NU Storms Back From Down 17 to Knock Off Wisconsin In OT

By Jacob Bigelow

If Wisconsin had the game in the bag, somebody forgot to tell Nebraska.

The Huskers rallied from a 17-point second-half deficit on Saturday at Pinnacle Bank Arena, pushed the game into overtime and dominated from there, winning 73-63.

Perhaps the only one more perplexed than the stunned Wisconsin players was Husker coach Fred Hoiberg, who was still trying to process the improbable comeback in his post-game media conference.

Asked for his initial thoughts, Hoiberg had no words.

“I can’t,” Hoiberg said with an ear-to-ear grin. “I’m just gonna get up and leave and say it was a lot of fun.” 

Yes it was. 

  • It was NU’s largest come-from-behind win since 2013 (Iowa, 19 points).
  • It was NU’s third-largest comeback since the start of the 1996-97 season.
  • It was NU’s largest second-half comeback since at least 1997-98.

Down 35-24 at halftime, things looked bleak for the Huskers. At that point, they were 1 of 8 from 3-point range and had only one assist.

The hole only got deeper to start the second half. Wisconsin started with an 8-2 run and took its biggest lead at 43-26 with 17 minutes to play. 

Husker fans who turned the channel would be kicking themselves by Saturday evening. 

Keisei Tominga splashed back-to-back 3-pointers. Derrick Walker made a lay-up. Sam Griesel capitalized on an and-one. Blaise Keita scored his only points of the game. Tominaga again hit back-to-back 3s.

Suddenly, NU had its first lead of the game.

It was all part of a 20-2 run that stretched into overtime. The Huskers (12-14, 5-10 Big Ten) finished on a 12-0 run and outscored Wisconsin (14-10, 6-8) 12-2 in overtime.

Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said his team got what it deserved.

“I was really brutally honest with them,” he said of his locker room address. “It was Jekyll and Hyde between who we were in the first half defensively (and) who we were in the second half.”

The Badgers’ sin, he said, was allowing Tominaga, who scored 17 of his 22 points after halftime, to catch fire.

“It started with too much fouling,” Gard said. “We fouled too much in the first half. That gives the team confidence to get to the free throw line and then Tominaga – I’ll give him credit, he’s had some tough shots, but it’s not surprising because that’s how he plays.”

But it wasn’t a one-man show.

  •  Griesel stuffed the stat sheet with 15 points, seven rebounds and six assists.
  • Walker scored 18 points, grabbed eight rebounds and often had his way down low against Badger big men. Example: He had six of Nebraska’s 12 points in overtime.
  • Jamarques Lawrence scored 11 points, and his athleticism was a clear problem for Wisconsin guards.

Who got the gameball?

Blaise Keita.

Little used to this point – Keita had played just 22 minutes since Dec. 29 because of an ankle injury – the big-man clocked almost 23 minutes, all in the second half or overtime, pulling down a game-high 11 rebounds to go with two steals and two points.

“I’m so proud of him,” Hoiberg said. “He’s a guy that has gone through a lot this year with the injuries. He got hurt in the Queens game with a high-ankle sprain. He has really struggled with that from a timing standpoint.”

That may be about to change.

For the first time, Hoiberg played his two bigs together, sliding the 6-foot-9 Walker to the 4 spot and playing the 6-11 Keita at the 5.

“We have been working on the big-big lineup for this exact situation, when (the opponent) had two good post players. It allowed us to go one-on-one in the post.”

Wisconsin, which gets much of its work done down low, had no answer – Nebraska outrebounded the Badgers 43-37 – and Walker went to work offensively, most notably in overtime.

“We were in a close game,” Walker said. “We were in overtime and someone needed to score. … Whether it is me or somebody else I am just happy we capitalized on our moments and did what we had to do to finish the game.”

Tominaga’s Career Day Leads NU Past Penn State

By Jacob Bigelow

When did Fred Hoiberg know that Kesei Tominaga was in for a big game? 

“Probably when he hit the one from halfcourt,” the Huskers basketball coach said. “I think that was the one where I kind of knew that it was Keisei’s night.”

Grinning from ear to ear, Tominaga echoed that sentiment. How early did he know? 

“Probably the first shot,” Tominaga said. 

Amid a four-game losing streak and down two members of its starting lineup, Nebraska defeated Penn State 72-63 on Sunday at Pinnacle Bank Arena, moving to 11-13 on the season and 4-9 in the Big Ten.

With the local discourse around the program more about the uncertainty of next year instead of the season at hand, Hoiberg’s Huskers led from start to finish against the visitors, who fell to 14-9 and 5-7. 

Tominaga finished with a career high 30 points, 16 of those coming in the second half. It was the third-highest scoring output by a Husker in a Big Ten game. His five 3-pointers were also the most a Husker has made in a game this season.

Tominaga is best known as a shooter, but his slashing cuts off the ball and his attempts at the basket prove he’s much more than that.

CE5A3074 800
30 Keisei Tominaga

“People label Keisei as a shooter, but his cutting off of Derrick (Walker), off of (Sam) Griesel, is really impressive,” Hoiberg said. “And when teams are hugging him like they were today, and like they always play him, cutting is something that he has to do.” 

Penn State coach Micah Shrewsberry said the Nittany Lions made the mistake of letting Tominaga get going. 

“We didn’t do a good job,” Shrewsberry said. “We didn’t do a good job at all, but I thought he was great. I thought he got into a rhythm early by getting layups. Everything starts to fall from there.”

Tominaga’s long bombs, quick drives into the lane and his overall energy have made him a fan favorite.

“It is infectious,” Hoiberg said. “You see that when he hits those shots, when he gets to the end of the lane and hits those circus shots, you see the bench go crazy for him, you see his teammates out on the floor. It’s just fun to have a guy play with that much passion.”

Tominaga wasn’t the only act that drew raves. Guard Jamarques Lawrence finished with 11 points and nine rebounds. The freshman from Plainfield, New Jersey, has seen his role expand following season-ending injuries to Emmanuel Bandoumel and Juwan Gary. 

Nebraska hit four of its first five 3-pointers to lead 22-13 early in the first half. Tominaga set the tone by scoring 10 of the Huskers’ first 17.

NU’s largest lead was 15 at 35-20 following a traditional three-point play by Griesel. Penn State responded by scoring six straight to get within single digits before half at 37-28. 

Penn State would eventually cut the lead to three late in the second half, but a Tominaga layup and another 3-pointer all but slammed the door. The dagger came from Lawrence, who nailed his third 3 right in front of his head coach with 45 seconds to play. Free throws down the stretch from Lawrence and Sam Hoiberg finished the game. 

