Big Red Blitz: Fred Hoiberg excited after initial look at 2021-22 squad
GRAND ISLAND - The 2021-22 Nebraska basketball team has only been mostly together for a little more than two weeks, but the early returns head coach Fred Hoiberg has seen thus far have fueled more optimism than ever.
While two scholarship players are not yet on campus - sophomore guard Keisei Tominaga and freshman center Oleg Kojenets - the rest of the Huskers' roster arrived in Lincoln at the beginning of June.
It's been only small group sessions with three or four players on the floor at a time during early summer workouts, but there have already been plenty of flashes.
"I really like our group right now," Hoiberg said during his stop at the Bosselman Conference Center as part of the Big Red Blitz event on Tuesday. "We didn't have this opportunity last year to really have an offseason and to be able to work with our guys...
"I love the mentality of the guys. Every single one of them, to a man, is coming in and getting extra work in the evenings and afternoons with our GAs and managers. It's just been a fun group to be around."
While Nebraska returns roughly 70 percent of its scoring production from last season, much of the excitement surrounding Hoiberg's third campaign in Lincoln centers around the consensus top-20 recruiting class NU signed for 2021.
Though the newcomers have only been on campus for a couple of weeks, Hoiberg said that group has already been what he'd hoped so far.
"We're throwing a lot of information at our guys, and once we start the team workouts, that's really when we'll see what exactly we have," Hoiberg said. "But from a work ethic standpoint, we're in a great spot. We've got a group that loves to be in the gym, and you definitely have an advantage when you have a group like that."
As impressive as the new pieces have been early on, the main difference between this offseason and Hoiberg's first two at Nebraska has been a roster with returning experience, continuity, and leadership.
"We feel really good about the returning group that we have," Hoiberg said. "You look at a couple of our transfers with C.J. (Wilcher) and Keon (Edwards), who are still freshmen technically because last year didn't count, to have a group that can help them along in the system, I've been very impressed with both those guys.
"Now, we can have the returning players help them along in the process and get acclimated as quickly as possible, so don't skip a beat."
***Hoiberg said he'd been in daily contact with junior point guard Dalano Banton, who declared for the 2021 NBA Draft while maintaining his college eligibility.
Banton was not among the players invited to the NBA Combine, nor did he earn a pre-draft G League Camp spot.
"For him, it's a great opportunity to go out and get a feel for what the pre-draft process is like," Hoiberg said. "I'm going to help him navigate through it and try to be as honest as I can. I've had guys at Iowa State where it was time for them as underclassmen to go (to the NBA), and then there were others where it wasn't time.
"We continue to have those conversations pretty much every day."
***Hoiberg had a positive update on the injury status of freshman forward Wilhelm Breidenbach, who suffered a torn meniscus in his knee at the end of his high school season last month.
"He's in the rehab stage right now," Hoiberg said. "He's made great progress so far. He had real general soreness yesterday just from all the things that we're trying to do to strengthen his body, but he felt great this morning. I was able to see him before I got on the bus before we came out here. He shoots the heck out of the ball."
Based on how well Breidenbach's knee had responded to the rehab process thus far, Hoiberg said there was even optimism that the former Rivals150 prospect might not need surgery.
"Yeah, we feel good about where things are right now with him rehabbing and strengthening," Hoiberg said. "We'll just continue to see how he progresses, but so far in the two weeks that we've had (him on campus), we're just incrementally taking it step by step.
"We're not going to get too far ahead of ourselves in it and take it too quickly. We do have time ahead of us, so we're going to do this thing the right way. To see the progress that he's already made is a great sign."
***Hoiberg said June had already felt like a whirlwind with the start of summer workouts and hosting a slew of top-level recruits on visits over the past two weeks.
"It's been a grind of a month, that's for sure, just with all the visits that we've had, and then you add in the workouts and moving your guys in for the first time," Hoiberg said. "It's been a crazy month, but it's been a lot of fun. To get back to some sense of normalcy has been great."
***Hoiberg said one of the newest additions to his staff, recruiting coordinator Shannan Lum, had hit the ground running with the Huskers.
"Shannan's been awesome," Hoiberg said. "You give her a project, and it's back on my desk usually with an hour or so. We've given her a lot of things to do. It's a very important position with the Recruiting Coordinator spot that she has, but she's done a great job."