A team comprised of 13 new players and an almost entirely new coaching staff introduced itself to Pinnacle Bank Arena Friday night with a scrimmage that was more defenseless All-Star game than an actual peek into what they’ll be when the season tips off. Rick Ross got on stage after, told everyone he was a boss, then invited both the men’s and women’s teams up to join him.
Right down to the opening intros, The Opening Night was about one thing: personality. If nothing else, Fred Hoiberg’s Nebraska basketball squad is going to be wildly entertaining because oh lord this bunch is overflowing with personality.
Those opening intros were a lot of Husker nation’s first interaction with this new Nebrasketball squad. Each player picked his walk-out music. Everyone strolled across the stage Ross would later occupy. Some were better than others.
If you’re here looking for actual observations from what happened on the court, you’re in the wrong spot. Read Jacob Padilla’s recap of the thing we were all technically there for.
I’m not here to talk hoops. I’m here to tell you who had the best intro.
Just Missed the Cut: the Walk-Ons, the Freshman and the Tennessee Guy
Nebraska’s walk-on program is not about flash. It’s about heart, hustle and determination. I think the Huskers’ three walk-ons took that a little too much to heart with this one.
Bret Porter, a 6-foot-6 freshman forward from Omaha, Nebraska, looked as though he didn’t want to be on the stage, exiting almost as quickly as he got up there. Charlie Easley, a 6-foot-2 freshman guard from Lincoln bathed in the spotlight a little, but there was very little pomp; he walked to the edge of the stage, crossed his arms and then acknowledged the group of students screaming very loud things right into my left ear. (This had no bearing on his ranking.) Jace Piatkowski. . . well I honestly don’t remember what he did so it can’t have been good enough for a top 10. Apologies to the Husker legacy.
Kevin Cross, a freshman forward from Little Rock, Arkansas, just walked out, waved to the crowd and made his way onto the court. I can appreciate the “Keep it simple” approach of the newcomer, but that doesn’t get you any style points in a ranking like this, does it?
Yvan Ouedraogo, a 17-year-old forward who looks like he’s already been in football strength coach Zach Duval’s weight room for 35 months, came out with a French flag (he’s from Bordeaux) draped over his back, which was cool, but I don’t have video of it, which is not as cool.
Finally, Derrick Walker, a 6-foot-8 junior forward from Tennessee, just came out and walked straight to the court. Walker is. . . looks around, shrugs shoulders, secretly hopes to ignite a dunk contest. . . Nebraska’s best dunker, so he’s got plenty of flare. I saw it. Just not in his intro. He should have just run out onto the court and immediately dunked a ball. That would have worked. Now I’m wishing that’s what he had done. Next time.
No. 10: Cam Mack
Lots of phones. Lots of selfies. Mack, the 6-foot-2 guard who came to Nebraska as the No. 3 overall junior college prospect last cycle, was not the first to come out with his phone. He was later. Which drops him in the ranking.
No. 9: Dachon Burke Jr.
The song selection was good. It matches the personality well in this case. And Burke has some moves, both on a dance floor and a basketball court (he looked really smooth with the ball in his hands; sorry, one basketball observation). But, again, his was built around the selfie, and he wasn’t the first guy to do it.
No. 8: Dalano Banton
(A Western Kentucky transfer, Banton is maybe the longest wing player I’ve seen in a while. It helps here that he’s really pretty slim, so perception just makes him look even longer.)
Banton opened with a dance, then pulled out his phone and almost bit the dust walking off the stage. But he didn’t. The last thing you can do in an introduction is fall.
No. 7: Shamiel Stevenson
Now, I don’t know if he actually said anything or not, but Stevenson got some facetime with a few of Nebraska’s cheerleaders. Shoot your shot. Always shoot your shot.
No. 6: Samari Curtis
The first guy to take out his phone. That’s why he’s up here. Sorry, Cam. That phrase about the bird and the worm and being early is a thing for a reason. The freshman from Ohio has a bouncy personality and is just one of those guys you know talks just so much junk when the undersized kid who played for three years in high school but quit to “focus on academics” tries to check him in a pick-up game.
No. 5: Matej Kavas
Matej Kavas is 6-foot-8, shoots a lot of 3s, makes a good amount of them, has a silent letter in his name which instantly makes him cooler, comes from a place in Slovenia that I don’t even know how to begin to try and pronounce, and wants you to make some noise.
He will not leave the stage until the noise is made.
I actually love that his first introduction to Husker fans is telling them they’re not giving him enough love. And he hit the drop.
No. 4: Haanif Cheatham
Cheatham, a 6-foot-6 senior guard who has played college ball at Marquette and Florida Gulf Coast, was very excited to be in PBA. Stopping to pose for the cameras is a baller move.
No. 3: Thorir Thorbjarnarson
The one who stayed.
The Iceland native got maybe the loudest reception of any player from Husker fans. Probably because he stayed. Or because his presence on the team means we may get another season of his teammates eating weird Icelandic food while Thorbjarnarson laughs at them. Or because we get to use “God of Thunder” gifs still.
Regardless, Thorbjarnarson soaked that all up. A kiss to the crowd? A little smirk at the end? He knows you love him. And now that Johnny Trueblood is gone, he can become Mr. Plus-Minus.
No. 2: Akol Arop
Honestly, this was a two-man race. You can rank three through 10 any way you choose. Akol Arop, a freshman forward from Creighton Prep in Omaha, and Jervay Green, another JUCO guard from Western Nebraska C.C., are in a league of their own.
Arop came out and made every Nebraska fan forget he used to wear Bluejay colors.
If you’re going to do The Carleton, you have to nail it. I think Arop nailed it.
No. 1: Jervay Green
The only reason Arop is not No. 1 is it feels icky to not give Green the top spot. I mean, come on. Whitney Houston’s “I Want to Dance with Somebody” while fanning yourself at the exact moment she sings “I want to feel the heat with somebody?” Green deserves to be the fan-favorite immediately. His smile was bigger than Scott Frost’s new football facility. The dude proclaimed himself the best dancer on the team and then backed it all the way up.
Now if we can just get everyone to try a little harder on defense. I probably could have scored tonight and my knee gave out just walking up the steps to get to press row.
Bonus: Anyone Know what Fred was Doing?
Fred Hoiberg did a video thing with Larry the Cable Guy before the came out onto the court. I don’t know what they were saying, but at one point, Hoiberg hit a golf ball at Doc Sadler’s stomach and then ran away. All while wearing a piece of headgear I don’t even know how to begin to describe.
Welcome to the new Nebraska basketball.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.