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Relationships, Trust Key as Huskers Continue to Build

March 26, 2020

The Nebrasketball squad that takes the floor at Pinnacle Bank Arena next season is going to look very different than the one that walked off of it after the 2019-20 senior day loss to Michigan.

Two players have already entered the transfer portal and one has declared for the NBA Draft. The coaching staff has been working the phones to flip the roster once again, securing commitments from two new transfers to add to the previously committed junior college transfers and the three transfer who redshirted this season. And they’re not done yet.

Matt Abdelmassih, the assistant coach and lead recruiter for Fred Hoiberg, joined the Nebraska Men’s Basketball Show on Sports Nightly during in late February and talked about his recruiting philosophy.

“My whole mindset with recruiting is it’s 365 days,” Abdelmassih said. “There are names that come across literally every day for me, especially being extremely active and aggressive in the transfer market, and that’s never going to stop. If it makes sense for Nebraska, if it makes sense for our program, we’re always going to turn over every rock and see where it takes us. I know for me and for Coach, we’re unbelievably encouraged about what we can add and finish off what can be a great class.”

Teddy Allen, a wing from Western Nebraska Community College, and Lat Mayen, a forward from Chipola College, committed during the season, as did Kobe King, a shooting guard from Wisconsin that will seek a waiver for immediate eligibility. After the season, the Huskers secured a commitment from point guard Kobe Webster, a grad transfer from Western Illinois.

Nebraska currently has one open scholarship for 2020-21, and if Mack says in the draft or transfers elsewhere the count will increase to two. The Huskers still have offers out to a few high school prospects, but they’ve also reached out to several other transfers including four that have yet to make decisions: Pittsburgh combo-guard Trey McGowens, Virginia Tech wing Landers Nolley II, Ohio State point guard DJ Carton and Illinois wing Alan Griffin. Griffin is the newest name to hit Nebraska’s radar, but he’s not likely to be the last.

Since Hoiberg landed in Lincoln, Nebraska has recruited players from all over the country and from every level. Abdelmassih said there isn’t any one method for how he identifies a potential recruit, transfer or otherwise.

“It’s trust, it’s seeing a kid, evaluating him, knowing what you want — I think that’s very important,” Abdelmassih said. “You have to know what you’re looking for. You can’t go into another lane and divert from that plan. I knew this first year when you’re building, and year two will be very similar, recruiting is so essential.”

The coaching staff is clearly still trying to get its footing in the Big Ten. Hoiberg and Abdelmassih flipped the roster immediately upon arrival and they are in the process of partially flipping it again. If the players aren’t quite fitting in and producing on the court, the coaches aren’t going to by afraid to recruit over them. The being said, I think the degree of roster turnover to this point is a reflection of where they are it in terms of building up this program. They’re not going recruit all transfers forever; high school recruiting and development was an important part of what Hoiberg built at Iowa State too. 

But after a seven-win season, Hoiberg needs to find players ready to make an impact immediately. Thus the emphasis on junior college players and other transfers with experience. Abdelmassih continued to explain his process for finding players, the process that led to Allen and Mayen and King and Webster choosing Nebraska.

“I have a couple people that I really trust, that I know that we speak the same language and they know what we’re trying to build, what type of player that we like,” Abdelmassih said. “Typically I would call those trusted people and ask them how the kid fits. But a lot of it I just trust my eye, I trust my judgment. If it’s serious, I’ll tell Fred and make sure he signs off on it and then kind of just go form there and get to work. A lot of it is we’re fortunate enough that being in the transfer game as strong as I am, Synergy is phenomenal. There’s so much video out there and information out there on these kids. You have to go with your won gut. You can’t listen to other people. You have to trust that it’s going to work out.”

Any time you see Nebraska involved with a recruit, Abdelmassih is likely the point of contact. The rest of the staff puts in work on the trail as well, but Abdelmassih is a recruiting specialist who has brought a lot of talented players into Hoiberg’s programs over the years. He’s got a knack for connecting with recruits.

“The relationships are literally everything,” Abdelmassih said. “I know that’s a very over-used thing, but it is. It doesn’t matter if you’re whatever profession you are, relationships are vital to having any type of success. The only way that relationships grow to me is showing you care, and in order to sow you care you have to be there and show it. Not doing it over phone, FaceTime, any of that; you have to be there in person. That requires a lot. I recruit literally coast to coast, so it’s not like I have one spot that I just go to … 

“There’s no exact science to it either. To me, what makes you successful in recruiting is just trying to be yourself and don’t step out of that. I’ve been successful swinging in my strike zone and not swinging outside of it. Know what you can get, be realistic, and I feel like my strike zone has only gotten bigger as I’ve gone through my career and being involved with the kids I’m involved with.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly altered the stretch run of this 2020 recruiting cycle dramatically. Abdelmassih said you can’t do it just over the phone, but right now that’s the only avenue available to him with the emergency dead period and limited travel across the country. Abdelmassih and Hoiberg can’t sit down in players’ living rooms and the players can’t check out Nebraska’s campus. 

That’s why Abdelmassih’s ability to develop those relationships and Hoiberg’s reputation as a successful coach with NBA ties and experience are more important now than every before as they seek to put together a team that compete in the Big Ten moving forward.

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