Can you believe we are already to the month of October and just under one month away from the start of the college hoops season?! Well, you better get on board the hoops bandwagon now while the getting is good, because that is exactly where on the calendar we are right now!
With that date reminder having been made, it will thus come as no surprise that today kicked off the start of Big Ten Basketball Media Days 2021. Just like football, this two-day media jamboree is a smorgasbord of everything Big Ten hoops related.
This year, the event even saw fit to include the women's teams with the men as well. Hooray for an absurdly long overdue nod to gender equality! Big Ten Commissioner, and most hated man in Nebraska and Ohio, Kevin Warren had a good amount of news on that very subject, but more on his comments later. First up let’s see what third year head coach Fred Hoiberg had to say about the men’s team first and then head coach Amy Williams on the women’s team before circling back to the beloved head of Nebraska’s beloved conference.
Fred Hoiberg Remarks
First up of note, if not in order, is Coach Hoiberg let it be known that the team has a 100 percent vaccination rate. Note, that isn’t a 100 percent compliance rate including accepted waivers in regards to any mandates in effect, as UNL is amongst a number of Big Ten schools and athletic departments that have zero vaccine mandates, but rather a 100 percent vaccination rate among players.
That should prove a key factor in avoiding any COVID-19 caused shut downs like the long one endured last season when 10 rotation players and four coaches all contracted the virus. That is, of course, not even touching the common sense medical benefits of getting vaccinated in the first place, let alone the competitive advantage it provides in competition.
Coach Hoiberg is excited to finally have significant roster continuity among returning players:
For the first time since we’ve been at Nebraska, we’ve got continuity with our lineup, and we bring back players that played a key factor in our team and in our system and are providing great leadership to our young talented class that we brought in with our eight newcomers four freshmen and four transfers that we’ve added to our lineup. To have continuity is very important.
Hoiberg was particular proud of how the team faced the adversity of the COVID-19 outbreak and ensuing brutal schedule. He had high praise for the players, and the staff who helped with the logistics to even make it possible, who endured 14 games in 29 days to round out the season last year.
Hoiberg is particularly excited about the perimeter shooting this squad offers.
The biggest area I think of improvement for our team is perimeter shooting, also play making. When you have that shooting, especially in the world of analytics, taking away the three-point line, it opens up driving lanes. We had a shot profile last year that we want to continue with, 82% of our shots were in the restricted area, behind the three-point line. We feel we’re much better equipped now to take advantage of those situations, hopefully knock down those shots, finish better at the rim. If we do that, we’ll take a huge step in the right direction on the offensive end of the floor.
The toughest part, according to the coach, will be whittling down the roster. Hoiberg wants to cut it to around nine or 10 players this season, but he sees 12 who could justify court time right now. Getting players who don’t get the role they want is also something he hopes he can work with players through.
His full opening remarks are included below:
Good morning. It’s great to be back in front of people. My daughter actually works for the Big Ten Network. Kevin, I am thankful for your leadership and commitment to excellence. She loves it. She loves the culture of the Big Ten Network, certainly excited to be there.
Just want to talk a little bit first of all about our team. I’m really excited about our group this year. For the first time since we’ve been at Nebraska, we have a continuity with our lineup. We bring back players that played a key factor in our team and in our system, are going to provide or are providing great leadership to our young talented class that we brought in with our anew commerce, four freshmen and four transfers that we’ve added to our lineup.
To have continuity is very important. We basically started with the ground up with our first two seasons. We took over a big rebuilding project in a league where we were the only team that was really going through a rebuild, created some very difficult moments. But I’m proud, especially last year’s group, of how we fought through adversity. We were hit by the pandemic and by COVID as much as any team in the country a year ago where we were shut down for 21 days with 10 of our rotation players that came down with it, four of our coaches. I was really proud of putting a schedule, talking to Kerry Kenny, about how we basically put together 14 games in 29 days. With deconditioned bodies, having to stay out of the gym because of everything that was going on with our group.
A lot of those guys that went through that found a way through to fight through that adversity, they’ve been important in our early stages of helping our young players along, talking to them about the system, when you do it right, when we share the ball, make simple plays, about how effective it can be.
Our young class, top 15 class in the country, I have been really impressed with the maturity of our group. Excited about the uniqueness of the skill set of our roster. I think we’re going to have a group that comes in and competes. Every year it’s been the thing that I’ve enjoyed most about our team, walking into the gym every day knowing it’s a team that’s going to compete and gives an effort every time they step on the floor.