Penn State attempted 38 3-pointers, more than half of their total shot attempts. Seth Lundy  finished the game with eight 3-pointers, tying the Pinnacle Bank Arena record for made 3s in a game. Jalen Pickett finished with 15 points, seven rebounds and seven assists after being held in check the first half.

Lundy, Pickett and Andrew Funk accounted for 53 of Penn State’s 63 points. 

The Huskers took care of the ball and finished with only seven turnovers, a much better performance than its 19 and 15 turnovers in back-to-back road losses to Maryland and Illinois.  

“It started with our preparation and how we were going to turn the page and come back in here and get back to work and the guys were very resilient,” Hoiberg said.

Nebraska Puts Clamps On Iowa Shooters

By Jacob Bigelow

Add Iowa to the list of satisfying wins Fred Hoiberg’s Huskers have racked up this season.

The Hawkeyes came into Pinnacle Bank Arena on Thursday averaging 83.8 points a game. They left with only 50 on the scoreboard and an ‘L’ in the scorebook.

The 50 points was a season low, as was Iowa’s field goal percentage of 26% from the field (19 for 73) and free throws made (5) and attempted (8).

“We are gonna win this game on defense and energy, and I thought we did a great job milking the clock after we got some key offensive rebounds,” Hoiberg said after the 66-50 win. “That’s a team that can go on big runs and score in bunches, so for our guys to go out there and win it on (the defensive) end is what it is about for our team right now.”

The Huskers (8-4, 1-2 Big Ten) added another satisfying victory over a neighbor after beating then No. 7 Creighton 63-53 in Omaha on Dec. 4 – another game in which the Huskers imposed their defensive will on an opponent. 

But Friday was even more impressive. There was a buzz in PBA with a sold-out crowd of 14,920 into the game from the start. The game went sideways quickly for Iowa (8-5, 0-2) as the Huskers jumped to an early 9-0 run and  led by double digits most of the game, including multiple instances where they were up by 20. 

“They hit a couple 3s, and all of the sudden you look up and you are down 12, 13 or 15,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “At the end of the day, you have to play the game with a greater sense of urgency defensively. Especially when the ball is not dropping.”

At times, the Huskers also feasted on offense. They went on a 20-0 scoring run at one point in the first half during which Iowa missed 16 straight shots as part of a nearly nine-minute scoring drought.

Back-to-back 3s by CJ Wilcher and Sam Griesel put an exclamation point on the run, extending the lead to 29-8 and setting the tone for the rest of the game. Iowa cut the deficit to single digits on two occasions, but Nebraska answered both times and went into the locker room with a 38-26 lead after Juwan Gary banked in a 3 just before halftime. 

Iowa’s gaudy scoring average was the highest in the Big Ten coming into the game. What’s more, Thursday was the first game back for leading scorer Kris Murray, who had been out with an injury since Dec. 6. He led his team with 17 points in 36 minutes, but it wasn’t nearly enough.

“He’s a great player,” Hoiberg said. “He’s a three-level player and scorer. The plan was to keep Juwan on him as much as possible. Denim (Dawson) gave a good stretch on him as well.”

After the break, Nebraska picked up where it left off, pushing the lead back to 20 early in the second half. With Blaise Keita out with an ankle injury and Derrick Walker in foul trouble early, Nebraska got good contributions from both Wilhelm Breidenbach and Oleg Kojenets in expanded roles. Wilcher also got warmed up, finishing with 13 points and draining timely 3s.

Even when the Huskers struggled offensively – Nebraska did not score for nearly seven minutes in the second half – the Hawkeyes could not get into gear. They mustered six points during NU’s cold stretch.

“The offense wasn’t real pretty in the second half,” Hoiberg said. “In the first half, I thought we had good movement, rhythm and flow. They force you to play that way with their press, got us extended a bit, couldn’t get the ball downhill, when we did get an open shot, we couldn’t knock it in.”

But NU could always depend on its defense. 

“We kept defending, and that was what we talked about in the huddle,” Hoiberg said.

Nebraska outrebounded Iowa 54 to 40. That kind of effort on the boards and its defense is this team’s recipe for success – a stark contrast to previous Hoiberg teams.

“That’s just pretty much what we do,” Breidenbach said. “That’s a part of the game that is completely dependent on us. The only person that can control that is us, so it’s just a product of playing hard.”

Hoiberg could also tell from the jump his guys were locked in. 

“Really proud of our guys for the effort they came out of the game with,” he said. “I thought the energy was exactly what we needed. This style of team (Iowa) gets out to fast starts, and we came out and had great energy from the opening tip. That’s what you have to do to give yourselves a chance against this team and in this league.” 

Gary said Nebraska emphasized defense all week coming off the Christmas break.

“This is the start of the season, basically, so it’s what we did all week,” he said. “Practiced hard for the three days we had. Defense was a mentality we had almost all week, so we just went out there with the game plan. The defensive effort was more from the coach pushing us through every week, every day, so it just came from all that.”

McCaffrey, for one, can see the difference from previous Husker squads.

“It’s a completely different team,” he said. “These guys are playing like a team. They are playing for each other. Nobody is going for themselves. They are playing for each other. I think it’s obvious. When you see that many guys in double figures, there is no selfishness there, I see.” 

All five Husker starters finished in double figures. Gary finished with 14 points to go along with nine rebounds. Griesel chipped in a double-double of 12 points and 10 rebounds and added five assists. Walker and Emmanuel Bandoumel both finished with 10 points.

Gary was blunt in describing his team and what the win meant. 

“People look at us as a pushover, but it’s a whole new team, whole new leadership, and whole new group,” he said. “So we’re going to go out there and just take it game after game. Today was the first step for us. We know today was a good win, so we’re going to move on to the next.”

Nebraska Stuns No. 7 Creighton in Omaha. Huskers Win Third In A Row

By Jacob Bigelow

OMAHA – In an arena the program hadn’t won in since the 2004 National Invitation Tournament and in a city where it hadn’t won during the regular season since December 1995, Fred Hoiberg’s Nebraska basketball team picked up a signature victory to kick off a daunting three-game stretch. 

Nebraska pulled the upset over in-state rival Creighton, the No. 7-ranked team in the country, 63-53 on Sunday afternoon at the CHI Health Center in Omaha. It was Hoiberg’s first victory over Creighton as the Husker head man and it came against what many consider the best Creighton team of them all. 

