Typically on this day, high school athletes across the country would be holding signing day ceremonies to officially seal their collegiate futures. Plenty did just that during the early signing period in December, but those that didn’t won’t get that same opportunity because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Instead, players will have to sign their paperwork privately and send them into their future schools, or some schools will hold digital signing ceremonies through Zoom or something similar. It’s not the same as having friends, coaches and teachers physically there, but it’s the best they can do right now. It’s just another sacrifice the class of 2020 has had to make. I really do feel for them and all the high school athletes affected by the national shutdown.
But Fred Hoiberg and the Nebraska basketball program won’t be receiving letters of intent from any high school prospects on Wednesday. Lincoln North Star senior Donovan Williams decided against signing in the early signing period and then later decommited from Nebraska, and the Huskers haven’t added any high school recruits to replace him. (Side note: Williams committed to Oklahoma State on Monday.)
Even so, the first day of the late signing period will still be busy for the Huskers. Nebraska has five incoming transfers who can sign with the program — junior college transfers Teddy Allen (Western Nebraska Community College) and Lat Mayen (Chipola College), transfer guards Kobe King (Wisconsin) and Trey McGowens (Pittsburgh) and graduate transfer Kobe Webster (Western Illinois).
The Huskers are continuing to explore options to fill out the roster, but Hoiberg now has two recruiting cycles mostly under his belt. He’s added 16 players in those two cycles — 11 in his transition class and five so far this year.
Of those 16 players, five are traditional transfers from other four-year schools, four are junior college transfers and three are graduate transfers. Only four of them have been high school recruits, and one of those left the team eight games into the season.
Matt Abdelmassih is very good at mining the transfer market for talent, as his history with Hoiberg at both Iowa State and Nebraska has shown. It’s safe to say transfers will continue to be a big part of what Nebraska does moving forward under Hoiberg.
That being said, I don’t know that I’d expect it to look like this — a class of nothing but transfers — every year. I think this is as much a reaction to what Hoiberg’s staff experienced in year one at Nebraska as anything else.
Instead of trying to hold the remnants of Tim Miles’ last team together upon his arrival, Hoiberg hit the reset button and threw together a roster as best he could in a short amount of time. He installed his system and ingrained his style of play — which is important for the program moving forward, both on the court and on the recruiting trail — but the win-loss record wasn’t pretty.
Hoiberg can’t go 7-25 again. He needed guys who can play right away and give him more than what he got out of the 2019-20 roster.
Thus, the transfers. Allen is a proven bucket-getter who was even better at Western Nebraska than Jervay Green was, and he’s already shown he can produce at the high-major level as a freshman at West Virginia. Mayen is an option that can add shooting and length to a team that greatly lacked in both last season. King is a double-figure scorer who has plenty of starts in the Big Ten on his résumé. Webster is a three-year starter at the point guard spot who has significantly more experience than anyone else currently on the roster.
Add that group to the three players who sat out last season, spending a year working on their games under the watchful eyes of Hoiberg and his staff, plus Thorir Thorbjarnarson, who proved he can be a real asset in Hoiberg’s system, and Nebraska suddenly looks like a team more equipped to be competitive than a year ago.
Hoiberg turned things around quickly at Iowa State, going from a .500 record in his first year to an NCAA Tournament appearance in year two. From that point on, though he continued to add transfers of all kinds, he also had the luxury to be a little more patient, adding and developing impact high school recruits as well.
Melvin Ejim was a 3-star prospect in Hoiberg’s first class that ended up being a four-year starter. With Ejim and the transfers that sat out the 2010-11 season, the Cyclones made a huge leap in 2011-12 and that paid recruiting dividends as Hoiberg landed Georges Niang, a 4-star, top-100 prospect in 2012. The following class included two more top-100 players in 4-star guards Matt Thomas and Monte Morris. Those four players were all cornerstones of the Iowa State program as much or more than any of the transfers.
So far at Nebraska, Hoiberg has added an in-state prospect who had committed to the previous staff, a 17-year-old from France and two 3-star recruits. He didn’t necessarily have to beat out the big boys of college basketball to sign any of those players.
Hoiberg and Abdelmassih are working hard to secure a commitment from 4-star center Adama Sanogo, a 6-foot-9 big man from The Patrick School who looks to be reclassifying from 2021 to 2020. If Sanogo picks Seton Hall or UConn or one of the other seven teams on his list, we’ll probably have to wait until 2021 to see if Nebraska can land Hoiberg’s first Niang or Thomas or Morris in Lincoln. In the meantime, in order to make that happen, Hoiberg’s going to need this new crop of transfers to show that Nebraska is a place where recruits can go to and have success.
This recruiting class was all about addressing the many roster needs that the 2019-20 season revealed. Hopefully future classes will be about building on previous success, and perhaps we’ll see a high school signing day ceremony or two as part of that.
Jacob Padilla has been writing for Hail Varsity since 2015. He covers football, volleyball men’s basketball and prep sports. He also co-hosts the Nebraska Preps Postgame and Nebraska Shootaround podcasts for the Hurrdat Media and Hail Varsity podcast networks. 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.