The Nebraska Cornhuskers men’s basketball team up today in Minneapolis speaking before a number of media outlets and officials at the 2022 Big Ten Basketball Media Days.
There was plenty of great insight into the team heading into a pivotal 2022-’23 season. For all of those details, you can find head coach Fred Hoiberg’s remarks during his press conference in the morning and then the separate sit down with Mike Hall of the Big Ten Network with Hoiberg, Sam Griesel, and Derrick Walker below.
Nebraska men’s basketball season kicks off with an exhibition game against Chadron State next week on Oct. 23 at Pinnacle Bank Arena. The team’s first regular season game is at home against Maine on Nov. 7. The full 2022-2023 tv schedule can be viewed here.
KEVIN WARREN: Our next head coach to the podium is Fred Hoiberg. He’s the head basketball coach from the University of Nebraska. Fred and his wife have done so much in the community, not only here in the Twin Cities but also for the state of Nebraska, with Coaches Versus Cancer and the American Heart Association.
Fred is not only an outstanding person, he’s an outstanding coach. I’ve been fortunate to know him for nearly probably 20 years since our kids grew up playing Pop Warner football together here in the Twin Cities.
Welcome back, Fred. I’d like to welcome the head basketball coach at the University of Nebraska, Fred Hoiberg.
FRED HOIBERG: Thank you, Kevin.
First of all, just want to say how great it is to be back in Minneapolis. Some of my greatest basketball memories are in this building. One that sticks out to me most is Game 7 against the Sacramento Kings in the Western Conference semifinals when Kevin Garnett and myself combined for 32 points and 27 rebounds. Kevin at 32-21, I contributed with six rebounds in that game (laughter).
One of the greatest memories and greatest events I think in Minnesota Timberwolves basketball history. To be part of that, to see Kevin jump on the scores table at halfcourt, single best performance I’ve ever been a part of, to see what KG did that night.
It’s awesome to be back here in the Twin Cities where I have some of my greatest memories as a basketball player and also started my career as a front office executive with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
I’m really excited about our group. I have a team that’s got great toughness and length. I can say that’s the first time we’ve had a group with positional size across the board, which is so important in this league.
The two guys that have really set the tone for our team are here in the building representing our program today in Derrick Walker and Sam Griesel. Two guys that had the opportunities to start their professional careers and decided to come back because they wanted to be a part of something at Nebraska basketball that had never been done before.
Those two every day are setting the tone for our team as well as guys like Emmanuel Bandoumel, who we got as a two-time back-to-back double-digit scorer the last two seasons at SMU. One of the greatest leaders that I’ve ever had. That goes back to my really good teams at Iowa State with Georges Niang, Monté Morris, Naz Long, Matt Thomas, guys like that. I would put him up with any of those guys as far as being a great culture person for our program, and a guy that, with Sam and Derrick, is setting the tone for our team.
Every day these guys step on the floor, they compete. I do know that this is a team that our fan base will be able to rally behind just because of the makeup and the character of this group.
[I’m] Excited about our team and, with that, I’ll answer any questions.
Q. I know you at Iowa State were one of the first coaches to lean hard into recruiting transfers. Now with really everyone doing that, how much that process has changed versus when you first started doing it?
FRED HOIBERG: That’s a great question.
It changed a lot obviously with the makeup of college basketball right now and the landscape of our sport with the transfer portal.
I look back at our first year and we took over a program that had I think it was four scholarship players when we took over. I talked to our staff about finding a way as quickly as possible to get a group that can compete against the top teams in our league, Kansas, Texas, you know those types of schools.
We found that in the transfer market. I didn’t say we’re going to go out and take only transfers, but that’s how we were going to at least be able to compete in the quickest way possible. We got that with Royce White from Minnesota, we got it with Chris Babb from Penn State, Chris Allen from Michigan State, and Anthony Booker from Southern Illinois.
That was back in the old days where you had to sit out for a season before you were able to compete. But I could see the chemistry those guys built, how quickly I thought that we’d be able to turn it around just because of the talent of specifically those four players.
We were able to, after that, once we got on the map, to get in front of some pretty high-level high school players. That’s where when they saw our style of play, the spread, five-out system that we were running, attracted Georges Niang. We won a Big 12 tournament championship, and that attracted more.
I think we had a good mix of transfers, four-year guys, and the four-year guys were the staples of our program.
It came down to us with Royce, us and Kentucky. The proximity to home in the Twin Cities is really what got us over the hump, getting that key recruit, as key a player as I ever had at Iowa State.
