Photo by John S. Peterson
Nebraska Football

Recruiting Wins, Football Controversies, and Transfer Hits

April 5, 2020
6,584

For the weekly column space, here are three thoughts on three different sports. Hopefully it’s a solid triple. I’ll try and hit for the cycle next week. 

(Does a baseball metaphor count as a fourth sport?)

NeBrAsKa CaN’t ReCrUiT

Fred Hoiberg is pretty good at this whole recruiting thing.

Jervay Green, Dachon Burke and Cam Mack have all left Nebraska this offseason. Those three began the season as Nebraska’s starting guards. Even if the Huskers had a full complement of bigs on the roster, it would have been a safe bet to make that those three would all have been amongst the team leaders in minutes.

Acknowledging their collective and individual disappointments this season, all three were viewed as major recruiting wins for Hoiberg in his first year at Nebraska. He convinced Burke to stick it out with the Huskers. He convinced Green to join the Huskers. He convinced Mack to come to Lincoln after Mack initially said he wasn’t coming. The latter two were the top two JUCO guards on the market.

Hoiberg has done just as well, if not better, in pivoting off of the disaster that was 2019. Rebuilding year, yes, but Mack was suspended or disciplined multiple times for off-court incidents and Green struggled mightily to find his game alongside his new Husker teammates.

Still, Hoiberg has lined up reinforcements in Teddy Allen, another top-ranked JUCO prospect, Western Illinois grad transfer point guard Kobe Webster, Wisconsin transfer guard Kobe King, and now Pitt transfer guard Terry McGowans III.

Year-to-year turnover is to be expected in college basketball, as Hoiberg has to build squads while Scott Frost has to try and build teams, but your program isn’t defined by the guys you lose. Hoiberg’s tenure will be defined in part by the talent he can acquire. 

Off to a strong start.

“Due to his size and strength and physicality, his ability to score on the block, score middle game and knock down 3s, he’s really difficult to compare to anybody we’ve seen at this level,” Western Nebraska coach Cory Fehringer told Hail Varsity’s Jacob Padilla. “Several coaches in the Region IX who have been around for a decade-plus would say that Teddy’s the best player that they’ve seen in this league in their history.”

Allen averaged 30 a game last season while shooting 51% from the field, 37% from deep, and 88% from the foul line.

Hoiberg earned his commitment in mid-December, and held strong with the guard throughout the worst losing streak in Nebraska program history.

He nabbed a double-digit scorer from a conference, hell, a division foe, in King.

He shored up the backcourt with Webster, a guard who was relied on heavily before Nebraska and may find a more suitable role in Lincoln, because, don’t forget, Hoiberg convinced 6-foot-9 super-freak-guard Dalano Banton to bring his talents from Western Kentucky to Lincoln. Webster’s a good-not-great creator of offense at Western Illinois, and should be able to serve as a more complementary piece on the 2020 Nebraska team.

Now to McGowan. The 6-foot-4, 190-pound guard will sit one season (barring the passage of the NCAA’s one-time free transfer proposal) to play two at Nebraska after starting 64 of his 66 games at Pitt. He made an immediate impact as a freshman, averaging nearly 12 points, three boards and two steals a game. As a sophomore, his usage upped but his turnovers largely remained the same and his assists doubled. McGowans was highly coveted on the transfer market. This is another win for the Huskers.

With the work Scott Frost has done on the recruiting trail in his first three cycles in Lincoln, and the work Hoiberg and assistants Matt Abdelmassih and Armon Gates are doing now, it may be time to put to bed the adage Nebraska can’t recruit.

The detractors for the program say the football world passed Nebraska by and the basketball program won’t ever be able to get off the ground. All the elite talent now lives in the south and Nebraska can’t line up corn-fed boys from the rural part of the state and out-muscle anyone anymore.

That argument feels like it’s the outdated one now. Those same people fail to acknowledge Nebraska has all the competitive advantages a program needs in a modern world—facilities, fan support, and coaching. Nebraska is visible. Social media makes any market accessible, and Nebraska is leading the charge to weaponize that tool for the student-athlete. Hoiberg is attractive.

The guy has simply had no issue getting the players he identifies to pull the trigger.

American Exceptionalism

Boy did Dabo Swinney put his foot in his mouth.