The series had been dominated by Creighton in recent memory, with Nebraska’s most recent win coming in 2018. Most of the games since had been decided by the second first-half media timeout – in Creighton’s favor. 

Sunday’s game was vastly different, as the Huskers, now 6-3 and on a three-game win streak, hung their hat on the defensive end, forcing 16 Bluejay turnovers leading to 10 Husker points. Those 10 points created the winning margin by the end. 

The game, while not aesthetically pleasing, went exactly how Nebraska drew it up, with gritty defenders hounding Creighton shooters and players in red consistently sucking up rebounds. 

Creighton coach Greg McDermott compared the Nebraska defense to what his team saw in its first game of the season against St. Thomas – a closer-then-expected win. 

“We can dissect this about 100 different ways, but bottom line is Nebraska was the better team today,” he said. 

Creighton struggled throughout the game to find any offensive rhythm, shooting just 30 percent from the field and 25 percent from 3-point range. When asked about his group’s defensive effort, Hoiberg said, “We could not have played much better.” 

Whenever it looked like Creighton might make a run, Nebraska buckled down on defense. It led to a sellout crowd of more than 17,000 mostly in blue to begin filing out in stunned silence before the final buzzer. For a game that featured two coaches known for their pace-and-space offenses, neither team could get going from beyond the arc.

Nebraska finished with just three double-figure scorers, but that was all it needed. Its two most experienced players, Sam Griesel and Derrick Walker, both attacked the rim throughout the game. 

Walker led the Huskers with 22 points and 8 rebounds. The sixth-year, 6-foot-9 senior was not afraid to attack Ryan Kalkbrenner, Creighton’s 7-foot rim-protector. Again, that was part of the NU plan. 

“You look at Derrick, what he does, I think I can jump higher than him right now, but when you get him the ball in the middle of the floor and he can get into the body of the defender, …” Hoiberg said, before trailing off. “We thought Derrick could have some success with that and that’s what happened.” 

Walker was complimentary of how teammates assisted his big afternoon. 

“They give me the ball and they tell me to go score,” he said. “Without them I wouldn’t have the confidence I have to go score the ball. So just having trust in my teammates and having them trust me so well, it helps everyone.” 

Griesel did a little bit of everything offensively for Nebraska and was key to establishing the Huskers’ rhythm offensively. He finished with a double-double of 18 points and 12 rebounds. 

The grad transfer from North Dakota State who grew up in Lincoln likely knew the significance of the win more than his teammates. 

“When I committed here, this is the game I wanted the most for a lot of reasons,” Griesel said. “Just thinking back to players I idolized that wore this jersey that didn’t get to win in this arena, it’s hard to put into words. I get a little emotional about it.” 

Juwan Gary chipped in 12 points and had 9 boards for NU. 

Francisco Farabello led Creighton with 16 points while Baylor Scheierman and Kalkbrenner had 10 apiece. 

Nebraska’s three consecutive wins have come against Florida State, Boston College and now Creighton. The road gets no easier as the Huskers head to Bloomington to play No. 10 Indiana on Wednesday before returning home to host No. 5 Purdue on Saturday afternoon.

School’s Back In Session

Can Fred Hoiberg’s Bigger and Longer Team Pass the Big Ten Test?

Opinion • By Jacob Bigelow

The fall semester officially begins Aug. 22, but for Nebraska basketball, the entire summer has felt like the first day of school.

Derrick Walker, who had to do the dirty work under the basket last season at only 6-foot-9, will have help this season with the arrival of 6-11 Blaise Keita.

There are new faces and new ideas. There’s been some get-to-know-you activities. There are new assistant coaches, including one, Ernie Zeigler, who officially came aboard just eight days before the start of classes. There are super seniors who feel like they have been in school forever. And there are hotshot freshmen and newcomers still finding their way.

And most of all, there is a sense of giddiness. Is this the group that will finally bring home a pleasing report card with passing grades?

There are lots of first-day-of-school metaphors. The coach is a basketball professor who can lecture X’s and O’s for hours on end. He’s in constant search of players who can navigate his curriculum. The syllabus is a schedule that could see as many as seven high major opponents in the nonconference before the meatgrinder of a 20-game Big Ten slate.

There are questions to answer. There will be tests early and often.

And following the restructuring of coach Fred Hoiberg’s contract, I don’t think Athletic Director Trev Alberts will be grading on a curve.

Over the summer, the media spoke to a handful of players, a mix of old and new faces – it’s not a total overhaul as in recent years. The only coach we heard from was Hoiberg, who spoke highly of his roster.

The headlining off-season addition is Lincoln East product and North Dakota State graduate transfer Sam Griesel, who grew up idolizing the Huskers and will spend his super senior season looking to turn the tide for his hometown team.

The 6-foot-6 guard had surgery in the spring to repair the labrum in his hip. Once healthy, look for him to become the face of the program when the season starts.

Another player recovering from surgery is sophomore forward Wilhelm Breidenbach, whose season-ending knee injury 10 games into his freshman season affected Nebraska’s depth. Doctors repaired Briedenbach’s ACL that was injured in December as well as his meniscus which the 6-10 forward believes he injured as far back as his senior season of high school in California.

Versatile Wilhelm Breidenbach, a 6-foot-10 sophomore forward who missed most of his freshman season with a knee injury, should fit in well with Nebraska’s bigger, more defensive-minded rotation.

Also returning is big man Derrick Walker, who not only will get a third senior night at Nebraska but may very well be the biggest fan favorite of the Hoiberg Era by the time his Husker career is done. The head coach himself already waxes poetic about the 6-9 Walker, who has been at Nebraska for Hoiberg’s entire stay.

“He’s going to go down as one of my all-time favorites,” Hoiberg said.

And this could be Walker’s breakout year. He’ll have legitimate post depth around him in 6-11 JUCO transfer Blaise Keita, a touted recruit. Together, they could be a handful for Big Ten opponents who liked to feast on Nebraska’s lack of size and rebounding.

While the recruiting class going into last season centered around the first five-star recruit in program history and a purported cast of 3-point shooters who fit into Hoiberg’s pace and space offense, the new roster centers on length and versatility. Expect it to be much better defensively.

The roster won’t be overmatched in size at any position. There are also experienced transfers aside from Griesel, including 6-4 SMU grad transfer Emmanuel Bandoumel and 6-6 Alabama transfer Juwan Gary.

Both have been described as “energy” guys who were fan favorites on their previous teams. Their stats don’t jump off the page, but Hoiberg has spoken highly of both.

“I have not been around many guys like Emmanuel, just such a great character kid that is all about the right things,” Hoiberg said. “He’s all about the team. You talked about the energy-givers, the energy-takers; he’s an energy-giver.

