In honor of college basketball practice starting up this week, this seemed like a perfect time to marry my two favorite sports — basketball and football — into one column.
College coaches have long sung the praises of the multi-sport athlete, and there are many such athletes on the Nebraska football roster including several hoopers. If one were to form a basketball roster from the members of the football team, what would that squad look like? Allow me to take a shot at it.
There are quite a few players on this team that played high school basketball in this state at a high level, and as someone who has covered high school basketball in Nebraska for years, I’m very familiar with their games. But my list isn’t limited strictly to those guys; a couple of out-of-state guys made the roster as well.
Without further ado, here’s who I’d pick for my squad.
My point guard is going to be Noah Vedral, the 6-foot-1 quarterback who followed Scott Frost from Central Florida to Lincoln and is redshirting this season.
During his four varsity seasons at Wahoo Neumann, the Cavaliers went 98-16 (.860) with three state championships. Vedral was the heart of those teams as a fierce competitor that always stepped his game up in the biggest moments. As a senior, he averaged 13.6 points, 3.0 assists and 2.5 assists.
He was one of the better defenders at the point of attack I’ve seen and was also a skilled scorer, not to mention a terrific athlete. Had he not been such a good quarterback, Vedral very well might have developed into a Division I caliber point guard.
Behind him is Lane McCallum, a walk-on safety who transferred to Nebraska after spending his freshman year redshirting at Army. McCallum is a versatile athlete at 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds who did a bit of everything on the football field for Norfolk (including handling field goals and extra points) but he also led the Panthers to the Class A state championship in basketball as a senior.
McCallum was a four-year varsity letter-winner at Norfolk. As a senior, he averaged 9.0 points, 4.8 assists and 4.1 rebounds while sliding over to the point after playing off the ball his first three years and he put up a season-high 18 points in the championship game against Papillion-La Vista. McCallum is a hard-nosed guard and a good athlete who competes on both ends of the floor.
Walk-on Christian Banker, a 6-foot-1, 190-pound wide receiver out of Omaha Skutt, is starting for my squad. He was a three-year letter-winner for the SkyHawks who played a key role off the bench for a Skutt team that made it to the Class B semifinals his junior year then developed into the team’s go-to scorer as a senior.
Banker is a strong southpaw who can get to the rim at will and has terrific finishing touch with his strong hand. He’s a terrific athlete who is tough to stop in the open floor.
I personally haven’t seen this next guy play in person, but he warrants inclusion on this list based on what I’ve heard. I’m rolling with freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez as one of my guards.
The 6-foot-2, 220-pound product of Clovis West High School in Fresno, California missed his senior football season because of a torn labrum he suffered playing basketball as a junior. According to Martinez, he dislocated the shoulder — which he had already injured playing football — late in the game, but told the coaches he was fine to go back in because the game was going down to the wire. On the next play, he hurt it again and that was it. That’s the kind of toughness and competitiveness I want on my team.
From what little tape I was able to find of him on the court, Martinez’s athleticism definitely translated to basketball and he showed solid vision as a passer as well. Based on this tweet from the summer, it seems like he hasn’t hung up his basketball shoes quite yet.
I’ll round out my backcourt with another walk-on at Nebraska in 6-foot-1, 205-pound linebacker Simon Otte out of York. Otte was never the most skilled player in high school as he averaged less than four points per game despite being a four-year varsity player for the Dukes, but he did all the little things that it takes to win.
Otte was a hard-nosed defender who changed games by locking down the opponent’s leading scorer and getting steals and deflections that led to fast breaks. He played a key part on York’s 2018 Class B state title team.
I like versatility on my basketball roster, and these next two guys certainly bring that.
Forty pounds and five years ago, senior linebacker and co-captain Luke Gifford was a standout multi-sport athlete at Lincoln Southeast who helped lead the Knights to the Class A state tournament in 2014 (fellow co-captain and left guard Jerald Foster was also on that team and set some of the meanest screens I’ve ever seen).
As a senior, Gifford averaged 13.6 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.1 assists for a 20-6 team. Gifford has bulked up significantly since those days, but I do know he dusted off the basketball shoes a few years ago to have some fun at the Metro Basketball Summer League in Omaha.
Next up is another freshman walk-on in Gretna product Joseph Johnson. The 6-foot-3, 235-pound linebacker was a four-year letter-winner and two-year starter on the basketball court for the Dragons.
As a senior, Johnson led the team with 11.8 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.7 assists as Gretna made it to the Class B semifinals. As a junior, he put up 7.7 points and 4.0 rebounds and hit the game-winning 3-pointer in the Class B championship game against Scottsbluff. Johnson is a versatile forward who could both shoot from the perimeter and barrel his way to the rim for buckets in the paint as well as set up teammates for open looks.
Finally, you need some size to survive on the basketball court and Nebraska has a few guys that fit the bill on its roster.
First up is redshirt freshman tight end Austin Allen. At 6-foot-8, Allen has added significant weight to his frame since his high school days at Aurora that should only allow him to hold his ground on the block even more.
Prior to earning a football offer from Nebraska, Allen was drawing quite a bit of Division I interest on the basketball court. He is light on his feet for his size with the ability to run the court well and move well in the half court defensively. He’s a terrific passer for a big man who could also score when he needed to.
As a senior, Allen helped lead the Huskies to a 25-2 record while averaging 10.6 points, 7.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 2.4 steals and 2.0 blocks.
Similarly, junior outside linebacker Alex Davis looked to be headed for a college career in basketball before picking up football as a senior in high school. The 6-foot-5, 255-pounder played three seasons on varsity basketball at Dwyer High School in Riviera Beach, Florida.
Davis put up 12.3 points and 7.0 rebounds per game as a senior while leading Dwyer to a 25-5 record and a district title.
So there you have it, my nine-man basketball roster selected from Nebraska’s 2018 football roster.
Guards: Noah Vedral, Lane McCallum, Christian Banker, Adrian Martinez
Forwards: Luke Gifford, Joseph Johnson
Centers: Austin Allen, Alex Davis
Then of course, you’d have me on the sideline coaching.
The roster is a little light on perimeter shooting for my liking, but this is a team that can really get after it defensively with guys like Vedral and McCallum at the point of attack and Allen protecting the paint. Most of the guys on this roster are good passers as well which should allow for a lot of creativity on offense and there are several guys that can go get a bucket when they need to.
Good luck beating this squad.
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.