On Thursday night, I made my way over to Baxter Arena for the first time this season to watch a showdown between the top two teams in the Summit League: South Dakota State and Omaha.
What I saw was one one of the best players in the country on one side and the hero of the game on the other, and both of them are from Nebraska.
At this point, South Dakota State’s Mike Daum should be a household name. The two-time Summit League Player of the Year and native of Kimball, Nebraska, is closing in on 3,000 career points.
Daum is the most renowned — and certainly the most prolific — Nebraskan currently playing at the Division I level. But he’s far from the only one.
The hero of Thursday’s 85-84 win for the Mavericks was Fremont’s own Mitch Hahn. He led Omaha to a 16-point comeback win over the first-place team in the Summit with 22 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and the game-winner with 0.2 on the clock.
— Jacob Padilla (@JacobPadilla_) February 15, 2019
Hahn had a terrific sophomore season for Omaha after transferring from Holy Cross. Heading into his junior season, he was the team’s leading returning scorer and was primed for a breakout campaign. However, injuries cost him half the season, and he wasn’t even healthy in most of the 15 games he did get to play.
He didn’t look like himself to start this season either, but since the Mavericks have entered league play he’s been outstanding. The 6-foot-8 sharpshooter is putting up 17 points per game on 54.2 percent from the field, 47.9 percent from 3 and 75.9 percent from the free-throw line with 7.7 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game.
Omaha has two more Nebraska natives coming off the bench, point guard Ayo Akinwole, a sophomore out of Papillion-La Vista, and forward Wanjang Tut, a freshman out of Omaha Burke. Akinwole is the team’s sixth man averaging 5.7 points and shooting 44.7 percent from deep while Tut chips in 3.8 points and 2.2 boards per game. Logan Strom, a big man out of Norfolk, redshirted during his freshman year at UC-Davis but transferred to Omaha ans is sitting out this season.
Two more Summit League teams — South Dakota and North Dakota State — have Nebraskans as key parts of their teams.
Lincoln North Star product Triston Simpson is the starting point guard for South Dakota. The Coyotes are having a down season after losing their coach (former Nebraska assistant Craig Smith) to Utah State and their best player (Matt Mooney) to Texas Tech as a grad transfer, but Simpson has taken over a leadership role as a junior and is averaging 13.8 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists.
Logan Power, a 6-foot-4 forward out of Lincoln Christian, began as a walk-on but earned a scholarship. He’s only played in 10 games this season because of injury but is putting up 3.6 points in just under 10 minutes per game. Norfolk forward Tyler Hagedorn is redshirting this season with an injury.
Jared Samuelson, a junior guard from Gretna, rose from a walk-on to scholarship player to starter to captain. He’s averaging just under seven points per game and and put up a season-high 18 points on 6-of-9 shooting from 3. For his career, Samuelson is shooting 43 percent from deep.
Sam Griesel, a freshman from Lincoln East, missed a lot of time with an injury but has started 12 of his 14 games with the Bison, averaging 5.6 points and 3.9 rebounds.
The Summit League is full of Nebraska natives, but the Mountain West isn’t far behind.
The headliner is Omaha Central alumnus Tre’Shawn Thurman. The 6-foot-7 forward played three season at Omaha before electing to transfer elsewhere for his senior season. He landed at Nevada and after sitting out last season, Thurman has started 20 games for a 23-1 Wolfpack squad, averaging 7.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.3 steals in just under 25 minutes per game.
One-time Nebraska commit Aguek Arop landed at San Diego State after he and the Huskers went their separate ways. As a freshman, Arop is chipping in 3.1 points and 2.6 rebounds in 12.4 minutes per game as a defensive sub, though he’s just 3-of-12 from deep on the season.
San Diego State also landed former Papillion-La Vista standout Ed Chang. Chang picked up early offers from Nebraska and Creighton, but neither local school recruited him hard by the end of the process and he committed to Washington and transferred out west to spend his senior year at a school in Seattle. However, Chang decommitted from the Huskies and ended up at San Diego State with his buddy Arop.
Chang has only appeared in 11 games this season. He’s 5-of-13 from 3 but missed his only 2-point attempt and has only shot two free throws.
The final member of the Mountain West group is Aguri Agau, the younger brother of Akoy Agau. The younger Aguir made stops at Omaha Creighton Prep and Omaha Central before transferring to Cathedral High School in California. Agau landed at Fresno State and is contributing 2.9 points and 2.1 rebounds in 9.6 minutes per game off the bench for an 18-6 squad.
Speaking of Akoy Agau, the NCAA granted his appeal for a sixth year of eligibility and he returned to Louisville to close out his career after stops at Georgetown and SMU. Agar isn’t a regular member of the rotation for the Cardinals, however, only appearing in 16 games so far this season and chipping in 1.9 points and 2.4 rebounds in 6.4 minutes per game.
There are a few Nebraskans in the American Athletic Conference as well. Winnebago product David Wingett is a freshman at Memphis, though he’s only played in four games and has missed ell eight of his 3-pointers; his only points have come via a dunk.
Wichita State has two players who starred at the prep level in Nebraska in Omaha Central big man Isaiah Poor Bear-Chandler and Boys Town alumnus Teddy Allen. Chandler has appeared in 18 games and is averaging 2.6 points and 1.6 rebounds in 8.8 minutes per game. Allen is redshirting this season after transferring from West Virginia where he put up 7.0 points in 11.9 minutes per game as a freshman.
The last two players I’m going to highlight here both went the junior college route before arriving at their current schools.
Thik Bol, a 6-foot-8 forward out of Omaha Benson, played two season at Iowa Western Community College before landing at Southern Illinois. Bol had a solid junior season for the Salukis, starting all 33 games and putting up 9.1 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.3 blocks in nearly 30 minutes per game. However, he missed all of last season with an injury and hasn’t been the same player this year. He’s coming off the Southern Illinois bench and only playing 13.1 minutes per game, chipping in 3.8 points, 2.9 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game.
Finally, Scottsbluff standout Trent Harris spent two season at Western Nebraska Community College (the current school for 2019 Nebraska signee Jervay Green) before making his way to Northern Colorado. He’s been primarily a shooter off the bench for the Bears, averaging 8.5 points and shooting 36.8 percent from 3 in 21.1 minutes per game as the sixth man.
Add in the two Huskers (Tanner Borchardt and Brady Heiman) and that makes, by my count, 21 former Nebraska prep players on scholarship at Division I schools, and I hope I didn’t miss anybody. Six of them are seniors and will be moving on after this season, but more are on their way to take their places.
Obviously, Omaha Creighton Prep forward Akol Arop has signed with Nebraska. Omaha Burke standout Shereef Mitchell will enroll at Creighton after spending this season at a prep school. Baylor Scheierman, a 6-foot-6 point guard from Aurora, is headed to South Dakota State. Kearney forward Shiloh Robinson has signed with Liberty. Seward forward Nate Lliteras is headed to Longwood. Omaha Central wing John Tonje just received his first Division I offer from Omaha with more likely to follow and perhaps one or two more players could still receive offers.
Nebraska doesn’t have the depth of talent that many other states do when it comes to basketball, but even so there are plenty of hoopers in this state that can really play and Division I colleges all over the country are benefitting from their talents. The arena record crowd that was on hand for South Dakota State and Omaha at Baxter Arena on Thursday saw that first hand.
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.