshman forward Yvan Ouedraogo working with assistant coach Doc Sadler.

“Yvan’s pissing people off because he sets screens; it’s like running into a brick wall with him,” Hoiberg said. “One thing I think we sometimes forget with Yvan because of how mature his body is is he’s only 17 years old and he’s still at times dropping the ball when he gets a dump-off at the rim or bringing it down and trying to bounce it before he goes up and it gets stripped from him. That’s all part of the game. It’s faster over here than what he’s ever experienced. 

“But he’s got the body, there’s no doubt about that. He’s got length. The crazy thing to me is the kid’s never really lifted a weight in his life and he’s 6-8 and every bit of 265. So he’s got a great foundation and now it’s just about continuing to develop him and continuing to teach the basics of the game. He’s got a Big Ten ready body right now and we’ve got a lot to work with with Yvan.”

>> As for Mack, he’s shown Hoiberg enough already to be one of the three players that will represent Nebraska in Chicago at Big Ten Media Day.

“Cam’s getting better every day,” Hoiberg said. “He had the illness to where it took him a while, really, just to get into basketball shape. Now he’s starting to pick up his pace. His pace is becoming much more consistent and I think the big reason for that is the fact that he's getting himself in the type of conditioning that he needs to play at that consistent level. Both Cam and Yvan, based on what we did with those 10 practices and a week when we got back, it’s going to take them a while to learn everything that we’ve put in but Cam’s got things that you just can’t teach and most of that comes form his speed and quickness.”

>> The team started the practice with a three-man transition passing drill that included both the passers and the receivers calling out each other’s names. With so many new faces, constant communication is going to be a major point of emphasis for this team.

>> Most of the drills the team ran while the media was present included a lot of man and ball movement as Hoiberg looks to instill his preferred style and tempo of play. 

>> Western Kentucky transfer Dalano Banton effortlessly dunked the ball every chance he got. His length stands out every time I see him play and it will be fun to see what he looks like after a year of strength and conditioning and skill work under Hoiberg’s staff.

John S. Peterson
Tennessee transfer Derrick Walker passing the ball druing a drill.

>> Walker seemed to be particularly vocal during the drills. He won’t be eligible to play this season, but Hoiberg said he’s still counting on him as well as Haanif Cheatham for leadership.

“We’ve only got two guys who have played in the NCAA Tournament, Haanif and Derrick, and only one will be eligible this year,” Hoiberg said. “To have guys that are a little bit weathered as far as having some opportunities to play for great coaches, to be able to lean on those guys to help our younger players get through those tough times is very important.”

>> Hoiberg said one of the biggest benefits of the increased practice time is the ability to really hammer home concepts with consistent work. The last drill we saw before the open window ended was a drill that involved a screen, a defender going under and a re-screen, which is something Hoiberg mentioned specifically on Monday.

“The fact that we’re going to be able to have more consistent practices should help in a big way towards that,” Hoiberg said. “We’re starting to make better reads, we’re starting to figure out when a defense plays you a certain way, when to take a lane to the basket, when to run out of a screen as opposed to popping your feet and setting it, when a guy goes under the automatic re-screen, that needs to become second nature and right now it’s not.”

>> Freshman forward Akol Arop from Omaha Creighton Prep knocked down four or five 3-pointers during the shooting portions of the first 30 minutes and his shot looked smooth. Arop was a post player in high school who is trying to transition to the wing to play at the next level, and improving his perimeter shot has been a major focus for him over the past year.

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