With several new additions to its roster and some key players returning from injuries, Nebraska looks almost like an entirely different team than what it was at the end of last season.
Even more, the Huskers are approaching this offseason in a completely different fashion.
Along with adding two international ventures to the schedule with their recent exhibition tour of the Bahamas and their coming trip to the Puerto Rico Shootout, head coach Doc Sadler and his staff have also changed up their offseason conditioning program.
Sadler said the goal is to become the most mentally and physically tough team in the Big 12 Conference, and it all starts with changing up the training philosophy.
"I'm going to focus more on the mental toughness part of it," Sadler said on Tuesday. "Instead of being concerned with how much stronger they get or those types of things, I want them to get pushed to the limit. They've got to feel like, confidence wise, maybe they're doing a little bit more than everybody else. So that's what I'm concerned about more, is using it more for a mental approach than a physical."
Part of the new offseason training program entails different approaches in both the weight room and conditioning work. Sadler said in particular the players are doing less conditioning on their own and focusing more on basketball-related drills to help simulate game situations.
One player who Sadler said has really responded to the new training regiments has been sophomore center Jorge Brian Diaz, who has put on more than 20 pounds of muscle so far this offseason.
Along with bulking up physically, Sadler said Diaz has also made some big strides in his leadership skills and overall confidence on the court.
"He's changed a lot, not just physically, but he's talking more," Sadler said. "I'm not going to say he's going to be a vocal leader, but he's much more vocal than he was a year ago. He's more confident."
The Huskers are currently in the middle of their individual workout period, in which they are broken up into groups of four and working out four hours a week. They will return for team workouts on Oct. 15.
Around the rim
***Junior guard Caleb Walker made his Husker debut during the Bahamas tour, and Sadler said he was impressed with the offensive spark Walker brought to the table.
"Probably the most encouraging thing was he shot it a little bit better than maybe we would have expected him to," Sadler said. "But it's hard to say until you really get into it what's going to happen there, but he's definitely going to give us some help at that wing position."
***Sadler was hesitant to go into much detail on senior point guard Bo Spencer, who transferred from LSU last month. However, Sadler did make sure to clarify that Spencer's academic performance was not the reason he left the Tigers.
"I think a misconception from what was put out there is that Bo, academically, was a bad student, and that wasn't necessarily the case," Sadler said. "He actually changed his major, and if you're familiar with the rules, you can be a 4.0 student (and still risk being academically ineligible when changing majors per NCAA rules)."
***Those who have followed the construction of Nebraska's new practice facility may be wondering just how much progress has actually been made and whether the projected completion date of August 2011 is still on schedule.
Sadler has been wondering the same thing, but from what he's been told, everything is still going according to plan.
"It looks like they're playing in the dirt," he said. "They've been playing over there for a while, but according to the people (in charge), they're a little bit ahead of schedule. I think it's supposed to be completed in August (2011)."
***Looking back, Sadler said the greatest benefit of his team's Bamahas trip was being able to jumpstart the team bonding process and getting a feel for each other both on and off the court.
"I don't think there's any way you can measure the benefits that we got off the court," Sadler said. "First of all, it gave us a bunch of guys the opportunity to do something that maybe they would've never got to do or haven't had the chance to do in their entire life. Then we put them over there, where it's just them, where their cell phones don't work and they have to communicate. You organize events where you have to do things together. They get to know each other a little bit more, and I always think that's good."
***Sadler said senior guard Drake Beranek, who is eligible this season after redshirting last year following his transfer from Nebraska-Kearney, would definitely play a role for the Huskers.
"That's something I think we have missed in the basketball program, is having someone that's not just on the team, but Drake's going to get the chance to play some," Sadler said. "To have that spirit about him - it means more to Drake than it does a lot of other people. To have that kind of influence in the locker room, I don't think you can measure that. I think he's going to be very, very valuable."
***On the injury front, Sadler said junior center Andre Almeida has missed the past week of individual workouts with a strained calf muscle. Almeida is expected to return to workouts on Wednesday or Thursday, which will be important in getting him in playing shape come the start of team drills.
At 6-11, 315, Almeida is still heavier than where the coaching staff wants his playing weight to be. Sadler said the staff has made sure not to push him too hard and force any further injuries, but as of now, he described Almeida's conditioning level as "not good."
However, Sadler said Almeida would definitely be a factor when he does get into better shape.
"He's a very skilled player," Sadler said. "He brings a presence. He can make other players maybe a little bit better. You hear of guys like that, because he is going to demand some attention down low, and it can allow guys on the offensive end to be a little bit more open."
***In other injury news, Sadler said sophomore center Christopher Niemann, who has missed the past two seasons with knee injuries, is still a ways from being 100 percent healthy again.
"He's made a lot of progress, but he's been out two years, and he's not able right now to go through a full individual workout," Sadler said. "So to expect a lot right now, I don't know that he's ready to give that to us. But he'll be able to help us."