LINCOLN, Neb. – Basketball practice officially began on Monday for Nebraska, and on Wednesday Coach Tim Miles met with the media to discuss the outlook for his team as they prepare for a new season.
“As always, the blatant optimism of Husker basketball is here to stay and we’re excited about our team,” Miles said. “I really like this team’s togetherness, I like our size, quickness, length. There are a lot of things to like about them. There are some things that concern me, obviously, going into the year that we have to get organized with offensive execution, defensive errors. I think we made some schematic changes to try and defend better.
“Two years in a row we were a top 25 team in the country defensively and last year that slipped. We were better offensively last year, but with Andrew White transferring and then two leaders like Shavon Shields and Benny Parker going, you lost a lot of leadership and a lot of scoring, so obviously we have to replace that with some young people. Seven of our top nine guys are going to be newcomers or freshmen and sophomores. I like the talent and I like where we’re going.”
Miles offered an update for the two players who have not been cleared for full practice participation, junior guard Anton Gill and freshman forward Isaiah Roby.
“Anton Gill I would say is a couple weeks out from practicing and Isaiah might be a month out from practicing,” Miles said. “Anton had a procedure done on his knee that is more difficult than I can explain but basically was a preventative measure to take care of some chronic tendinitis … Isaiah had complained about a sore hip for months before he even got here. We found out that was a stress reaction in his pelvis area, which is obviously a huge bone and it takes a long time to heal. The only way to heal it is by not doing anything which drives him crazy. Yesterday I’m proud to report it actually looked like he was blushing; he did enough of a workout where his complexion went to a little rosy.”
Having to sit out will likely set back Roby, the team’s highest-regarded recruit, but Miles expects both to be ready when the season begins and sees both playing a big role this year.
“I’m confident that Anton will be ready,” Miles said. “He’s kind of a grumpy guy right now [because he can’t practice]; if you talk to him he’s just a growly guy. Isaiah, when he was practicing even injured, he was, I thought, one of our better players out there. I really think his future is bright. I don’t know when he’ll be ready ready, but I don’t care; I’m going to put him out there [when he’s] healthy.”
Another freshman who will see significant playing time early is 6-foot-11, 275-pound center Jordy Tshimanga. There will be some bumps along the road, especially early on, but Miles plans to throw Tshimanga into the fire and play him for as long as he can stay on the floor.
“He’s going to play,” Miles said. “I didn’t recruit him to do anything slow. I think when you look at things, one, he wants that challenge, and two, I trust him.”
Miles said he’s also excited about the team’s third freshman, 6-foot-7 small forward Jeriah Horne, but that he still has some work to do as he transitions from playing in the frontcourt in high school to the wing in college.
“You look at him, and you see out here he’s a perimeter guy,” Miles said. “There’s no way he’s playing inside with these guys. Jeriah’s got great skill. He shoots it, he passes it well, he’s competitive like crazy. He’ll go get beat on defense and you’re like, ‘aw, that kid,’ and then come down and absolutely make a 3 with someone climbing all over him. He’s got that heart of a competitor which is what we fell in love with in AAU basketball and his high school team, too. As he just learns to guard, and he’s changed his body but his conditioning’s not where it should be – that will get better. Some of these guys are going to play right away and some of these guys you’re going to see their role grow as time wears on.”
The team will have seven freshmen and sophomores and two transfers this year, and with games against the likes of Kansas, Creighton, Dayton and Clemson among others during the nonconference portion of the slate, the Huskers will have to grow up fast.
“The problem with a young team is our schedule,” Miles said. “It’s an elephant. We built it thinking this was going to be our strongest most complete team. It was when I put it together. Now we’re minus some outside shooting. It was still going to be a huge challenge, but it might be a bigger mountain to climb. But here’s the thing about basketball. You go in thinking one thing and oftentimes what you think in October is not what you are in January. That doesn’t mean we can’t get it done. A schedule like this provides tremendous opportunity.
“There are teams out there every year that I laugh about that you’ll see coaches say I didn’t know if we’d get eighth in the league and they get second in the league. You can say the same about the Huskers in 2014. Nobody thought we were going to be anything. We were picked 12th and we got fourth and made the NCAA [Tournament]. You just never know how it’s going to come together. And then the next year, we had one fall apart. It can go both directions. What I’m excited about with this team is we seem as on the same page as any team we’ve had.”
Miles said that even at this early stage, the team’s chemistry has been apparent.
“I asked them what they wanted our team motto to be … I didn’t give them any options of any kind,” Miles said. “I think it was ‘Us Always’ or ‘Together’ was probably three-quarters of the votes.
“One of them I thought was great – it was Jack McVeigh – he said ‘Win.’ I said ‘That’s a hell of an idea, Jack.’”
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.