Now you’re competing against everybody for transfers. Not just three schools, now everybody, Blue Bloods, are bringing in transfers to help supplement their rosters.
You see the older teams. That’s one of the reasons I’m excited about our team this year. We’re old. We got really good players that have played in some high-level programs.
We have players for the first time that have played in the post-season. Sam Griesel played in the NCAA tournament. Juwan Gary from Alabama won a SEC championship and was on a Sweet 16 team at Alabama.
Emmanuel Bandoumel played in two post-seasons. Derrick Walker was the only guy on our team last year when he was at Tennessee that played in the post-season. So now, we feel good about the transfers we brought in because they fit the type of mold, type of person, type of player we’re looking to build our program with.
I guess long-winded way to answer your question. But right now I guess the biggest difference is we’re competing against so many more schools as far as transfers. But when I took over at Iowa State, that was the quickest way to build our program up.
Q. This time last year you had palpable buzz surrounding the program. A couple big whigs picked you for making the Tournament. What did you learn about managing expectations last year?
FRED HOIBERG: You look at last year’s team, we were 4-10 in two possession games in the last five minutes when we had a game within two possessions. That’s obviously not good enough. You find a way to win some of those close games early...
We lost some heartbreakers, missed free throws, missed blockouts, some little things that could have gotten us over the hump.
In this game, going back to my experience as a player, if you’re confident you find a way to win those close ones. By losing our close games early, that had us on the wrong side. Once we got it going at the end of the year, that’s kind of what I envisioned that team, was hoping that team would do to come together.
Obviously losing Trey, the toughest perimeter player we had, in the third game of the season with a broken foot, then losing Wilhelm shortly after, one of our tougher front line players, didn’t help. At the end of the year when we really got it going, it was a very together group. But it took us too long to get there.
Our biggest message to this team is really focusing on and going out and doing the little things, finding a way to get over the hump on those games early in the season to build confidence to where you find a way to win those games.
I’ve been on teams — I give you the example of the Timberwolves team that I referenced earlier. If we were within five or six points in the last three minutes of the game, we knew we were going to win. That’s what confidence does for you.
My teams at Iowa State, we won every close game. We had been in so many of those situations, we found a way to go over the hump. That’s what we have to find a way to do. You’re in so many close grind-out battles, especially in this league, you got to find a way to get those close ones. If you can do that, that’s what builds character, that’s what builds toughness, that’s what builds confidence so you can be competing for a post-season spot at the end of the year.
Q. Sam Griesel grew up a Husker fan. What kind of impact have you seen from having a guy like that in the program, both in terms of with the team and in terms of with fan buzz?
FRED HOIBERG: It’s incredible. I’ll just go back to when Sam came on his official visit and sat in my office, was in there with his mom and dad, and a couple of our assistant coaches. All he talked about was winning. It was very refreshing.
A lot of times when you’re sitting in those meetings, the questions are: How many shots am I going to get? How many minutes am I going to play? What role do you anticipate for me?
All Sam cared about was he wanted to get this program to where it’s never been because he was a passionate Nebraska basketball fan growing up.
The chemistry that Sam and the others have built by spending time with each other off the floor, which again is very important when you’re playing in close games, to have a trust level. These guys genuinely care for each other. Sam has been a big part of that as any of those other guys that I talked about with Derrick, Emmanuel, Wilhelm. We got a group of guys that will go to battle with each other every night.
Sam’s passion for the program I think is rubbing off on our other players because he’s been there, seen it, he grew up in it, and he wants to see this thing be successful.
I feel great where we are. It means nothing right now. We got to go out and prove it. I think we have a group of players that our fan base can be proud of.
Later in the afternoon, the Huskers sat down with Mike Hall to talk shop live on the Big Ten Network. First up was Coach Hoiberg who was asked about the tough season that saw the team rally late to close out the year with wins in three of its last four games.
“We really did [rally],” said Hoiberg. “It really gave us momentum into the offseason just with how well we were clicking, especially offensively. We were a very high-powered offensive team at the end of the season. We’re able to show that when you get a guy like Sam Griesel who saw the way we finished, to get an Emmanuel Bandoumel, a back-to-back double-digit scorer at SMU, Juawn Gary, another player we feel good about.
“So finishing off with momentum, going into the season we watched a lot of clips with our guys about how we were playing, the things we were doing that made us successful, and all the things we did early that cost us some games and making sure we take care of the little things. That’s where these two guys have been so good as far as making sure we instill the values in our team, doing the little things that are going to help us win those close games that we lost a year ago.”
