Sam Griesel spent the first 18 years of his life in Lincoln, growing up as a Cornhusker fan. He watched the games, he attended camps and he cheered on the Huskers.
Now, after a four-year stint in Fargo, North Dakota, the East High graduate is back in Lincoln, once again donning the Husker scarlet and cream. However, this time he’s doing it as a member of the program, not as a fan.
“I’m not going to lie, it took a little bit of an adjustment period, but I’m loving it,” Griesel said about being back home as a Husker. “It’s definitely on a different scale going from a mid-major to a high-major, and just the amount of people in Lincoln that care about Husker sports has been really cool to see. But I’m really enjoying it.”
Griesel was a late riser in high school who received a just a few Summit League offers before choosing North Dakota State. He got better each year in Fargo, capping his Bison career with a first-team all-conference season. He earned this opportunity at Nebraska with hard work, and he had to overcome some major hurtles to get there — most notably a severe health scare early in the 2021-22 season.
“I had a bleeding stomach ulcer last November, and it was kind of a low point of my life,” Griesel said. “Not to get like dramatic, but I wasn’t sure if I was going to see tomorrow. It was a pretty scary situation and just kind of carrying that over to once I got healthy and kind of never taking anything for granted I think really helped me and our team last year just be successful down the stretch. So I plan to, for however long I’m playing basketball or doing anything in life, kind of having that edge and just never taking anything for granted.”
Griesel is battling through another setback right now that has prevented him from getting on the practice floor with his new teammates. He had surgery on March 31 to repair the labrum in his hip, something that has been bothering him for at least two years.
To set him up for both short- and long-term success, Griesel, his family and Fred Hoiberg decided this offseason was the time to address the issue, which means he’s spent the past three months rehabbing instead of building on-court chemistry with the rest of the Huskers.
“It’s definitely a new territory that I haven’t been in in my college career,” Griesel said. “But I’m just taking it day by day. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel right now. Trying to fit in with a new group and going through rehab definitely has its dog days, I guess, but I’m just really focusing on getting to know the guys off the court and developing that relationship and then that’ll carry over, hopefully, in a month or two when I’m back on the on the floor with them.”
Including walk-ons, Nebraska is set to have 10 players in their first or second year of college basketball on the roster this season, and Hoiberg said he’s challenged the veterans on the team to be leaders and sounding boards for the underclassmen, something Griesel has really embraced as he’s searched for ways to make an impact without actually being able to play. Hoiberg mentioned freshman guards Jamarques Lawrence, Ramel Lloyd Jr. and Cale Jacobsen as players that Griesel has taken under his wing.
“When they’re off after they get their rep, you see a guy like Sam who can show them the little things and the little nuances that are involved in the system and the offense,” Hoiberg said. “Sam is watching film right now on the offense and you can already tell he’s got a great feel for what we want to get out of it. So it’s great to see when you have an older veteran type player, and you see the same thing with Emmanuel [Bandoumel], what he’s doing for Jamarques and Ramel, kind of those combo type guard positions. But again, the leadership that Sam is showing is exactly what we heard about Sam and it’s going to pay off. Our young guys are going to look back on this time and know that they were very fortunate to have played with Sam Griesel.”
As a graduate transfer taking advantage of his extra season of eligibility granted by the NCAA in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Griesel will have just one season in a Husker uniform, and he’s looking to make the most of it both on and off the court.
“Obviously, I’m not on the floor, so I’m trying to do whatever I can to be a voice off the floor, especially,” Griesel said. “I think that’s really where the culture is built, at least from what I’ve been around in my time in college. One of my biggest things is being a servant leader, especially in this community and trying to get the guys to come with me to do different things. We have team stuff set up every week, I think, to get out into the community and I think that’s so awesome when you can serve others that really leaves a lasting legacy. That’s my goal, personally, in being here for a year.”
Hoiberg said he appreciates having a player on the team with Griesel’s unique perspective, attachment to the program and winning experience as the Huskers look to take. Step forward from a 10-win season.
“To have a guy that grew up with Nebraska basketball, and to have a guy that used to go to the camps and grew up cheering for the Huskers, and the one thing that impressed me about Sam Griesel when he came on his visit, all he talked about was winning,” Hoiberg said. “He didn’t talk about ‘What’s my role? How many shots am I going to get? How many minutes am I going to play?’ ‘I just want to win and I want to help take Nebraska basketball to where it’s never been before.’ It’s refreshing to hear that. But to have somebody that’s had a passion for this program from a young age makes a huge difference, and that’s that’s what I’ve seen out of Sam and I know it’s going to stay true for the entire season.”
Griesel is counting down the days until he gets cleared for full participation, but until then, he’s doing all he can off he court to prepare his teammates for the upcoming season.
His primary goal for his lone season in Lincoln is simple.
“Ultimately I just want to be — I’ve said it before — but a part of a product out there that the fans can be proud of and that we’re playing hard every possession, don’t take possessions off and just represent this hard working community.”
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.