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Nebraska Basketball

Hoiberg Has Some Roster-Building Ahead, But He's Been There Before

April 3, 2019
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When Fred Hoiberg took over Iowa State following Greg McDermott’s departure, he didn’t have a whole lot coming back to deal with.

In fact, through a combination of early departures, transfers and eligibility expiration, Hoiberg had just three scholarship rotation players returning.

Hoiberg had a lot of work to do in order to even field a team in 2010-11, and that is exactly what he did. He put together a five-man recruiting class including four high school recruits and one junior college transfer. Hoiberg also added six transfers (five sit-out transfers including one walk-on and a graduate transfer) to his roster.

Point guard Diante Garrett was the team’s leading returning scorer at 9.2 points per game, and he flourished under Hoiberg as a senior in 2010-11, turning into a triple-double threat in any given game and leading the team with 17.3 points per game. Sharpshooter Scott Christopherson took a step forward as a junior under Hoiberg and was second at 13.7 points per game, shooting 44.1 percent from 3. Center Jamie Vanderbeken was granted a medical hardship and received one more year of eligibility for Hoiberg’s first season and was a reliable post presence, averaging 11.1 points and 5.5 rebounds.

The only other returner was redshirt freshman walk-on Bubu Palo, an Iowa native who played in all 32 games off the bench and eventually earned a scholarship.

To help smooth the transition, Hoiberg brought in Darion “Jake” Anderson, an immediately eligible graduate transfer from Northern Illinois. The 6-foot-2 guard was a big contributor, averaging 11.2 points and a team-high 7.2 rebounds. The rest of the transfers sat out and formed arguably the best scout team in the country.

DeMarcus Phillips, the junior college guard, played in just eight games before leaving the program.

All four freshmen played right away. Ejim, a skilled 6-foot-6 forward, started 30 games and averaged 10.3 points and 6.7 rebounds. Calvin Godfrey, a 6-foot-8 forward, played in 29 games with five starts, averaging 5.7 points and 5.4 rebounds. Jordan Railey, a 6-foot-10 center, played in 25 games and played 9.0 minutes per game, chipping in 2.0 points and 1.5 rebounds per game. Eric McKnight, a 6-foot-9 forward, appeared in 14 games, totaling just 54 minutes of court time.

Following a 15-17 season in McDermott’s final year, Hoiberg actually coached the team to a slight improvement with a 16-16 record, though the Cyclones only went 3-13 in Big 12 play. Still, that season built the foundation for the four NCAA Tournament runs that followed.

“My first year at Iowa State we took over a team that had four or five scholarship players and there wasn’t a lot of expectations that year but we went out that first season and put together a .500 record, a 16-16 record, which was respectable,” Hoiberg said on Tuesday. “That group was as fun a group as I’ve ever had to coach, it was a group of six guys that we played, with a couple others that played spot minutes. 

“But those guys were great, they bought into what we were trying to do and really set the tone and set a culture for what we wanted everything to look like. Then I had a group of four transfers that sat out that I knew when they became eligible we’d have a chance to be pretty special. And then those next four years we ended up building on that making NCAA tournaments.”

Three of the sit-out transfers—Royce White, Chris Allen and Chris Babb—were among Iowa State’s top five scorers in 2011-12 with Christopherson and Ejim as the other two. McKnight and Godfrey both left the program but Hoiberg brought in another junior college guard, two high school recruits and two sit-out transfers. Hoiberg led that team to 23 wins and a trip to the NCAA Tournament, beating UConn in the first round before falling to top-seeded Kentucky. He led the Cyclones to 51 wins including three in the NCAA Tournament over the next two seasons before leaving for the NBA.

On Tuesday, Hoiberg took the first step toward finding out what he’ll have to work with as he met with the team prior to his introductory press conference.

Nebraska is guaranteed to be without its top three scorers as James Palmer Jr., Isaac Copeland Jr. and Glynn Watson Jr. have all exhausted their eligibility. Tanner Borchardt, the former walk-on who replaced Copeland in the starting lineup after his torn ACL, was a senior as well. Walk-on Johnny Trueblood — the plus/minus star from Nebraska’s late-season run — is set to graduate as well, though he could get a year of eligibility back if he wanted to.

Sophomore guard Thomas Allen Jr., who started 25 games and was fifth on the team in scoring, announced with a Twitter message on Tuesday night that he will be leaving his name in the NCAA Transfer Portal and will not return to Nebraska next season.

Isaiah Roby has entered his name into the 2019 NBA Draft, although he has not signed and agent and could return for his senior year. Roby is a great fit for Hoiberg’s playing style but Nebraska’s new coach likely won’t know Roby’s decision until late May or early June.

Sophomore Nana Akenten was suspended indefinitely after Nebraska’s loss at Michigan State and missed the last six games of the season. Icelandic sophomore Thorir Thorbjarnarson, freshman Brady Heiman out of Platteview and freshman guard Amir Harris all played this year. Freshman Karrington Davis redshirted this season after rupturing his Achilles tendon prior to the season while junior Dachon Burke redshirted as well after transferring from Robert Morris.

That’s where Nebraska’s roster stands at this point — seven players on scholarship pending what happens with Roby or anybody else.

As for the recruiting class, former Coach Tim Miles had three players signed for 2019 in Western Nebraska Community College guard Jervay Green, Omaha Creighton Prep forward Akol Arop and New Hampton (New Hampshire) guard Mika Adams-Woods. None of the players have publicly decommitted at this stage and Hoiberg said he is planning to visit each of them this week to meet in person, hoping to reaffirm their commitments.

After that, Hoiberg needs to fill out the rest of his roster. Assistant coach Matt Abdelmassih has already signed his contract and was at Hoiberg’s introductory press conference on Tuesday. He played a major role in Hoiberg’s recruiting during his time at Iowa State, particularly with the transfers.

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Hoiberg Has Some Roster-Building Ahead, But He's Been There Before

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