Derrick Walker chimed in next after being asked by Hall what it was that “clicked” for the team down that final stretch.
“I don’t know,” admitted Walker. “I think it just clicked. We had a really rough season, but throughout those [final] games we came out on top. I think after that first one, we felt like we could win more. We wish we had more season after that, but we don’t know what it was. It was just a moment that we clicked and we just overcame those late game humps that we always had difficult with.”
Hall turned to Sam Griesel next. A graduate student joining his hometown team with NCAA Tournament experience, Hall zeroed in on what Griesel thought he could bring to the team with that on his resume.
“I think it starts with off the court,” explained Griesel. “Something that we’ve done a really good job with this summer is just doing really good thing in the community and just building that relationship off the floor. I think doing that, playing in the NCAA Tournament my freshman year of college really helped to propel me forward in my career. It made me feel like I could achieve anything in college and bringing that mentality and that work ethic every single day to practice has been something that I try to implement into the team. We have a really good base group of guys that understand that and we’re seeing that in practice.”
Hall stuck with Griesel for the next question as well. Being a hometown kid, Hall pressed Griesel on just what it means to him to play in a Husker uniform.
“It’s really hard to put into words to be honest,” stated Griesel. “It’s been a dream come true the last five months. Being able to work with Coach Hoiberg and the guy to my left has been a treat. I’m just trying to take to day by day and really embrace the moment. I know not everyone gets to live out their dream completely and this was certainly the number one dream I had growing up. So just trying to honestly make my 10 year old self proud and be a positive role model to all the kids in Lincoln because I see myself in their shoes. I’m just trying to be the best person that I can be, the best basketball player I can be for this program.”
Hall went back to Hoiberg next to ask about what this squad can bring this season.
“Some of the things I think we lacked in losing close games last season,” Hoiberg claims, “this team’s really bought into the chemistry piece. They spend so much time off the floor and that matters. When you have a genuine care factor for the other guy that’s standing next to you out there on the floor, that’s hopefully going to get you over the hump. We’re doing a lot of things right now, not skipping steps, and these two guys right here have really bought into that. But not just these two guys, but also the other core group of leaders.”
Hoiberg also went on to again highlight the team’s size at its various positions compared to last year. Something which he correctly identifies is a key feature for success in the Big Ten.
“We feel really good about this roster,” Hoiberg continued. “One from a positional size standpoint, you have to have that in this league if you’re going to be successful. Also from a toughness perspective. We have toughness, this team. It’s going to help us win an ugly game. We didn’t have that capability last year.
“There’s some core things we’ve always done with our system. One thing about Sam as point guard with the ball in his hands, he’s very hard to speed up. We’ve got some really good on-ball defenders that can pick up full-court, and it’s just hard to speed this guy up with the ball in his hands. So you’ve got great poise in your floor general out there on the floor. We’ve got other guys that certainly are capable. We play through Derrick a lot. We feel his efficiency as a front court player, 67 percent from the floor a year ago, and also a high-assist guy at the five position, we feel good about our veteran players.”
Hoiberg also took this opportunity to focus on the age of the roster.
“We got older this year as well,” Hoiberg said, “which is important. With some five year guys, Derrick in his sixth year now. But we feel fortunate to have him back. Derrick had a chance to go start his professional career, but I think he saw with what we were bringing in and adding to our team, he wanted to be a part of something special. That’s why he came to Nebraska. That’s why Sam will be wearing a Nebraska uniform next year, because he sees the potential of what this group is capable of doing. Now it’s about living that out and going out and doing it every time you hit the floor.”
Finally, Hall gave Walker the final word. Fans may remember the news that Walker purchased a big rig last season to start his own trucking business. Hall asked him to talk more about that.
“It was something I did,” explained Walker, “just because in this world and this age, everything is about entrepreneurship, everything’s about having something in your name to build off of. Alongside with having NIL, it just creates a lot of opportunities not just for me, but also so many former athletes. I would love for someone to see me start a business and go ‘hey, I can go start something else as well. I can do something instead of small things like clothing, stuff that only keeps you in business because of relevance.’ It was something that I just sat down and started using my brain for the first time that can help me alongside while playing basketball.”
Walker also explained how he found the driver to operate the truck for his business as well, and it was via the Husker basketball network in fact.
“The driver I hired,” said Walker, “his best friend played for us my freshman year, Kevin Cross. So I know him personally. It worked out for the best.”
That’s a wrap for the Huskers men’s coverage on the day. The season is just around the, well, weekend bend I guess?