The start of the 2010-11 basketball season is still another six months away, but there has been plenty of news involving Nebraska popping up the past couple weeks. To recap all the latest events, HuskersIllustrated.com sat down with NU head coach Doc Sadler to get his thoughts on how the recent developments would effect the Huskers when they return to the court this fall.
On losing another assistant coach
Earlier this week, news broke that assistant coach Philip Mathews had left Nebraska to take an assistant job at UCLA, making him the second NU coach to leave the program this off-season.
Mathews, who spent four seasons in Lincoln, took an opening with the Bruins left behind by his best friend Donny Daniels, who left to take an assistant coaching job at Gonzaga in March. Former NU assistant Walter Roese also left to take a job at Hawaii in early April.
Mathews and Daniels coached together back at Cal State-Fullerton, so Mathews was an easy choice to replace his friend in Westwood. The move also made the most sense for Mathews, as his family had been living in California the past two years.
Because of all of the work he put in at Nebraska, especially on the recruiting front, Sadler said Mathews would be hard to replace, but in the end he felt it was the best decision for Mathews.
"Obviously losing Phil was huge," Sadler said. "He's so good in so many areas, but at the same time, it's a great opportunity for him. With that is going to come an opportunity for us to hire somebody that's really, really good, and we're looking forward to moving on with that."
The good news is that Sadler said Nebraska was pretty much done with its recruiting as far as this coming season goes, so Mathews' departure won't have any immediate negative impact in that area for the Huskers.
As for finding replacements for both Mathews and Roese, Sadler said he had no set timeline for when he wanted to have his new assistants hired.
"I want to take my time," he said. "It could be August. It could be tomorrow. I'm just going to take my time. We've got a lot of great applicants, and the job is just now getting to where we can visit with people, so we're starting to call people now. We'll just see where things go."
Sadler did say that he was looking for high character people with solid recruiting experience to join his staff.
"I want good people," he said 'I want guys that have won, guys that have been around winners and guys who want to win. I have the student-athletes' best interest in mind on and off the court.
"Also, recruiting is always going to be important when you're hiring assistant coaches. Recruiting is the key to everything, so it's just a given that whoever I bring in here is definitely going to have recruiting experience."
At least the roster is getting deeper
There might be some holes left to fill in the coaching staff, but as far as Nebraska's 13-man roster is concerned, things are getting better by the day.
First, sophomore guard Ray Gallegos decided to back off his decision to transfer in March and was accepted back on the team last week. Gallegos said his initial decision to leave the team was because he was homesick and wanted to move closer to his native state of Utah.
After some thought, Gallegos asked Sadler if he could rejoin the team. However, Sadler didn't make the decision himself. Instead, he made Gallegos meet with some of his elder teammates and explain to them why he wanted to come back.
In the end, his fellow Huskers opted to welcome him back with open arms.
"I'm disappointed when anybody leaves the program, but I was really disappointed with him because I thought he had a chance to be a really good player for us because he's the type of person we want in this program," Sadler said. "He made the decision to come back, and I'm excited about it. I'm excited he's here."
More than anything, Sadler said the experience Gallegos gained from playing as a true freshman last year would be his most valuable asset. Considering the fact that NU featured one of the youngest and least experienced rosters in the Big 12 Conference last year, the more tested players the Huskers can get, the better.
As for whether Sadler thought there might be any other players at risk of leaving the program, he said he didn't expect any, but that doesn't mean it won't happen for sure.
"I don't expect any more," he said. "But in our business, I'm not naïve enough that I don't think that there definitely won't be any more. I'd be very surprised if there were any more, though."
Then you take into account the two transfer players Nebraska added to its roster on the first day of the spring signing period on April 14.
By adding Oregon transfer Kamyron Brown and Caleb Walker of Butler County (Kan.) Community College, the Huskers are bringing in two experienced players expected to come in and contribute immediately next season.
Sadler said their competitive attitudes and previous success should make them great additions to a team in need of a few more leaders.
"You're looking at a situation where both of them are very, very good players," Sadler said, "but the thing that I think excites me as much as anything is they both come from winning programs, and that's something that's important to me. They're going to put their selfish statistics and things like that behind the success of the team. When you do that, then you have a chance to be successful."
Brown left Oregon in search of a better chance at more playing time, as the Ducks had some serious competition going on at point guard this off-season. Walker also said he joined the Huskers because he wanted a shot to play in the Big 12 this year.
That's all good news for Sadler, as he wants as much competition for playing time as his team can get.
"I would hope that anytime you bring in a transfer or a junior college player that they're coming in and they're competing for playing time," he said. "They've got to understand that they don't have the luxury of being a freshman and being patient. They've got to come in and play right away. At the same time, they both understand that nothing has been given to them and they're going to have to earn everything they get.
"That's the kind of guys that they are. They want to come in and compete. They didn't ask about how much playing time they would get or anything like that."
With the additions of Brown, Walker and incoming center Andre Almeida, as well as the return of junior wing Toney McCray and junior center Christopher Niemann and senior guard Drake Beranek now eligible after redshirting last season, Nebraska will feature six new faces to its active lineup next season.
Sadler said Neimann, who's coming off his second ACL injury in two years, would be fully released from his medical restrictions by sometime in the middle of May. As for McCray, who missed all of last season with an elbow injury, he should be fully released by June 1.
As long as the Huskers can avoid the injury bug which has plagued them the past few years, they could be ready to finally make the jump both Sadler, his players and NU fans have so desperately been waiting for.
"You've got to just hope we stay healthy," Sadler said. "Looking at it today, it looks good. I'm excited, and not just for next year. I think it looks like you're going to have some consistency of maybe a two- or three-year run here now with the team getting better each and every year. That's what you're looking for. It's not been easy to get to this point, but the whole key is to stay healthy. If we stay healthy, we've got a chance to compete for that upper level of the Big 12."
Thoughts on Creighton, ISU coaching changes
Dana Altman took many by surprise this week when he announced he was leaving Creighton to take over as the head coach at Oregon, and two of Nebraska's regular season foes introduced new coaches as a result.
In particular, former Iowa State head coach Greg McDermott went back to his Missouri Valley Conference roots and replaced Altman as the head man at Creighton. Prior to going to ISU, McDermott coached at fellow MVC member Northern Iowa.
With McDermott jumping ship, Iowa State had to scramble to find a new coach, and it decided on former Cyclone star Fred Hoiberg as the man for the job.
The Huskers will face both teams next season, and Sadler shared his thoughts on each schools' recent hires. A good friend of McDermott's, Sadler said Creighton couldn't have made a much better choice to replace Altman.
"I think you've got to give Creighton's athletic director (Bruce Rasmussen) credit for understanding how great of a coach Greg McDermott really is," Sadler said. "I think he's one of the best coaches in the business. He maybe struggled a little bit at Iowa State because of some bad luck, but that doesn't take away from how great of a coach he really is.
"Creighton obviously lost a very good coach, but in return they've hired someone who is going to be very good and is going to be able to continue doing the things that they've done."
Sadler said he wasn't quite as familiar with Hoiberg, but judging from his place in ISU history and everything he did for the Cyclones as a player, the school looks to have made about as good of a hire as it could.
"I'm sure when you spend as much time around basketball as he has, you understand it," Sadler said, "and I'm sure there's not going to be anybody at Iowa State that they could have hired that would have been more passionate about that place. I expect him to do a great job, and it will be fun competing against him."