LINCOLN, Neb. — Monday marked the official start of the Nebrasketball season as the Huskers took the court at the Hendricks Training Complex for the first practice of 2016-17.
Nebraska wasn’t at full strength as perhaps the two most anticipated newcomers to the lineup – transfer Anton Gill and freshman Isaiah Roby – have not yet been cleared for full participation in practice. However, the rest of the newcomers as well as the returners all went through the full practice.
Along with Roby, a 6-foot-8 wing from Dixon, Illinois, the Huskers also add 6-foot-11 freshman center Jordy Tshimanga from Montreal, Quebec; Jeriah Horne, a 6-foot-7 freshman forward from Overland Park, Kansas; Evan Taylor, a 6-foot-5 junior college transfer from Cincinnati, Ohio; and James Palmer, a 6-foot-6 transfer guard from Miami who will sit out this season.
“They’ve all added a certain element,” senior guard Tai Webster said about the newcomers. “I’ve yet to see Roby but I’m real excited; I’ve heard nothing but good things about Roby. Jordy’s been great and the rest of the guys have been working hard. Jeriah’s getting in and shooting shots; he’s a great shooter already and hopefully he can build on that and transfer it and help us out in games.”
The biggest addition – literally – was Tshimanga, who is listed at 275 pounds and has a 7-foot-4 wingspan. The Huskers have struggled to find a true center in recent years, but the staff and players feel like they finally found their guy.
“It’s real different playing with someone that’s just that big, taking up all that space in there,” Webster said. “It’s good for us on defense as well as on offense. He’s just another threat where we can throw it inside and end up with a bucket.”
Monday was a new experience for one of Nebraska’s sophomores as well as forward Michael Jacobson missed much of preseason practice last year while recovering from a foot injury.
“It feels a lot different for me personally just because I wasn’t even able to practice at this time last year; I still had another four weeks to go on my foot,” Jacobson said. “So it’s exciting I guess, my first real college practice from the start. I think we’re all excited to get out here.”
Health isn’t the only reason Jacobson feels different; he’s also made significant gains in the weight room under strength coach Tim Wilson.
“I think it’s going help me a lot just being close to 240 pounds now,” Jacobson said. “I’ve noticed just some things on the court – I’m able to play stronger, the game’s a little bit easier for me inside and out. I feel like we’ve done a good job not only adding muscle but adding some agility and things like that too.”
Jacobson isn’t the only one he benefitted from a year in the weight room. Webster said point guard Glynn Watson has also added significant strength over the last year.
“It’s just a testament to Coach [Wilson] and how good he is at his job,” Webster said. “It’s crazy to see, especially guys like Glynn – freshman year coming in, he was kind of seen as a target being so small but now, honestly, he’s just as strong if not stronger than me and the other guards.”
With the transfer of Andrew White, Webster is left as the only senior on a team that includes seven underclassmen, and he’s embracing the leadership role that comes along with that status.
“It’s definitely a big deal to have a guy like Tai Webster coming back who’s played for three years in a row now and has had a big role on this team and was part of that his freshman year,” Jacobson said. “It’s good to have that kind of perspective and just a guy who’s been through it all like he has. He definitely talked to the younger guys – some of the freshmen and even us still – about just different teaching points, things that come about during practice s or games.”
All three of Nebraska’s freshmen were top 150 recruits, and with that comes certain expectation. Webster received similar hype when he arrived from New Zealan as a freshman, but he struggled early and didn’t truly figure the college game out until last season. Webster’s advice to this year’s crop of freshmen is simple.
“Just don’t have any expectations at that level,” Webster said. “Coming in as a freshman, all you can be expected is to give everything you’ve got every day.”
>> The Huskers are going to be very shallow in the backcourt. With Palmer redshirting, Nebraska has just four scholarship guards on the roster. Glynn Watson is the only true point guard of the bunch and will be relied upon heavily this season. Behind him, Taylor will handle the primary ball-handling duties with Webster and Gill pitching in.
>> Tshimanga still has a lot of developing to do, but even as he is he provides something Nebraska simply didn’t have last year. During practice, Jacobson made a strong move to the basket to get past Tshimanga, but the latter’s 7-foot-4 wingspan allowed him to recover and pin the former’s layup to the glass.
>> The Huskers are very high on both Gill and Roby. Gill is a pure scorer and maybe the best shooter on the team, but he’s also unselfish and is willing to move the ball around instead of letting it stick in his hands. Seeing the player’s stand next to each other, Roby is probably the second-tallest player on the team as his listed height of 6-feet-8 might be underselling him by a bit. He has the potential to guard two, three, perhaps even four positions as he matures.
>> Horne is very skilled offensively already and he should be able to put the ball through the hoop right away. However, for him to get on the floor he is going to have to prove he can defend wings after spending his high school career as more of a stretch big than a wing.
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.