“Juwan Gary is going to be somebody that I think our fans will fall in love with right away because of just his tenacity of going to get the ball,” Hoiberg said. “We’re changing our offensive rebounding philosophy, and we’re going to get after it.”

Hoiberg has emphasized a change in philosophy to go along with how he’s constructed the roster. It’s a long, aggressive lineup with an emphasis on defense and rebounding – two things that have lacked on previous Hoiberg teams.

But who will score?

A slimmed-down C.J. Wilcher is a proven shooter, and freshmen Ramel Lloyd Jr. and Jamarques Lawrence likely will both be in contention for playing time.

Lloyd is another long and versatile guard who is no stranger to high pressure hoops, having played at California prep powerhouse Sierra Canyon. Lawrence is a sharpshooter from New Jersey whose jumpshot has already received lots of praise from his head coach.

Young guards Denim Dawson (6-6) and Quaran McPherson (6-3) fit the new mold, and with real size down low, who knows what might open up for Keisei Tominaga.

Hoiberg made critical staff changes. He parted ways with two of his closest coaching confidants in Matt Abdelmassih and Doc Sadler, who both contributed to his success all the way back to Iowa State.

New assistant Adam Howard has a defensive-minded background and has been working with post players since arriving in Lincoln. Nate Loenser, who was with Hoiberg at Iowa State and the Chicago Bulls, came aboard in April of 2021. And now there is Zeigler, the former Mississippi State assistant who replaces Armon Gates. Zeigler has been with big-time programs as an assistant with Ben Howland, following him from Pittsburgh to UCLA in the early 2000s and then reuniting with him at Mississippi State where he’s been the past seven years. He also was head coach at Central Michigan from 2006 to 2012.

To bring this back to my comparison to the first day of school, I’ll finish with a first-day-of-school icebreaker: Two truths and a lie for Nebraska basketball.

Option 1: Fred Hoiberg likes his roster.

Option 2: Fred Hoiberg is willing to adjust his philosophy.

Option 3: We all know exactly what to expect from this team.

It shouldn’t be hard to ace that test.

A Slam Dunk

Garth Glissman’s Road to the Big Time Was Paved by Hard Work and Vision

By Michael Kelly

Garth and Katie Glissman with their 3-year-old daughter, Grace.
Garth and Katie Glissman with their 3-year-old daughter, Grace.

Hmm, here’s an unusual way you could become an executive in the NBA:

Coach Class D-2 high school basketball in Nebraska for eight years, and then open an email from the pro league that says it has never seen a resume quite like yours. Wait. You didn’t send in your resume. This must be a joke.

Out of curiosity, you reply.

After a number of phone discussions over the next few months, you fly to New York for an interview. Then you stun your friends and colleagues by accepting a job with, yes, the National … Basketball … Association.

Glissman lettered as a Husker quarterback in 2004.
Glissman lettered as a Husker quarterback in 2004.

That’s the very condensed version of how Garth Glissman – a Nebraska native who sold peanuts, pizza and pop in the stands at Husker football games during his high school years and then was an invited walk-on at NU for basketball and football – went to work in 2016 for the NBA. Today at 40 he is the vice president of basketball operations.

“Garth is a very gifted and skilled professional,” said Byron Spruell, the NBA’s president of league operations. “He truly embodies the essence of teamwork and commitment.”

How did the NBA find him? It was as simple as the league’s human relations office being intrigued by his resume on LinkedIn as a practicing attorney who also coached high school basketball.

Yes, the short version of how Garth Glissman went to work for the NBA leaves out parts of his life path. Among them:

• In college, he said publicly that someday he’d like to be governor of Nebraska.
• At graduation, he was conferred a degree “with highest distinction” (summa cum laude).
• He became a Rhodes Scholar finalist.
• He won a top award at the University of Nebraska College of Law and then worked at the state’s largest law firm, where he rose to partner.
• He married a lawyer, Katie Kotlik, and they have a daughter, Grace, who turns 4 in July. Garth’s job is based in New York, but they keep a home in Omaha.

From his last year in law school through the first several years of his legal career, Glissman loved moonlighting as a non-paid high school basketball coach. Though he was a longtime pro basketball fan, he never dreamed of becoming part of the NBA.

Glissman at the 2017 NBA Finals in Cleveland.
Glissman at the 2017 NBA Finals in Cleveland.

It’s quite a story. Better start back at the beginning.

Garth Glissman was born in 1982, son of Blayne and Susan, and grew up on a small farm 15 minutes north of Memorial Stadium. His supportive parents, he said, instilled a love of learning but he was “fanatical” about sports. (After a divorce, his school teacher-administrator mother remarried and is now Susan Volker.)

Garth attended K-12 in the Waverly School District and in boyhood read about the Huskers in the Lincoln Journal Star and the Omaha World-Herald. With his own money, he subscribed to Huskers Illustrated. In those days, he said, only a few regular-season Husker games were televised, so he also listened intently on his radio.

“I tell young people today that they don’t know how good they have it,” Glissman said. “They have an entire world of information on their smartphones.”
At age 10, he became interested in politics because of the 1992 presidential campaign. That’s the year Bill Clinton defeated incumbent President George H.W. Bush and third-party candidate H. Ross Perot.

Garth’s fifth-grade teacher, he said, was the “dynamic” Sue Munn. As an incentive, if any of her pupils achieved reading a certain number of pages in books, they could ask her to invite someone to the classroom.

Though he had taken a liking to politics, Garth asked not for a politician but for a particular star high school athlete – Scott Frost, now the Husker coach. He arrived at Hamlow Elementary wearing his Wood River High football jersey and stayed the entire school day. Even as he went to Stanford his first two years of college, Garth wrote him letters.

Scott Frost and Glissman were together before the Independence Bowl in 2002. Frost was an interim graduate assistant for the game.
Scott Frost and Glissman were together before the Independence Bowl in 2002. Frost was an interim graduate assistant for the game.

In eighth grade, Garth got a job selling concessions at Memorial Stadium. He thinks back to the ’90s as a “romantic era” in Nebraska football, including the historic run of three national titles in four years.

At Waverly High, he was a “good-not-great student.” A late bloomer physically, he grew to 6-foot-5 and led the Viking teams in football and basketball. After a promising junior year of basketball, averaging 17 points and 11 rebounds, he played on the select Godfather’s AAU summer team. But at practice before his senior season, he suffered a double-dislocation of an ankle while trying to dunk over a teammate.

