That’s how many days Derrick Walker had to go without playing in a college basketball game. That wait finally came to an end on Sunday as the 6-foot-8, 233-pound forward from Kansas City, Missouri, made his debut with the Huskers.
The Huskers fell to Indiana 84-76, but Walker did give fans a glimpse of what he’s going to be able to provide for the Huskers the rest of the season. Walker scored 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting while chipping in three rebounds, two steals, a block and an assist in 26 minutes.
Walker got the start and won the jump ball, but he didn’t even make it to the first media timeout before he needed a sub. Game shape and practice shape are two very different things, and that proved to be the case with Walker. His first stint lasted 3:41, and the only stat he recorded was a steal.
His second stint was just 3:15, and he was credited with two turnovers and a foul before he corralled his first rebound, then on the other end he scored his first bucket as a Husker — a lefty finish on a pick-and-roll feed from Teddy Allen. On the next possession, Walker set another screen and rolled hard again, and it created space for Allen to rise up and knock down a 3.
“After not being able to play for two years, my first thought was just to catch my first wind and just play my game,” Walker said.
Walker checked in at the five-minute mark and played the rest of the first half. Then he played the first 7:42 of the second half before taking a seat. He checked back in at the 6:16 mark and played the rest of the game.
Walker certainly showed some rust, and the chemistry with his teammates is still a work of progress as the turnovers weren’t entirely on him, but he also showed a nice touch around the basket and scored on a roll, a seal and a post-up. The 26 minutes were a career high, and the 10 points tied his career high as well.
“I thought Derrick was phenomenal,” Coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I thought he did a really good job around the basket. He had good, hard rim rolls.”
As if playing for the first time in nearly two years wasn’t already tough enough, Walker also got to make his debut against one of the best big men in the conference in Indiana sophomore Trayce Jackson-Davis. The 6-foot-9, 245-pound forward was averaging 20.5 points and 9.2 rebounds heading into Sunday’s game and had put up 54 points and 34 rebounds in two games against the huskers as a freshman.
“My biggest thing coming into the game was play hard, know my job, know my assignment and play hard, do what the scouting report told me to do,” Walker said. “He’s a really good kid. Early on I had to work a little bit harder, but as the game settled down it became slower to me and I got into a little bit of a rhythm so I was able to guard him. He’s a big, physical kid. It was just a fun time to get to match up with one of the types of players for your first game.”
Through a combination of the effort from Walker and Nebraska’s other big men and aggressive double-teaming schemes, the Huskers held Jackson-Davis in check most of the game. He didn’t make a field goal in the first half and finished with 15 points on 3-of-8 from the field and 9-of-14 from the foul line in 38 minutes.
Walker got the start in large part because sophomore Yvan Ouedraogo, who had started at the five in Nebraska’s first four conference games, was not with the team on Sunday. Hoiberg said on Saturday that the Huskers would be without one player following test results, and after the game, without offering any details, he said they would be without Ouedraogo for an extended period.
The 6-foot-9 sophomore’s absence leaves Nebraska light in the frontcourt. Freshman Eduardo Andre is still trying to catch up after his own absence earlier in the season and played just two minutes against the Hoosiers, and 26 minutes was about all Hoiberg could get out of Walker in his first game back. That left 12 minutes at the five to fill, and 6-foot-6 junior Shamiel Stevenson stepped up.
Stevenson played 14 minutes and scored six points in the blowout loss to Ohio State, but in Nebraska’s other three conference games he had played just 10 total minutes and did not score. Against Indiana, Stevenson played 14 total minutes — most of which came at the five — and scored seven points on 2-of-4 from the field and 3-of-4 from the free-throw line. He provided a big spark in the first half after the Huskers had fallen behind by 18 early and the Huskers finished plus-4 with him on the court.
“We’re going to have to play some makeshift lineups right now with Yvan out and as Derrick works his way back into shape,” Hoiberg said. “But I thought Shamiel really battled Trayce Jackson-Davis. I thought he was out there fronting him and we did a good job with our back side in weak side help. But we have to find a way to clean up the glass.”
Walker and Stevenson combined for four rebounds in 40 minutes of playing time, and the perimeter players didn’t provide a ton of help with plenty of missed box-out opportunities. Indiana grabbed 12 offensive boards and outscored Nebraska 16-3 in second-chance points.
Ouedraogo will likely be out a minimum of 17 days dating back to last Monday, a period that includes at least three more games. For that reason, Walker’s return could not have come at a better time.
However, the Huskers will need others to step up as well and Hoiberg is going to have to get creative with his lineups, which could open the door for Stevenson to get back in the rotation moving forward.
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.