Basketball season is fast approaching. The NBA is midway through its preseason and college basketball teams across the country are in the midst of their preseason practices.
On Thursday, Greg Smith wrote about the importance of recruiting multi-sport athletes for Nebraska’s football coaching staff, and this roster is loaded with former hoopers. The last couple of years, I’ve highlighted that fact by assembling a basketball team from the players on the football roster.
With a new wave of potential draftees joining the team this year, it’s time to reevaluate my team and add some new blood.
I’m sticking with the same core of guards I picked last year.
Noah Vedral very well might be QB1 for the football team on Saturday with Adrian Martinez’s status up in the air, but he’s for sure my starting point guard on the hardwood. Offensive line coach Greg Austin called Vedral the “ultimate competitor” this week, and I can back that up.
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 steals.
The athleticism and instincts that make him a good dual-threat quarterback also made him a menace at the point of attack defensively as well as a capable scorer and floor general on he other end.
Behind Vedral is the other hero of Nebraska’s 13-10 win against Northwestern last weekend, Lane McCallum. His game-winning field goal against the Wildcats wasn’t the first time he’s come up big in the clutch. McCallum led the Norfolk Panthers to a Class A state title on the basketball court during his senior year.
"I played basketball with him since like seventh, eighth grade,” Vedral said after the Northwestern win. “We played on Bison. We played against each other in summer leagues. Before I knew him as Lane he was the left-handed shooter from Norfolk that bombed us. I've known that for a while.”
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 with 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 pure bucket-getter at shooting guard. 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.
Behind Banker is Phalen Sanford, a walk-on out of Dundy County-Stratton High School who spent his freshman year at Hastings but transferred to Nebraska to walk on this past summer. He’s a 6-foot, 190-pound corner who put up some ridiculous numbers during his hooping days.
As a senior, Sanford averaged 21.2 points, 6.4 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 2.5 steals and 1.0 block per game on solid shooting percentages. He cracked 20 points 15 times that season with a high of 13 and had a pair of double-doubles. He was a significant contributor all four years and a double-digit scorer from his sophomore year on. Sanford is also on the track team at Nebraska, which shows what kind of athlete he is.
Finally, to add a little height and length on the wing, I’ll round my backcourt out with redshirt freshman cornerback Braxton Clark. The Florida native is listed at 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds and has the athleticism to stick with receivers down the field. I reached out to a former AAU teammate who is currently playing college basketball, and he said Clark was always a good player growing up. He apparently played for Shaquille O’Neal’s team and got a chance to practice at O’Neal’s house, so the stories alone are worth having him on my squad.
Adrian Martinez and Simon Otte were on my team last year, and they easily could make the cut again, but I wanted to mix things up a bit.
Luke Gifford was a big part of last year’s team, but he’s gone now. Nebraska has no shortage of frontcourt options even without him, though, especially with the 2019 recruiting class.
When we’re talking basketball players, senior outside linebacker Alex Davis is always one of the first names to come to mind, and with good reason. He’s starting in one of my frontcourt spots. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound product of Dwyer High School in Riviera Beach, Florida, focused on basketball throughout much of his time in high school and didn’t even pick up football until his senior year. He stuck with hoops that year, however, and 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.
In the middle is Austin Allen, the 6-foot-8, 250-pound tight end from Aurora. 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 slide his feet 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. He also played summer ball with Vedral and McCallum for years with NBDA Bison.
Redshirt freshman inside linebacker Joseph Johnson is versatile enough to play either the three or the four on this team. The 6-foot-3, 240-pound Gretna product 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 can 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.
Vedral told me none of the newcomers have gotten in the gym with him and some of the other Nebraska natives yet, so he doesn’t have a great feel yet for who the true hoopers are. But there are a lot of other options to fill out the frontcourt.
Based on what I’ve read, it seems like freshman outside linebacker Jamin Graham was a really good high school player. The 6-foot-4, 240-pound Alabama native was a double-double guy his senior year of high school, averaging 11 points and 10 rebounds on his way to All-Messenger Player of the Year honors. His numbers were even better as a junior as he put up 13 points, 11 boards and three blocks per game and earned All-Etowah County Player of the Year by the Gadsen Times. Graham adds some length to the power forward spot.
I could go any number of directions with this last spot — freshman walk-on wide receiver Austin Jablonski from Lincoln Pius X, freshman center Ethan Piper from Norfolk Catholic, freshman inside linebacker Garrett Snodgrass from York, freshman defensive end Mosai Newsom from Waverley-Shell Rock (Iowa) and a handful of others were all standout basketball players in high school.
However, I’ll finish things off with a guy who didn’t even play basketball his senior year of high school: freshman tight end Chris Hickman. He chose to enroll at Nebraska early, which took basketball off the table for him, but he had a strong junior season for Omaha Burke.
At 6-foot-6 and 215 pounds, Hickman wasn’t the most skilled player offensively, though he was a good passer. However, he was a dynamic defensive player who really disrupted what teams tried to do in the paint. As a junior, he put up 5.9 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.8 blocks and 1.6 seals per game.
So there it is, my 2019 All-Hoopers Team from Nebraska’s football roster. It’s got size, length, athleticism, just enough skill and, most importantly, a whole lot of competitiveness. I wouldn’t want to run into that team during intramurals or pick-up games on campus at Nebraska.
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.