“I couldn’t quite grasp the rim,” Glissman recalled, “and we fell down simultaneously. He landed on me at the same time I hit the floor. The doctors were worried they might have to amputate my foot.”

College recruiters backed off, and after graduating Garth spent the 2000-01 year at the New Hampton prep school in New Hampshire. He went there to play basketball but it turned out to be a transformative year academically.

Glissman, bottom left, invited Frost as a special guest to his fifth-grade class.
Glissman, bottom left, invited Frost as a special guest to his fifth-grade class. Scott Frost, sporting his high school football jersey from Wood River, visits with Garth Glissman’s class. Garth is sitting on the floor in the blue shirt to Scott’s right.

“It was a combination of maturity and having my eyes opened to a different part of the country and a different way of thinking,” Glissman said. “By the time I showed up back at the university a year later, I was a serious student. I applied the same rigor to academics as I did to athletics, and I was just as competitive.”

He had drawn interest from Ivy League schools but wanted to return home for a simple reason: “I loved Nebraska.”

Accepting an invitation to walk on from NU basketball coach Barry Collier, Glissman practiced with the team but didn’t play in games. On days when the Huskers traveled, he stayed in Lincoln and began winter weight training with the football team. Noting his strong throwing arm one day, coach Frank Solich invited him to walk on as a quarterback in the spring of 2002.

Glissman drew attention from sportswriters by playing well in scrimmages, and he started for the White team in the 2003 Red-White spring game, completing nine of 17 passes for 78 yards. But he didn’t rise to the top of the depth chart.

One weekend, though, he served as host for a recruit and his parents on an official visit – Zac Taylor. A quarterback, Taylor became the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year as a Husker and in February this year coached the Cincinnati Bengals in the Super Bowl.

Glissman coached Parkview Christian School in Lincoln to its first state tournament appearance in the school’s 36-year history.
Glissman coached Parkview Christian School in Lincoln to its first state tournament appearance in the school’s 36-year history.

Glissman lettered as a Husker in 2004, Bill Callahan’s first year as head coach, and ran onto the field to cheers on Senior Day. But that was it. He never completed a pass in an actual game.

No, Garth Glissman didn’t make Husker history. Academically, though, he received the Glenn Gray Memorial Award as the top undergraduate majoring in … history.

If Glissman didn’t dazzle on the court or the field, he surely starred in the classroom – in four years of college courses, all A’s. (He is still disappointed about two A-minuses.) But before entering law school, he decided to take a gap year.

In 2005-06, Glissman taught American history at a different Eastern academy, Salisbury School in Connecticut, an all-boys boarding school. He was the varsity quarterback coach and co-head coach of the JV team, as well as the JV head basketball coach.

“In hindsight,” he said, “seeds were sown that year that led to where I am now. I fell in love with basketball again.”

He could have attended almost any law school but returned to Nebraska, living with his parents to save money. “I wanted to live and work in Nebraska. I had the goal of someday entering public service. If my heart was in Nebraska, I thought that’s where I should go to law school.”

His main hobby in those years, no surprise, was sports. Chris Schmidt, who hosted a Lincoln radio show called “Hail Varsity,” invited him on regularly to chat about sports. That led to their broadcasting high school games, with Glissman as color commentator.

And that led to his receiving an offer in 2008, while still in law school, to become the boys basketball head coach (as a volunteer) at College View Academy, a small high school in Lincoln.

Meanwhile, Glissman received another big academic honor in ’08 – the Ted Sorensen Fellowship, named for President John F. Kennedy’s adviser and speechwriter, who was from Lincoln. It is given to a third-year law student who “as voted on by the law school faculty, best represents academic excellence and commitment to public service.” (Glissman had two meetings with Sorensen, who died in 2010.)

After law school graduation in 2009, Glissman accepted an offer from Omaha’s biggest law firm, Kutak Rock, which has hundreds of attorneys in 14 states and Washington, D.C. His practice focused on complex commercial disputes, sometimes representing Fortune 500 companies, as well as on governmental issues.

Bart McLeay, then head of the litigation department and still an attorney with the firm, said Glissman is highly ethical and made an early impact. “He is one of the kindest people I have ever met, and was one of the most well-liked and respected lawyers in the firm in all my decades here. He has a gentle personality but at the same time, he’s ‘in a case to win a case.'”

McLeay and Glissman represented a corporate client in a six-week California jury trial that required weekly travel from Omaha. “Garth was a very capable second-chair lawyer,” McLeay said. “The client loved him, and we prevailed.”

Along the way, Glissman met Katie, a former volleyball setter at Gross Catholic High School and Morningside College and a member of the Abrahams Kaslow & Cassman law firm. They were introduced at a bar meeting – so to speak. Actually, at a bar in Omaha’s Old Market.

Glissman had coached at College View for four years and then four more at Parkview Christian School, leading the latter to its first state tournament appearance in the school’s 36-year history.

In fall of 2015, the NBA contacted him after seeing his resume on LinkedIn, the online professional networking website. Meanwhile, Glissman became a partner at Kutak Rock, a big step in a lawyer’s career. He coached Parkview in 2015-16, quietly continuing talks with the pro league.

After a big win one night, he went home for a two-hour nap before catching an early flight to New York to meet NBA folks. That spring, May of 2016, he resigned at Kutak Rock, leaving a rising career at 34.

“I was stunned,” McLeay said. “He had worked hard and become a partner, and we were all celebrating that. His Nebraska humility came through a lot. It was surprising to me that he was moving to New York, but New York City could use more people like Garth.”

Glissman said it was especially hard to leave all his players. “I loved them like my family.” Among them were juniors Henry Tanksley, who later played for Peru State, and Nosa Iyagbaye, who went on to Wayne State.

He also appreciated mentors and colleagues at the law firm and throughout his life. “I’ve been the beneficiary of a lot of people who have helped me pursue my own intellectual and creative interests.”

Glissman purchased NBA gear for some of his high school players after being hired by the NBA.
Glissman purchased NBA gear for some of his high school players after being hired by the NBA.

His job in the league office focuses on the Board of Governors, general managers, coaches and the Players Association. It also includes overseeing playing rules and officiating, which includes referees’ “points of emphasis” as well as the tweaking of rules. The game evolves, he said, as do rules interpretations.

As he immersed himself in his new job, Garth and Katie found an apartment in Manhattan, where she worked remotely for her Omaha firm. After the pandemic struck widely in March 2020, NBA staffers worked from wherever was convenient. Katie and daughter Grace have lived in Omaha full time since then, and Garth has commuted between New York and Omaha.