He probably doesn’t feel that way. Why would he? The Clemson head coach didn’t much care when he said he’d quit coaching if his players started earning paychecks; Swinney is the kind of character who doesn’t give a gosh darn what the Twitter folks think.

So he had no qualms when it came to expressing his belief the college football season will start on time because America is the greatest country in the universe and if we can put a man on the moon we can kick this COVID-19 pandemic in the teeth.

Here’s the quote that ignited college football’s viewing public, if you’ve missed it:

“My preference is let's get to work and let's go play. That's the best-case scenario and I think that's what's going to happen. I don't have any doubt... I mean I have zero doubt that we're going to be playing. The stands are going to be packed and the Valley is going to be rocking. zero doubt. That's the only thought I have, right there. All that rest of the stuff, I don't think about any of that. … I mean, this is America man. We've stormed the beaches of Normandy, we've sent a car that drives around Mars, we've walked on the moon. This is the greatest country and the greatest people in the history of the planet. We've created an iPhone where I can sit here and talk to all you people in all these different places. We got the smartest people in the world. Listen, we're going to rise up and we're gonna kick this thing right in the teeth and we'll get back to our lives.”

And Swinney got hammered. Maybe you, valued reader, cared about what a college football coach on the other side of the country had to say about a medical issue. Maybe you didn’t.

The politics of Swinney’s assertions are what they are, and those don’t matter one bit. Call it faith, call it blind optimism, or call it burying one’s head in the sand. The fact of the matter is Swinney’s thoughts are irrelevant on the subject.

Swinney isn’t going to be making the call on whether his football team plays or not, so Swinney thinking they should has little consequence.

The decision will be made for him, not by him. His university president is going to make the decision to allow students back on campus. Local health and safety officials (or national) will decide whether that many people can congregate at one time. The only kind of decision the coach is going to make is whether he wants to pull his star quarterback in the fourth quarter of another ACC blowout or not.

Is it disappointing from a leader with such strong influence? Sure. Swinney’s comments are in stark contrast to all the coaches around the country cutting PSA’s urging people to follow public health directives.

But each time I feel myself getting worked up over them, I picture the Grandpa Simpson meme.

A Hit

Leigha Brown is leaving Nebraska to get closer to her home in Auburn, Indiana.

She’s transferring to Michigan.

Nebraska women’s basketball has lost three soon-to-be juniors in the last two weeks to transfer. Ashtyn Veerbeek, a season-long starter in 2019, is going to Dordt University at the NAIA level. Kayla Mershon, a rotation post player, is going to Minnesota. Brown told coach Amy Williams Thursday she had put her name in the transfer portal, and announced Sunday she had found a new home with the Wolverines.

Michigan ended Nebraska’s season. A 2019-20 campaign began with a 13-2 start and ended with 11 losses in 15 games and a 81-75 loss to Michigan. Wolverines Amy Dilk (22 points) and Naz Hillmon (20 points) buried Nebraska in the second half despite 22 points from Brown to pace the Huskers.

It was the last of a three-game scoring binge to end the season for Brown, who was named the Big Ten’s Sixth Woman of the Year. Brown led the Huskers in scoring while coming off the bench in every game. She looked to be blossoming into an elite scorer who could do damage from every level of the floor.

Dilk, Hillmon, and Brown form one of the best trios in the Big Ten. A biting sting just got worse.

Williams is going to struggle to replace all the production she’s lost in the last month without a major move. That’s assuming guard Sam Haiby takes another step forward and wing Taylor Kissinger comes back healthy and stays that way.

If there’s any consolation, it’s in the commitment of 2021 wing Kendall Jo Coley.

Coley is a 6-foot-2 guard and the No. 32-ranked player nationally in the 2021 class, according to Prospects Nation. Her sister, Chase, started for two years at Iowa. Her father, Tylor, was an NAIA standout at Grace College in Winona Lake, Indiana.

She’s been described as a walking triple-double. She’s got a plus wingspan that allows her to defend bigger players as well as quickness and ball-handling to be able to break down guards. Williams has high hopes for the Minnesota native.

Coley has a high basketball IQ according to her father, who is also her AAU coach, and one of the best parts of her game is her vision. She had four triple-doubles last season, but she’s also hit seven 3s in a game before.

A 2021 addition doesn’t necessarily provide immediate help in the absence of Brown, but it’s still a boost for a program that needed a bit of good news.

 
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