When Dylan Talley committed to Nebraska out of Blinn (Texas) Community College, many believed he would be a key piece in the lineup from the start of the season opener.
Finally, 18 games into his first year as a Husker, the junior guard is showing flashes of what all the hype was about.
While he had some nice offensive performances in non-conference play, a lingering thigh injury forced Talley to miss five games, including the first three Big Ten contests of the year. After returning for NU's trip to take on Illinois on Jan. 7, the Camden, N.J., native played better and better over the next three games.
In Wednesday night's upset over No. 11 Indiana, Talley arguably had his best all-around performance as a Husker.
With 10 points, a career-high nine rebounds, three assists, two blocks and two steals, Talley was seemingly everywhere for Nebraska against the Hoosiers, especially in the final minutes when his team needed him the most.
"I think that was one of my better games," Talley said. "I didn't start off shooting the ball well, but I made it when it counted, and I continued to play hard and was able to grab, what, nine rebounds and a couple key offensive rebounds, and I had some assists, blocks and steals. So I think I played a pretty good all-around game. That's definitely one of my better performances."
He's still not fully recovered from his thigh injury, which he initially injured back in Texas and re-aggravated at least two times since arriving in Lincoln this summer. However, with the help of intense rehab, some custom protective thigh pads and creative conditioning work, Talley is feeling as good now as he's felt all season.
"A lot of that comes from just being out there, being healthy," Talley said. "I've definitely felt better, been able to jump higher, run around more. My stamina is better. I'm just getting right again, getting back to playing at a top level."
Because of his injury, Talley has been behind the rest of his teammates in terms of conditioning all season long. When his bruised thigh calcified to the point where he could hardly even bend his knee, Talley was set back even further because he couldn't even run up and down the court, let alone participate in a full practice.
With the help of Nebraska's trainers, though, Talley was slowly able to get back to his old self with a daily regiment of treatment, four to five miles of running on the treadmill and then even more running on a training machine called AlterG - an antigravity treadmill that supports the body to reduce weight-bearing impact by as much as 50 percent.
As a result, Talley was able to work his way back onto the practice court and into Nebraska's lineup again. Head coach Doc Sadler says Talley's conditioning still has a ways to go, but credits the work he's put in to return to action.
"The biggest thing with him was his conditioning," Sadler said. "You know, that's two things for him: it's not something that's easy for him and it's not something he likes. So he's got to push himself harder in practice and get back in the conditioning that he was in, but as far as what he can do to help this basketball team, I've never questioned that."
Sadler has had high expectations for Talley ever since he first started recruiting him. While he's been pleased with some of the things Talley has shown this year, Sadler said Talley still has a lot of work to do in terms of his overall game on both ends of the court.
"As good as an offensive player that he is, I think it's just as much of a challenge for him concentration-wise on the defensive end," Sadler said. "I think you do remember him making a couple of plays (against Indiana), but I remember a couple that he didn't make. He's capable of making all of them, and I think that's the biggest challenge Dylan has, and I think he'd tell you this, is the understanding that each possession, both offensively and defensively, are so important."
The good news for Talley going forward is that as long as he can continue to stay relatively healthy, those improvements will almost certainly come with every game he plays.
His Nebraska career definitely didn't get off to the kind of start he had hoped for, but at least for now, it looks to finally be getting off the ground.
"I didn't know how long I was going to be out for," Talley said. "I knew from previous times that I hurt my thigh that it could take a little while, but each time is different. Sometimes it takes a week, other times it might take a month. I just had to keep doing treatment, so I didn't know how long it would take.
"It can be frustrating at times, but you've just got to work through it, fight through it, stay positive. I was just happy to be here the whole time, and I knew eventually I'd get better and I'd be out there soon."