He is increasingly involved with college basketball and the NCAA Division I Competition Oversight Committee. He leads the NBA Undergraduate Advisory Committee, which provides players with confidential feedback as to where they would likely be selected in the annual draft. That helps athletes decide whether to declare for the draft or to stay in college.

“Because of my roots,” Glissman said, “I understand what college athletics means, particularly in certain parts of the country.”

His name was listed in news reports last year as a potential candidate for the athletic director job at Nebraska. Glissman declined to comment on that but said he fully supports the vision of AD Trev Alberts.

His NBA job is apolitical, but he hasn’t forgotten about his political dream in Nebraska. “There’s a time and place in life to assert oneself in politics,” he said, adding that for himself, now is not the time.

He is a registered Republican, and before taking the NBA job he served for three years in Omaha as legal counsel for the Douglas County Republican Party. He says he “kicked the tires” about an early run for Congress. “I hope sometime in life to provide public service in some capacity.”

He still loves football, he said, but its players line up on either offense or defense. In basketball they play both ends of the court.

“In my opinion,” he said, “NBA players are the best athletes in the world. I say that because it’s a game that requires a unique combination of size, explosiveness, agility and skills.”

Garth Glissman didn’t achieve his own athletic dreams but loves his job in a league with some of the greatest athletes. Coaching small-school basketball in Nebraska is hardly a normal stepping stone to the NBA, but there he stands.

Spruell, his boss, said the NBA appreciates Glissman’s passion for his work and for basketball, calling him “a well-rounded and grounded family man and professional who is doing great work at the league office.”

In college, Garth walked on twice. Now he has clearly stepped up – and made the NBA office’s starting lineup.

Mike Kelly retired in 2018 after 48 years at the Omaha World-Herald, including 1981-91 as sports editor and sports columnist.

Two New Huskers Bring The Homestate Flavor

They Are at Different Ends of Their College Careers, but Their Goals Are the Same

By Jacob Bigelow

Nebraska fans have a lot to like in two of the latest in-state additions to Fred Hoiberg’s basketball program.

Lincoln East grad Sam Griesel announced back in April that he would join the Huskers as a graduate transfer from North Dakota State, while Ashland-Greenwood guard Cale Jacobsen, the top unsigned in-state player in the class of 2022, announced on May 7 he’d be accepting a preferred walk-on offer. The two local kids are at opposite stages of their college basketball journeys, but they have much in common.

One of Hoiberg’s buzzwords, perhaps ironically, is “adversity” – specifically, how his players respond to it. Adversity is something Griesel and Jacobsen know about, both overcoming significant medical issues. More on those later.

Griesel and Jacobsen have shared similar experiences off the court, and they also share a trainer in Thomas Viglianco of Lincoln, who has worked with Isaiah Roby and Bryce and Trey McGowens, among other top local players.

The first time Jacobsen watched Griesel play was during Griesel’s senior year at Lincoln East in a game against Omaha South. He followed Griesel and North Dakota State when the Bison were kicking the tires on his own recruitment. But it’s through their work with Viglianco that has helped them become close friends.

It’s been hard for Husker basketball fans to fall in love with Hoiberg’s teams. One reason, of course, is poor performance, but another is the rotating roster. Players are here today, gone tomorrow, and almost none are from Nebraska – disappointing considering the state’s high schools have been on a good run of talent in recent years. Griesel and Jacobsen are among that group. It will be good to see them in red.

Though he may only have one year as a Husker, it’s easy to see Griesel, the hometown kid, as an immediate fan favorite and playing a lot of minutes. Jacobsen, while perhaps not seeing the court right away, is definitely not your typical walk-on. Griesel grew into a Big Ten player at North Dakota State. The plan is for Jacobsen to grow into that level of player while at Nebraska.

Griesel’s Path
Griesel said receiving the phone call from Hoiberg after entering the transfer portal was “surreal,” and “a dream come true.”

It wasn’t until a week or two after his final game in a Bison jersey in the Summit League Tournament championship game that he even imagined playing for Nebraska.

“Nebraska’s always been my dream school,” Griesel said, “I grew up watching Nebraska basketball and I looked up to the players like they were superheroes.”

Sam Griesel’s parents are happy to have him back in Lincoln after playing the first years of his college career at North Dakota State.
Sam Griesel’s parents are happy to have him back in Lincoln after playing the first years of his college career at North Dakota State.

As a local kid, Griesel knows the hunger in the community for basketball success, and he wants to be a catalyst to make it happen. “More than anything I want to win basketball games and bring joy to the Lincoln community,” he said.

Griesel, listed as a 6-foot-6 guard/forward on the Bison roster, was a part of a successful run at North Dakota State, making two trips to the NCAA tournament. He credits the success to the program’s culture and “buying into the process.” He believes similar buy-in will lead to success at NU and he emphasizes the importance of trusting Hoiberg and his vision.

He clicked right away with Hoiberg and he can’t wait to learn from him. “I’m a huge culture guy and coach Hoiberg knew that,” Griesel said. He added that he is excited to get to play with guys like Jacobsen who he said has similar characteristics to himself. “He plays the game the right way,” Griesel said.

The first road trip of Griesel’s final season at North Dakota State is one he’ll never forget – and it wasn’t because of anything that happened on the court.

The night before the game at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, California, Griesel was feeling lightheaded and sick to his stomach. He could barely stand up, could hardly stay awake and began throwing up blood. He immediately was taken to the hospital. A severe stomach ulcer resulted in a dangerous loss of blood. He underwent surgery and a blood transfusion.

The incident was an eye-opener for Griesel, but initially, he said, “all I was thinking about was basketball.”

He was looking forward to starting off the year right against the Bison’s first Division I opponent of the season. Instead, he got a “perspective shock.”
“Obviously I love basketball and that’s what I do,” he said. But, he added, that since November he’s shifted more of his focus to his faith, family and friends, and said he is grateful now to have gone through what he did.

Jacobsen’s Path
Jacobsen tore an ACL in December 2020 during the first weekend of his junior season. He missed that entire year as well as a summer of AAU ball with Nebraska Supreme.

He said the toughest moment of the rehab was being told by his physical therapist he would not be able to play during the first live recruiting period that July. Jacobsen said he “definitely grew up a ton” during the battle to return to the court.

Cale Jacobsen led Ashland-Greenwood to a Class C-1 title last season. He turned down scholarships elsewhere to walk on at Nebraska.
Cale Jacobsen led Ashland-Greenwood to a Class C-1 title last season. He turned down scholarships elsewhere to walk on at Nebraska.

