Nebraska walk-on Charlie Easley earns scholarship
As Nebraska fought to hold onto an upset over Big Ten rival Iowa on Tuesday, one of the biggest plays of the night came from one of the most unexpected sources.
On a loose ball on the Hawkeyes’ end of the court, true freshman walk-on Charlie Easley, who stands 6-foot-2, 190 pounds, met 6-10, 255, Iowa forward Ryan Kriener at the ball as the two dived to the floor.
Despite his size disadvantage, Easley wanted it more and ripped the ball out of Kriener’s hands. The near packed house at Pinnacle Bank Arena instantly erupted with its loudest cheer of the night, and the effort provided NU with a shot of momentum to finish out the 76-70 victory.
That play embodied everything that the former Lincoln (Neb.) Pius X standout is all about, and it was exactly why he’s elevated himself into a regular member of Nebraska’s rotation.
Easley played a career-high 16 minutes in that win over Iowa. Three days later following Friday’s practice, head coach Fred Hoiberg awarded Easley with a scholarship for the spring semester.
“It’s a great feeling,” Easley said. “A lot of hard work went into it. Thanks to the coaches, teammates, and everybody who helped me. It’s just the start. I’ve got to keep working.”
Easley was already just the third Lincoln native on Nebraska’s roster over the last 14 years, joining only Jordan Tyrance and BJ Day.
After Friday’s news, Easley became the Huskers’ first active scholarship player from Lincoln since Jake Muhleisen (2001-05).
Hoiberg said the decision to put Easley on scholarship was an easy one given how consistent the guard had been since his arrival on campus this summer. Even after undergoing ankle surgery shortly after his senior high school season last spring, Hoiberg said Easley had always been one of the Huskers’ hardest workers.
“Everybody roots for Charlie,” Hoiberg said. “He’s just one of those guys who comes to work every day, he shows up an hour before practice and he’s shooting in a dark gym before anybody else shows up. It’s just easy to root for a guy like that who puts in the time.
“It’s fun any time you can do something like that. Charlie got a little emotional – shoot, I got a little emotional in there talking to him one-on-one. Then telling the team, you could just see it – Charlie’s hair was all over the place, he had scratches on him; it was pretty exciting. It’s an exciting day for Charlie and an exciting day for our program.”
Even though he was only averaging 3.3 minutes and didn’t even play in four games leading up to the Iowa win, Easley still found ways to make the most of his opportunities and catch the eyes of his coaches.
From coming off the bench to score a team-high 15 points and help NU to a win during its tour in Italy this summer, to boxing out 7-3, 250, center Maat Haarms for a rebound in the victory over Purdue last month, Easley has shown a knack for making winning plays.
Hoiberg already had a soft spot for walk-ons considering his oldest son, Jack, is a walk-on at Michigan State. So it was easy for him to take notice of what Easley brought to the table not just on the court, but in helping establish the culture Hoiberg is trying to build at Nebraska.
“When this scholarship became available with Samari (Curtis’s) transfer, really it was a no-brainer with Charlie with the way he’s gone out and competed every day and done everything that we’ve asked of him,” Hoiberg said. “He’s made a big impact on this team.”
Easley was a relative unknown on the national recruiting scene coming out of high school despite averaging 23 points per game for the state champion Thunderbolts last season.
But he still had a DI scholarship offer from The Citadel as well as late interest from schools like South Dakota State, Idaho, and Southern Illinois-Edwardsville.
For Easley, though, his dream was always to be a Cornhusker, even if it meant having to work a little harder to achieve his ultimate goal.
“Just the love for Nebraska,” Easley said. “I grew up here, grew up watching Nebraska, and it’s a local kid’s dream to play for their hometown in front of everybody they know. It’s just a great feeling.”