When Derek Peterson put out the call for this week’s Mailbag, one of the questions he received piqued my interest enough to save for this column because I felt it deserved more than a brief response.
@JacobKrueger5 asked: What seven Husker basketball players, past or present, would you have on your team for The Basketball Tournament?
For those who aren’t familiar with The Basketball Tournament, or TBT, it’s a summer winner-take-all tournament for a cash prize that has grown significantly over the last few years. It’s a 64-team tournament made up primarily of former college stars, many of whom are playing professionally outside of the NBA.
The championship game of this year’s TBT was on Tuesday as Carmen’s Crew, a team made up primarily of former Ohio State Buckeyes, took down Golden Eagles, a squad made up mostly of Marquette alumni, to take home the $2 million prize.
So the premise of this question—at least for the direction in which I’m taking it—is to come up with the best team possible of primarily former Huskers to compete in next year’s tournament. I’m not going to dive into the history of Nebraska basketball and pull out some of the past greats. There are enough players who are still competing at the professional level to put together a decent squad.
Since Isaiah Roby just signed a four-year deal with the Dallas Mavericks, he is not eligible for this team. Side note—congrats to Isaiah on the record-setting deal (four-years, $6.7 million with the first two years guaranteed; $1.5 million in year one is a record for a college player drafted in the second round).
I’ll start building my team with the most recent Husker graduates. By next summer, Isaac Copeland Jr. should be back at 100% and would be a great piece on a team like this. Glynn Watson Jr. has a place on my team as well. James Palmer Jr. signed an Exhibit 10 contract with the Los Angeles Clippers, but that is basically a training camp deal and the most likely outcome is he gets cut at the end of camp and ends up on the Clippers’ G League team. Without a multi-year NBA contract, I’m going to make him eligible. That makes three players right there.
I’ll go recent history with my next two picks as well: Tai Webster and Shavon Shields.
Webster is coming off a season with Turkish club Galatasaray that saw him average 11.4 points, 3.8 assists and 2.6 rebounds while shooting 43.8% from the field, 31.9% from 3 and 75% from the free-throw line in 42 games. you’d like him to shoot a bit better—one of the main knocks on him throughout his Nebraska career—but his ability to defend and get to the rim would be valuable as an off-guard on this team.
Last season with Spanish club KIROLBET Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz, Shields put up 10.5 points, 2.8 rebounds and 1.1 assists while shooting 50% from the field, 32.8% from 3 and 81.6% from the charity stripe in 71 games competing in the Liga ACB and EuroLeague. Like Webster, he’s not a great perimeter threat, but he can still score efficiently inside the arc.
There’s one more Tim Miles era player who would probably jump to mind for a lot of Husker fans, but after checking up on Terran Petteway I don’t think I’m going to include him on my team. In just 19 games with Italian Club and reigning FIBA Europe Cup cup champion Banco di Sardegna Sassari, Petteway averaged 12 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.3 assists but shot just 38.3% from the field, 30.8% from 3 and 75.8% from the foul line. I just can’t do it with shooting numbers like those (which aren’t too different from what he’s done thus far in his pro career).
I’m going to go a bit further back into the Doc Sadler era for my next two picks to add some veteran experience to my squad.
First up is Lance Jeter, the point guard who graduated from Nebraska in 2011 and has put together a very solid professional career. Now 31 years old, he’s falling off a bit but is still a reliable floor general. Jeter played 54 games last season, most of them with Dutch team Donar Groningen, and put up 11.1 points, 3.5 assists and 3.1 rebounds while shooting 46.9% from the field, 37.2% from 3 and and 82.7% from the free-throw line. Jeter’s assist-to-turnover ratio has been terrific throughout his career and he can still knock down a shot when he needs to.
My seventh pick isn’t one of the first names that came to mind when I sat down and began this exercise, but after doing a little homework I feel he deserves a spot on my team. C’mon down, Sek Henry (Nebraska 2010). Though he’s 32 years old, he’s still got plenty of spring in his legs and can shoot the lights out.
Last season with Turkish club Pinar Karsiyaka, the 6-foot-4 guard averaged 15.2 points, 4.6 assists and 2.8 rebounds per game while shooting 46.4% from the field, 41.1% from 3 and 75.4% from the line in 42 games. I don’t believe Henry has signed with a team for next season yet, but he did play in the Drew League this summer. He brings more veteran experience and some much-needed perimeter shooting to my squad.
*Note: As poined ou to me by @HuskerHC, Henry actually played in this year’s tournament with a suqad called Team Fancy.
That’s seven names which fulfills the requirement for Jacob’s question, but seven is just the roster minimum for TBT and I’m still really light in the frontcourt, so I’ll keep going.
Unfortunately, Nebraska’s recent history with recruiting and developing big men has not been great. Aleks Maric was the first name that came to mind, but he retired from playing a couple of years ago and is now coaching. Brandon Ubel, who was around the program last season and last played professionally in 2017, just joined Criag Smith’s coaching staff at Utah State as a graduate assistant. It looks like Leslee Smith and Jorge Brian Diaz are both still playing, but neither are terribly exciting options.
This is where I’m going to cheat a little bit and go beyond the Husker alumni ranks to bring in a free agent: Kimball, Nebraska, native and South Dakota State product Mike Daum.
As his Twitter handle (@Dauminator24) suggests, the 6-foot-9 forward dominated college basketball the last four seasons, finishing his career seventh on the NCAA’s all-time scoring list with 3,067 points. He’s an outstanding 3-point shooter who can also score inside the arc, and he’s a terrific rebounder as well.
PG: Glynn Watson Jr., Lance Jeter
SG: Tai Webster, Sek Henry
SF: James Palmer Jr.
PF: Isaac Copeland Jr., Shavon Shields
C: Mike Daum
So there you have it: my eight-man Nebraska squad for the TBT. It’s got a good mix of defense, perimeter shooting, experience and interior scoring off the bounce. I could go small with Copeland at the five and Shields at the four, or I could play Cope next to Daum with any combination of the perimeter players in the backcourt. I don’t know if this team would be able to go all the way, but it would definitely make some noise.
I want to hear from you: who am I forgetting? What would your team look like? What should we call the team? Sound off in the comments below or tweet at me to share your thoughts.
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.