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Padding the Stats: Nebraska Numbers Talk

June 22, 2022

The men’s basketball program released the numbers for the newcomers on Tuesday, and a few of them certainly stood out.

First, the obvious: Jamarques Lawrence. The sharp-shooting freshman will wear No. 10 — the same number that Tyronn Lue wore during his Husker career. Lawrence is setting an awfully high bar for himself choosing that number, but he’s not unique.

In fact, somebody has worn that number in 11 of the last 12 seasons — despite Nebraska retiring Lue’s jersey in 2017. If you’re curious, the other players to wear No. 10 during that time were Kobe Webster, Karrington Davis, Jack McVeigh, and Trevor Menke. On the other hand, just three players wore 10 in the dozen years after Lue went pro (Marcus Walker and Kevin Augustine for one year each, Marcus Neal Jr. for two).

Outside of special cases, Nebraska retries jerseys rather than numbers. Lue isn’t one of those special cases, but his jersey has been hanging in the rafters at Pinnacle Bank Arena for the last five years.

Perhaps Nebraska’s most important offseason addition, North Dakota State transfer and Lincoln native Sam Griesel, chose another memorable digit: No. 5. Three of the program’s 1000-point scorer club have worn No. 5. Glynn Watson Jr. is the most recent, and before him it was Terran Petteway, another transfer into the program that helped lead the Huskers to an NCAA Tournament.

A postseason bid is a pretty lofty goal for Nebraska following a 13th-place finish in the Big Ten, but for the Huskers to come anywhere close to achieving it they’ll need Griesel to make a similar impact to what Petteway did in his first season of action in Lincoln. For the record, Larry Florence is the other 1,000-point scorer who wore No. 5.

Juwan Gary, another transfer, also chose a number once worn by one of the better players to ever suit up for the Huskers: Venson Hamilton. Gary chose, No. 4, the same number he wore at Alabama. Hamilton starred alongside Lue. Two other 1,000-point scorers played on that team as well: Florence and Cookie Belcher.

Hamilton was a 6-foot-10 center whereas Gary is a 6-foot-6 wing, but the Huskers are hoping to get some interior toughness from the former Crimson Tide forward all the same. 

A couple of walk-ons also chose significant numbers. Cale Jacobsen will wear Shavon Sheilds’ No. 31 while Arizona State transfer Jeffrey Grace III will wear No. 24, the same number that Jaron Boone wore in Lincoln. James Palmer Jr. also wore No. 24 up until his senior year, when he switched to No. 0 (the number C.J. Wilcher is wearing now).

Lawrence wasn’t the only newcomer to choose a number recently vacated. Freshman guard Ramel Lloyd Jr. will replace Trey McGowens in the No. 2 jersey, Blaise Keita will take Chris McGraw’s No.15 and walk-on Henry Burt will take Eduardo Andre’s No. 35. Denim Dawson will also wear No. 12, which means redshirt freshman walk-on Sam Hoiberg will apparently be choosing a new number.

Personally, I wore No. 10 or No. 30 when I played, so I’m partial to Lawrence’s and Keisei Tominaga’s numerical choices (shoutout to the Japanese Steph Curry back home competing for a spot on Japan’s national team), but No. 0 is always a cool number to see out there. I also think No. 3 is a great number for a basketball player — if you can shoot. We’ll have to see how much work Quaran McPherson put in on his shot during his redshirt year.

Switching gears, let’s talk some volleyball, though I’ll stick with a bit of a numerical theme.

Over the weekend, John Cook and his staff received their first verbal commitment for the 2024 class — just days after the contact period opened for Division I coaches and high school juniors-to-be. Skyler Pierce is a dynamic outside hitter from the Kansas City area, and she wants to be a Husker.

Pierce is the top-ranked player in the country according to PrepDig.com, while PrepVolleyball.com has her ranked ninth nationally. That gives the Huskers the top-ranked recruit in the country three times in a four-year span, depending on the outlet (Kennedi Orr in 2021, Harper Murray in 2023 and Pierce in 2024). Freshman Hayden Kubik was also once No. 1 in the 2022 class for PrepVolleyball.com, though she finished at No. 18.

Nebraska has been on an incredibly recruiting run lately, and Pierce’s commit seems to indicate the Huskers don’t plan on slowing down any time soon. Pierce is the 12th top-20 recruit (according to PrepVolleyball.com) to commit to Nebraska in a four-year span.

The first 11 are No. 1 Orr, No. 2 Lindsay Krause, No. 3 Ally Batenhorst, No. 10 Lexi Rodriguez and No. 16 Whitney Lauenstein in 2021; No. 4 Maggie Mendelson, No. 6 Bekka Allick and No. 18 Kubik in 2022; and No. 1 Murray, No. 3 Caroline Jurevicius and No. 5 Bergen Reilly in 2022.

The Huskers also have a commitment from Andi Jackson for 2022, who doesn’t appear in PrepVolleyball.com‘s top-150 but is part of the Team USA U-19 training team that also includes Mendelson, Murray, Reilly and Pierce.

What makes this recruiting run even more impressive is how Cook has kept it going despite having to replace assistant coaches multiple times during that run. Dani Busboom Kelly helped get the ball rolling on recruiting the 2021 class before departing to take over her own program, then Kayla Banwarth took over as recruiting coordinator, then Jaylen Reyes slid into that role when Banwarth departed a couple years ago herself to become a head coach. Pierce is the first high school commit for the Huskers since Kelly Hunter stepped into a full-time coaching role as well, replacing the departed Tyler Hildebrand (who spent two stints as a Husker assistant).

Nebraska always recruits well, but it does seem like they’ve ramped it up even more recently. Over the next few years, we’ll really start to see the fruits of that recruiting labor as the 2021 class grows into a more featured role and the younger blue-chip recruits join the program and push the older players.

If there’s a downside to recruiting at this level, it’s that you’re occasionally going to recruit over the players already in your program, leading to the potential departures of some fan favorites. 

John Cook said on his podcast recently that he was caught off-guard by Keonilei Akana’s decision to transfer, but I can’t say I was too surprised after thinking about her situation. She apparently wants to be a libero — Cook said as much on the podcast — but Lexi Rodriguez came in and locked up that job as a true freshman before going on to win Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and AVCA National Freshman of the Year. Similarly, we saw Megan Miller depart a few years ago after she wasn’t able to win the libero job following Kenzie Maloney’s departure (Kenzie Knuckles won that battle as a true freshman, then Rodriguez beat her out two seasons later).

Another part of Nebraska’s elite recruiting is, as much volleyball talent as this state produces annually, Nebraska often doesn’t have room for many of them. Take Norah Sis for example; the Papillion-La Vista product finished at No. 28 in PrepVolleyball.com‘s 2021 rankings, but the Huskers already had three of the top-ranked pin hitters committed in Krause, Batenhorst and Lauenstein. Similarly, Nebraska produced two stellar setters in that 2021 class in Omaha Skutt’s Allie Gray (ranked No. 34, signed with Arizona State) and Wahoo’s Elle Glock (No. 39, signed with USC), but the Huskers already had the best setter recruit in the country committed in Orr.

It’s pretty crazy to see the football and men’s basketball teams struggle to land in-state talent while the volleyball team simply doesn’t have enough room to take every incredibly talented in-state player that very well might be interested.

Regardless, Nebraska volleyball is a well-oiled machine right now and doesn’t appear to be slowing down any time soon. 

Just look at the numbers.

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