The 6-4 Jacobsen was a two-sport star at Ashland-Greenwood but gave up football in the fall to focus on his return to basketball. It turned out to be a good move. He averaged 17.7 points, 5.8 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 4 steals per game. He capped off his senior season by winning the Class C-1 title at Ashland-Greenwood after making the assist to the corner that led to the buzzer-beating basket in the title game.

Jacobsen accepted the preferred walk-on offer from NU after holding scholarship offers from North Dakota and Holy Cross. He continued to play with Nebraska Supreme on the Under Armour circuit last summer and had other schools showing interest.

He said there were multiple things that made Nebraska standout, most notably the people, both on the staff and on the roster. Husker assistant Nate Loenser emphasized the staff’s excitement over the incoming players and the vision for the program, as well as their desire to “continue to bring in good people.”

“Surrounding your program with good people leads to good things,” Jacobsen said.

He wants to “build something special and be a part of something bigger than myself.”

Athletes like Jacobsen develop into Big Ten players with coaching and by competing against other top athletes every day in practice. He will get that at Nebraska. He said that what the coaching staff likes most about his game is “versatility offensively” and “playmaking ability.”

“They want me to come in and make everybody else better,” he said.

It should be fun to watch.

Taking a New Path

Believe It or Not, It’s Not All Doom and Gloom Around Husker Basketball

Opinion • By Jacob Bigelow

Six-foot-9 Derrick Walker is returning for a sixth season with the Huskers and should combine nicely in the paint with 6-11 junior college transfer Blaise Keita.
Six-foot-9 Derrick Walker is returning for a sixth season with the Huskers and should combine nicely in the paint with 6-11 junior college transfer Blaise Keita.

Except for a stunning three-game run of wins at the end, Nebraska’s basketball season was forgettable.
What else is new, right?

Well, this: While previous offseasons of the Fred Hoiberg era have been marked by massive roster turnover, this one seems it will be marked by changes to the coaching staff and recruiting philosophy.

And that is a good thing.

While top-tier teams were focused on NCAA tournament play in late March, Nebraska was jettisoning coaches. The program mutually parted ways with assistant coach and chief recruiter Matt Abdelmassih. Then Nebraska announced Doc Sadler, special assistant to the head coach, would not be a part of the staff going forward and that the position was being eliminated.

The most significant change is the departure of Abdelmassih, who single-handedly oversaw Nebraska’s recruiting operation the last three seasons and did very little on-court coaching. Hoiberg has never had a season as a college coach without Abdelmassih, who hung his hat on the recruitment of transfers.

With Abdelmassih’s departure, priority No. 1 for Hoiberg became keeping his 2022 recruiting class intact.

With promising 6-foot-6 freshman guard Denim Dawson already on campus as an early enrollee, that put the focus on retaining 6-11 JUCO big man Blaise Keita, 6-3 New Jersey sharpshooter Jamarques Lawrence and 6-6 Sierra Canyon (California) guard Ramel Lloyd.
Lawrence did not waiver on his commitment, but it was reasonable to worry about Keita and Lloyd, who were directly recruited by Abdelmassih. Both, however, reaffirmed their commitments after visits by Hoiberg.

In late April Hoiberg got Juwan Gary out of the portal from Alabama. The 6-6 forward, a former four-star prospect, started 16 games for the Tide last season and averaged 6.5 points and 3.4 rebounds in 15.6 minutes.

All four of these newcomers are big gets for Hoiberg – as is Dawson. They solidify positions of need and alleviate fears that Abdelmassih’s loss might also lead to attrition of an excellent class of recruits.

Remember, these are the type of players who have other options, but they believed in Hoiberg’s vision enough to stay committed. That is a good sign.

Part of what they see is how the roster stacks up next season. Sure they see opportunity. How could they not with Nebraska winning only 10 games last season? But, dare I say, there have been some good things happening roster-wise lately.

The Huskers added a piece out of the portal in North Dakota State transfer and Lincoln East product Sam Griesel.

The Lincoln native was a four-year starter at NDSU and averaged 14.3 points, 6.6 rebounds and 3.4 assists last season. At 6-6, Griesel is being brought in to run the point, which he had done for the past two seasons in Fargo. Whether he can do that in the Big Ten remains to be seen, but Griesel is seasoned enough and good enough to help somewhere.

Also, 6-9 forward Derrick Walker announced he is returning for a sixth year of college basketball. Walker was a mainstay for the Huskers this past season and showed he has some offense to go with his defense. What’s more, with the arrival of Keita, Walker can move to his natural position at the 4. That’s two full-grown men down low. When was the last time Nebraska had that?

Another plus is the return of former four-star Wilhelm Breidenbach, who missed much of last season due to an injury. At 6-10, Breidenbach can shoot it and certainly will have a role next season.

As will C.J. Wilcher. The Xavier transfer proved his worth his first year as a Husker and good things can be expected from the sharpshooter next season.

The two players left on the roster with remaining eligibility who could return if they wanted are Trey McGowens and Lat Mayen.
Both were honored on Senior Night and both have played their fair share of basketball. Mayen likely has professional opportunities back home in Australia. My bet is that he is gone.

McGowens is more of a mystery. If he were to return, his vocal leadership and defensive intensity would play a big role for Nebraska next season. Getting him back would be huge for the Huskers.

On the attrition front, no departure is particularly surprising.

• Bryce McGowens officially declared for the NBA Draft. The AP Big Ten Newcomer of the Year broke multiple freshman school records. The goal was always the NBA for the five-star recruit, and his play down the stretch may have secured his spot as a first-rounder.

McGowens got bigger and better during his short stay. That’s good for him and good for Nebraska. On that front, Hoiberg and staff did not disappoint, which is a good thing for attracting future elites.

• Trevor Lakes could never stay healthy in his two years in Lincoln following his transfer from Division II Indianapolis.

• Keon Edwards was a touted recruit out of high school who reclassified to enroll at DePaul early but could never find footing there or as a Husker. Edwards was a starter for a time following Trey McGowens’ foot injury, but was never in an impactful role.

• There was talk that Eduardo Andre’s departure may have come before last season; however, he stuck around and showed solid improvement. The reserve big man likely saw the possible logjam of front court depth and decided to head elsewhere.

Now, for the most recent developments.

It appears that a high-volume scoring wing is NU’s primary transfer portal target. NU hosted Illinois State transfer Antonio Reeves, who averaged close to 20 points a game last season, on an official visit over the spring football game weekend.

Arguably the most interesting addition has been the hiring of assistant coach Adam Howard, who comes from South Alabama where he served as associate head coach.