Amy Williams Remarks
Here are the highlights from women’s head coach Amy Williams’ remarks prior to Hoiberg’s.
On what it is like watching the NCAA Tournament from home:
It’s not quite as enjoyable (laughter). I can appreciate what’s going on. I love good basketball. I think my entire life March Madness has been kind of a special time of year that I get excited for. It’s so much more enjoyable to be a part of that, be experiencing that firsthand. So that’s something we’re on a mission to make sure we’re there.
On the league’s increased focus on elevating the live programming available of Big Ten Women’s Basketball:
Well, it’s really kind of hard to put into words just how important that is. To have a leader that really understands that, and right now we’re at a very pivotal time in women’s basketball. I think there are a lot of people that are paying attention to finding ways to grow our game. I’m grateful that we have a leader in the Big Ten Conference that understands the importance of that and is 113171-2-1757 2021-10-07 14:48:00 GMT Page 1 of 2 willing to put his actions behind his words. I think we’re going to see a lot of good things come from his commitment there.
On the up-and-coming label given the to roster heading into the season:
In our program we just want to be the hardest-working team on the court. The most competitive and the grittiest and the toughness. I think that’s the number one thing we’re looking for in the players we’re adding into our program.
Her full opening remarks are:
I just want to start by thanking everyone for being here. Say a great huge thank you to Kevin [Warren] and the entire Big Ten staff for putting on this amazing event. It’s awesome to see everybody in person. I could not be more excited about being back into arenas with fans in the stands this year and seeing people’s faces.
Big Ten women’s basketball is going to be maybe the best it’s ever been this year. I really am expecting unprecedented results from the Big Ten Conference this year, from the league as a whole when you look at what we’ve done in the past, the number of returning players. It’s really an exciting time to be a part of this conference.
We have plenty of reasons to be excited in Nebraska women’s basketball right now. Number one, we have four returning starters from our team one year ago that Kevin mentioned, was able to knock off five ranked opponents and play in the post-season. We have four other returning players who played substantial and significant minutes in our program. We’re adding in a top 25 recruiting class that consists of six players total, five freshmen and one transfer from the University of Oregon, Jaz Shelley. A lot of reasons to be excited for the program.
Probably the number one reason I’m excited is this team has really just embraced competition with each other. They have a strong, strong belief. They believe in hard work. I just absolutely love coaching this team.
Kevin Warren Remarks
Highlights from Commissioner Warren’s full remarks included a potentially veiled suggestion that the Big Ten may expand. This came in the form of his comment where he said that basketball will play an “important role” in realignment. This is entirely speculation on my part, and hopefully is not to suggest that Kansas will be a sought after addition to the league. However, Commissioner Warren at least made the polite head nod at the podium to suggest that basketball will be a player in the potential shakeups with conference realignments on the horizon, if any.
On the importance of basketball in the Big Ten:
We have 28 unbelievable coaches who are going to be onstage today and tomorrow, and 58 phenomenal basketball student-athletes who have taken the time out of their busy schedules to join us here today to share their stories, to carry the message forward of how important Big Ten basketball is, not only in our footprint, across the conference and across the world.
We have been a leader in this space, in basketball. During our 125-year history, we’ve had 13 national championships and 65 Final Four appearances between our men and women’s basketball programs. Two of our national championship coaches will be here at Media Days so you have an opportunity to hear from them. That’s Maryland’s Brenda Frese, our head coach there, and also Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, who have both won national championships.
They are really a group of I strongly believe the best basketball coaches in college we have in our conference, from a women’s standpoint and from a men’s standpoint. We have the best student-athletes in the country in our conference. They’re transformational. We’re looking forward to this new generation of coaches, of players who you’ll hear from these next two days.
Last year was really special for us. 16 of our Big Ten basketball programs from a men and women’s standpoint made the NCAA tournament. Four women’s programs reached the Sweet 16, with Indiana making it all the way to the Elite 8. The same thing for Michigan from a men’s standpoint who made it to the Elite 8.
I’m confident this year will be even better, that we’ll have teams in the Final Four, from a men’s and women’s standpoint. We’ll have teams who will be able to compete for the national championship. I’m really excited about this upcoming basketball season. I love college basketball. It’s great to be here with you all today.
