Nebraska is entering the final stretch of the worst season in program history. The Huskers have lost 12 straight games and 20 overall. The Huskers are 2-14 in conference play. Yet despite all the losing, I’ve seen enough from Fred Hoiberg as a coach to have no doubts about what he can do with a roster better suited for his style of play.
Of course, the four straight NCAA Tournament appearances at Iowa State help in that regard. And that’s why nothing I’ve seen this season has changed my view of this program under Hoiberg.
The big question for me has and continues to be: what level of talent can Hoiberg and his staff recruit to Lincoln? Fortunately, assistant coach and lead recruiter Matt Abdelmassih joined the Husker Hoops Show on Tuesday night’s edition of Sports Nightly to offer some insight.
With Ben McLaughlin guiding the discussion, Abdelmassih talked more about the current program for the first show segment, but someone named Drew called in to ask about Abdelmassih’s specialty: recruiting.
As things currently stand, and assuming Charlie Easley’s scholarship is only for this semester, the Huskers have three sit-out transfers and two junior college prospects set to join the lineup next season. With that being the case, Nebraska still has one open scholarship to use in 2020 and Drew wanted to know how many new players the coaches were looking to bring in and what kind of players they were targeting.
“At the end of the day, I’ve never really gone with the approach of the amount of guys that we’re bringing in,” Abdelmassih said. “Really, our job’s to continue to elevate the talent of the program. We are involved with some really highly-talented kids and feel at this point really confident about where we’re at with them. Hopefully in the next 30 days there’s clarity and we’re getting more commitments.”
That’s certainly interesting, but at the same time, that’s probably the perspective a coach needs to have in the current landscape of college basketball. There’s no guarantee that all seven scholarship players with remaining eligibility will return, especially with the way this season has gone.
Western Nebraska Community College guard Teddy Allen is leading junior college division I in scoring at 30.8 per game while shooting 51.3% from the field, 37.3% from 3 and 88.1% from the free-throw line.
Lat Mayen, a 6-foot-9, 205-pound forward from Chipola College, was just named First-Team All-Panhandle Conference on Tuesday. He’s averaging 11.8 points and 8.4 rebounds while shooting 38.4% from 3.
Those two are locked in and expected to be a big part of next year’s team. But Nebraska’s not done. There are a few names they’ve been active with recently.
The biggest target for Nebraska is actually a current member of the 2021 class, although he has the option to reclassify to 2020. Carter Whitt is a 6-foot-3 point guard from Raleigh, North Carolina ranking inside the top-65 nationally by both Rivals and 247Sports. Nebraska offered Whitt in December and things heated up in late January as Hoiberg visited him on Jan. 29 then hosted him for an official visit that weekend.
Whitt would be a huge recruiting win for Nebraska. He holds 13 high-major offers and has taken recent official visits to Indiana and Virginia Tech as well.
Point guard seems to be a point of emphasis. The Huskers also offered Mayen’s teammate at Chipola, Malik Zachery. The 6-foot-2 point guard is taking a medical redshirt this season and will have three years of eligibility starting next season. Nebraska was his first high-major offer.
Nebraska visited two other 2020 recruits with offers back in January — wing Tibet Görener and shooting guard Kerwin Walton, though I’m not sure where Görener sits on Nebraska’s board and I'm not sure where Nebraska sits in Walton’s hierarchy of suitors, of which there are many.
Since Hoiberg and his staff arrived in Lincoln, they’ve been throwing out some big offers and have even hosted a handful of high-level recruits for visits. To date, however, they haven’t had any success getting those players to commit.
Hoiberg has received commitments from four high school players at Nebraska — Akol Arop, Yvan Ouedraogo, Kevin Cross Jr. and Samari Curtis (who has already left the program and transferred to Evansville) — and all four were 3-star recruits ranked outside the top 150 by 247 Sports. Will the offers to 5-star and high 4-star players ever pay off for Nebraska? The Huskers don’t have any history that would suggest the affirmative, but perhaps Hoiberg and Abdelmassih can set a new standard.
On the other hand, Hoiberg has received commitments from nine transfers (four junior college, three sit-out and two grad transfer), and we know that will continue to be a big part of Nebraska’s recruiting strategy.
The three sit-out transfers and the two junior college commits will dramatically re-shape this roster from both a talent and a body-type standpoint. Dalano Banton and Derrick Walker are both 6-foot-8 while Shamiel Stevenson is a stocky 6-foot-6 with long arms. Allen is a big-bodied 6-foot-5 guard while Mayen is 6-foot-9. Stevenson, Allen and Mayen all project to be good 3-point shooters based on what they’ve done (or are currently doing) at previous stops.
“The one thing that I feel really good about with the three kids sitting out, eventually a class that when it finishes, we’re going to have the size to compete in the Big Ten, we’re going to have the athleticism to play that style of play we want to play, we’re going to have the 3-point shooting to play the way that Coach wants to play, and when you start mixing all that together, that’s when you really start seeing the system in place,” Abdelmassih said. “You’re seeing pockets of it right now with the group.”
If Nebraska can add some high-level high school talent to supplement what they’ve landed on the transfer market, Hoiberg will have a chance to do something special. Whitt would be a great starting point — just like Georges Niang, Matt Thomas and Monte Morris were for Hoiberg at Iowa State.
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.