The forces which drove Nebraska’s basketball teams will be back in Pinnacle Bank Arena next season.
Nebraska’s men’s and women’s basketball teams both got great offseason news in recent month. Despite both squads losing multiple starters, they made the biggest retention possible. On the women’s side, first-team all-conference guard Jaz Shelley announced at the end of March that she’d be returning to the Huskers for a fifth college season. Two months later, Keisei Tominaga did the same for the men’s team.
Unlike Shelley, Tominaga might not have been Nebraska’s best player across the entire season, but he certainly stood out down the stretch. The Huskers went 6-3 in the final nine games of the season, with Tominaga scoring 20 or more points in seven of those contests.
“Obviously the impact that he had on our team… really helped us to the best stretch that we had all season with having the best record in the Big Ten from February 1st on,” head coach Fred Hoiberg said last Friday. “And a lot of that was due to Keisei and his overall play and just the overall impact that I think he had on our team, on our fans.”
With other top players Derrick Walker and Sam Griesel departing, Tominaga is set to be the focal point of Nebraska next year. The same goes for Jaz Shelley, who was already in that spot.
Both guards could’ve chose to leave Nebraska after this season. Shelley considered going pro, whether that meant looking to break into the WNBA or heading back home to Australia. Tominaga’s situation was similar, having actually declared for the draft as an early entrant. They both faced additional barriers for NIL opportunities in college as international students, and the prospect of either starting their professional career now wasn’t terribly unlikely. Tominaga’s return was perhaps more expected, given that he wasn’t invited to the combine events for the NBA or G League. He got one workout with the Indiana Pacers.
Regardless, the two opted to return for one more year. That’s big news for their respective teams, both of which are in need of showing improvement next year.
Tominaga will look to lead Nebraska into the postseason for the first time under Hoiberg. If he plays close to the level he did late last season, there should be a decent chance of that happening. He’ll look to improve his passing, strength and defense, all tools that would increase his stardom. The team hopes that its several transfer additions can preserve some of the chemistry Tominaga had with Walker and Griesel. He worked especially well with Walker — Rienk Mast and Josiah Allick are two players who enter as playmaking forwards.
Shelley, on the other hand, will be at the forefront of a women’s team that has played postseason basketball the past three seasons. Only one of those came in the NCAA Tournament, however, with a disappointing 2022-23 campaign ending in the WNIT.
As was the case last year, Nebraska is set up well on paper to make the bracket. Shelley and second-team All-Big Ten center Alexis Markowski remain on the team. The Huskers are losing key starters in guard Sam Haiby and forward Isabelle Bourne — the latter passing on a fifth year — but add talented guard Darian White. Allison Weidner also will be back after a season-ending injury last season.
The gap left by Bourne in the frontcourt still doesn’t have a clear answer, with a variety of less proven candidates to fill it. Still, the guard talent is there, and Markowski has been a solid player. Nebraska’s appeared in some extremely early Top 25 rankings. Shelley might have some more off-ball work with White and Weidner in the mix, but still will be the main threat.
Aside from the obviously important team results, these decisions were a win for anyone who likes watching exciting basketball players. The two lit up Pinnacle Bank Arena with their performances last year, and it’s a guarantee that they’ll do so again.
Tominaga’s scoring is must-see, whether he’s pulling up for insanely deep threes or converting great finishes at the rim. His energy comes through clearly on the court, often hyping up the home crowd.
Shelley’s a bit more reserved in that regard, and doesn’t score with the same efficiency that Tominaga does. Still, she had the three highest scoring performances of any Nebraska basketball player last year, men’s or women’s, and does just about everything else well. She’ll make multiple ridiculous passes a game, and there’s a reason she made the Big Ten’s all-defensive team in 2021-22.
There’s a chance that Nebraska could have two guards on the All-Big Ten First Team next season. It’ll be harder for Tominaga, as the men’s list features five players while the women’s has 10. That part isn’t quite the point, anyway.
This offseason has given fans of Husker basketball plenty of reasons to be excited. Whether either team can meet their postseason goal next season is a question without a clear answer, but the chances feel better with an extremely talented fifth-year guard returning to lead each.