On changes this year to keep the Big Ten at the forefront of innovation in the world of college sports:
One of the things that I made clear during our Football Media Days a couple months ago was the fact in order for us to stay on the cutting edge and continue to focus on the mental health and wellness of all Big Ten student-athletes, the 10,000 student-athletes that we serve each and every day, that we would be announcing the hiring of a chief medical officer.
With that information, a release went out within the last hour, but I’m proud and honored to announce here today that we have hired Dr. Jim Borchers through the U.S. Council for Athletes’ Health, USCAH, to serve as our first-ever Big Ten Conference Chief Medical Officer. I believe Dr. Borchers is here today. I saw him in the gym early this morning. If you’re here, will you please stand up.
Dr. Borchers is most recently the head team physician at Ohio State University. He’s a skilled practitioner, a leader in this industry. I am really excited Dr. Borchers, for you, to make the commitment to join us here at the Big Ten Conference to help us continually elevate the importance of the health, both physically and mentally, of our 10,000 student-athletes. I look forward to working with you.
On the Big Ten and the move towards greater equality:
I think it shows what the Big Ten stands for, that we’re an environment that’s inclusive not only from a gender standpoint, from a color standpoint, from an opportunity standpoint.
We’ve seen that same type of diversity in the ranks of our senior leadership. We now have five women who serve as chancellor and president for our individual schools in the Big Ten. We have three Black men who also serve as either chancellor or president in the Big Ten. That makes it that we have eight of our 14 chancellors and presidents in the Big Ten Conference are either women or men of color.
The same holds true for our athletic directors, where we have five Black men who currently serve at athletic directors in the Big Ten Conference, and one woman.
We will continually be leaders in the industry to promote diversity, equity and inclusion, from a race standpoint, a gender standpoint, sexual orientation [Editor’s Note: It’s about damn time on this one in particular]. We will create an environment that’s inclusive and will empower every person to have an opportunity to be successful in the Big Ten Conference.
We are coming up on 50 years since the passage of Title IX that provided women the opportunity to compete from an athletic standpoint. We made a lot of progress, but we have so much progress left to make.
On new efforts to elevate women’s basketball in the Big Ten:
One of the things we want to do at the Big Ten is be leaders in this area. We all can do better, but it is a focal point of us to do it. That’s one of the reasons why we’re here today in this environment, to show that we believe in equality, that we all can do better. That’s why we wanted to have this Media Day where both our women coaches of our programs, our men coaches, our women student-athletes, our men student-athletes, could come on the same stage at the same time to be able to share their stories and to be able to promote their individual brands.
We wanted to do it together, not separately. It’s the first of many things that we will do together with our women’s and men’s basketball programs. I’m proud again speaking of Francois and his leadership at Big Ten Network that 52% of all the live programming this year on Big Ten Network, and I see Francois here in the back, will be to promote women’s sports. I’m proud of that. I’m proud to be associated with the Big Ten Conference, and I’m proud for all the things that we’re doing to make our conference continually to be strong and leaders in the community.
One thing I’d like to share is that we’re in the stages of interviewing and eventually hiring a new vice president for women’s basketball. This individual will be hired before the start of our Big Ten basketball season begins. But it’s important because this individual will be the leader from our women’s basketball standpoint. We will have a designated person who will lead those efforts, which is incredibly important. We have some incredible candidates, and I look forward to welcoming that individual into the Big Ten family before we kick off our Big Ten women’s basketball season.
Finally, Commissioner Warren announced the new Lisa Byington Award:
Speaking of powerful, successful, legendary women, this last week was really special because we were able to announce the establishment of the Lisa Byington Award, which is named after Lisa Byington, longtime Big Ten Network broadcaster. She was a two-sport standout at Northwestern University. She was recently named the first female full-time broadcaster in the history of the National Basketball Association, when she accepted the position of play-by-play announcer at the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Lisa Byington Award will be presented annually to our outstanding female student broadcaster who works at Big Ten Network Digital Services, BTN+ and B1G+, through the BTN StudentU program. I’m looking forward to have Lisa to help us choose this person.
What we’ll do with this individual is that they’ll have an opportunity to get training, to get their reel put together. We’ll help them interview, we’ll help empower them to provide them with a platform through the Big Ten Network and the Big Ten Conference to follow in the footprints of Lisa Byington and also have another incredible career.
You can find transcripts of his full remarks and corresponding Q&A here.
That’s a wrap on Big Ten Basketball Media Days 2021. Just over a month until the season’s first game (not counting exhibition, of course)!