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March 10, 2011

Huskers optimistic about program's future

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Roughly 20 minutes after his team's NCAA Tournament hopes officially vanished in a 53-52 loss to Oklahoma State, Doc Sadler leaned back in his chair, trying to come up with an answer to a very broad question.

What about this team excites you the most for next season?

At first, Sadler came back with a cynical answer to reflect the mood of the Huskers' Sprint Center locker room at the moment.

"Not much right now."

After a few laughs, he then gave an honest answer to the question, and the reality was there was plenty to be optimistic about surrounding Nebraska's near future.

"The thing is that you're a young basketball team," Sadler said. "I think all of us understand it's hard to get big guys, and I think we have some big guys who can compete, and it looks like you're going to have them for a couple of years. That excites me. Just like Lance Jeter got so much better in one year, again, this is really the first year Toney McCray has played a whole season since he's been here, so I think Toney's going to be much better next year. I think Caleb Walker will be much better.

"We've got to get a point guard. If Bo Spencer takes care of everything (academically), he could be - don't misquote me and say he's Tyron Lue - but he's like that. He's totally different than Lance."

Though Nebraska's shot at the Big Dance vanished in Wednesday's loss, its season isn't quite over just yet. The National Invitation Tournament is still a very real postseason possibility, and there's still a chance the Huskers could host as many as their first two games in the tournament.

Still, it was hard for Sadler and his players not to look towards next season, where Nebraska returns all but three players from this year's roster. In fact, some players like junior guard Brandon Richardson are already planning on getting their off-season up and going upon their return to Lincoln.

"As soon as we get back, I'm going to talk to the coaches about some things. The next day, it's back to business," Richardson said. "I've got to push myself to a level I haven't been before, and there's a lot of things I need to work on. It starts now. If you wait until the summertime, for me, it's too late."

Then you add in the arrivals of 2011 commits swingmen David Rivers and Josiah Moore, who could bring a new element of the slashing scorer to the Huskers, as well as Corey Hilliard, who could provide immediate depth at point guard. Sadler said he wasn't counting on the three incoming freshmen to make an instant impact for the Huskers next season, but admitted he was excited to see what they could do.

"I don't know how much the three new guys right now will help you (next year)," Sadler said. "They're different than anybody we've got with their size on the wings and athleticism, but freshmen aren't coming in very often (and making an impact)."

The biggest issue facing Nebraska this off-season is without a doubt finding a replacement for Jeter, both as one of the premier point guards in the Big 12 and the unquestioned team leader on and off the court.

Spencer could pick up where Jeter left off to an extent at the point guard position, and Richardson is obviously already preparing himself to assume a lot of the leadership responsibilities in the locker room Jeter will leave behind.

In Jeter's opinion, though, the Huskers will be just fine without him.

"The future is so bright for this team," Jeter said. "It's going to be amazing to watch. I'm still going to be a big fan. I'm still going to try and be around just to see how the progress is going… I feel like they're definitely going to be ready to play next year. It's going to be very exciting to see."

The forecasts for what to expect from Nebraska next season were of course coming literally minutes after Wednesday's loss, but for the moment at least, it appears good things may finally be in store for the Huskers.

With the new practice facility scheduled to be completed next season and the new Haymarket arena expected to hopefully be ready the following year in 2013, Nebraska has all the stars aligned to take some significant steps as a program.

Sadler just hopes he gets the chance to stay around long enough to make the most of it.

"I don't mean it wrong, but you look at it and it should be my third year here," Sadler said. "I mean my first year (in 2006-07) you get in here and you get the job in August. At least for me, I think we finally have some things to work with, consistent things to work with… I think for the first time we've got enough pieces coming back with a lot of experience."



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