While he doesn’t have any prior ties to Hoiberg, he had direct connections with current assistants Nate Loenser and Armon Gates.
Howard has a defensive background and worked with post players in his prior coaching stops. Look for Nebraska to experiment with some matchup zone and pressure zone schemes.

It appears that Loenser, Gates and Howard all have specified coaching roles and all appear to be involved in recruiting. That’s a staff model followed by most teams in the country – all hands on deck, everybody involved in all aspects on and off the court.

Expect improvement from that standpoint.

Because this is Nebraska basketball, everything is not rosy. Replacing the 30 points per game lost by the departure of Bryce McGowens and Alonzo Verge won’t be easy. And even with those players, Nebraska won only four league games.

But unlike years past, there are promising pieces both returning and incoming. There is sure to be more roster news, but for now it appears Hoiberg is in better shape than most any outsider could imagine going into Year 4.

On the Verge Of Establishing an Identity

Home Stretch Shows the Importance of Point Guard Play

Opinion • By Jacob Bigelow • Photos by Reggie Ryder

Bryce McGowens had 13 points against Iowa and then was key in Nebraska’s run of road wins. He had 26 points the next game at Ohio State.
Bryce McGowens had 13 points against Iowa and then was key in Nebraska’s run of road wins. He had 26 points the next game at Ohio State.

Nebraska’s 88-78 senior-night loss to a good Iowa team back in late February was an expected result in a season gone dreadfully awry.
By that point, most Husker-backers were just waiting for the season to end unceremoniously in the Big Ten tournament two weeks later.
But something strange happened on the way to Indianapolis. The Iowa game came one day after Athletic Director Trev Alberts announced Fred Hoiberg would return as Nebraska’s coach in 2022-23. No, the end of uncertainty surrounding Hoiberg did not will the Huskers to victory, and the pile of rubble that was Nebraska’s season looked like this: The next-door neighbors to the east had just won for the first time in Pinnacle Bank Arena since 2015. The Huskers sat at 7-21 with only one Big Ten win. Three road games lay ahead, two against ranked teams, and then the conference tournament. Then, mercifully, it would be over.

But it didn’t go down that way. Nebraska beat Penn State, leaving the Nittany Lions’ star player in tears. They downed No. 23 Ohio State and then upset No. 10 Wisconsin.

They did lose to Northwestern in the Big Ten tournament, but Husker fans were still scratching their collective heads over the befuddling late-season turnaround. What changed?

I say, go back to the Iowa game for a sign. Note the post-game news conference.

At one point, Alonzo Verge interrupted teammate Derrick Walker to speak highly of Hoiberg. “He’s a hell of a coach, and I would play for him any day,” Verge said.

The transfer from Arizona State faced fan and media scrutiny second only to Hoiberg during the season. Yet there he was, after a bitter loss, being highly complimentary of the head coach who brought him in late and slotted him into a key spot – point guard – that he hadn’t played before. His improvement at the point, Verge said, was due to Hoiberg.

Alonzo Verge finished his senior season on a terrific run at point guard. After scoring 18 against Iowa, he led the Huskers to three road wins at Penn State, Ohio State and Wisconsin.
Alonzo Verge finished his senior season on a terrific run at point guard. After scoring 18 against Iowa, he led the Huskers to three road wins at Penn State, Ohio State and Wisconsin.

I also found it enlightening that on multiple TV broadcasts prior to the Iowa game, BTN commentators referred to Nebraska coaches telling them they were not expecting Dalano Banton to go to the draft so late in the process last year. Banton landing an NBA job left NU scrambling to find a point guard, which led to Verge ending up in Lincoln.

When I walked out of the press room after the Iowa game, Verge’s words stuck with me. He was passionate and supportive. I felt like I could see some fire in his eyes.

Little did I know what he’d show us on the court the next three games.

Prior to visiting Penn State, Hoiberg’s Nebraska teams were 1-30 on the road. Somehow, in the span of five days, Nebraska won three.
They came in dominant fashion.

They scored 93 points in a 23-point win over Penn State, statistically the top defense in the Big Ten. The Huskers were led by standout performances by both McGowens brothers (Bryce 25 points; Trey 12 points, four steals, four assists and five rebounds). But Verge’s 15-point, five-assist and four-rebound outing in Happy Valley stood out. For the first time in a while, he looked like a playmaking point guard, and it was no coincidence how much Nebraska’s offense improved both statistically and aesthetically as a result.

Nebraska led throughout against Penn State, and the blitz was so thorough that the Nittany Lions’ hulking John Harrar – a true warrior, I must say – was so shocked by it all he could hardly compose himself by game’s end.

Two days later the Huskers visited No. 23 Ohio State. In a back-and-forth first half, Verge tallied nine assists. He also was feeding off Trey McGowens’ energy on the defensive end. The older McGowens appeared to be as close to 100% as he had been all season during this stretch of games, and his defensive energy and effort was contagious.

Yes, Verge was a little dribble-happy and he took a couple of tough contested shots down the stretch, but his playmaking ability was on full display. He finished the night with 11 assists. Then it was off to No. 10 Wisconsin. One of Hoiberg’s main talking points is fighting through adversity, and this game was filled with it.

Bryce McGowens was sidelined for the game by a wrist injury. Then Trey McGowens was tossed for a flagrant two foul early in the second half. That left Verge alone at the forefront of the Huskers’ offensive attack. And man, did he flourish. He led all scorers with 26 points on impressive 10-of-16 shooting. He added six assists, five rebounds and two steals.

Verge did plenty of damage when he had four fouls down the stretch in the second half while going head-to-head with star Badger freshman Chucky Hepburn. Verge was even nailing some of the runners and mid-range step backs that drew fanbase ire during the season.

With the big upset win in Madison, Nebraska somehow did not finish dead last in the conference. NU earned the No. 13 seed in the Big Ten tournament and a third game against Northwestern. After a strong first half, the magic disappeared and Nebraska blew a double-digit halftime lead, losing 71-69.

To me, the biggest takeaway from the four-game, season-ending stretch was the importance of point guard play.

Verge’s sudden emergence and stellar play should be a reminder of what Hoiberg needs at that spot. The ball movement and offensive flow was night-and-day different when Verge was playing like a true point.

Monte Morris isn’t walking through the door anytime soon, but in an offseason full of question marks, there is zero question in my mind that finding a true playmaking point is the top roster priority going into Year 4 of the Hoiberg Era.

But first things first.

NU was quick to announce moves the opening weekend of the NCAA tournament.

It was announced March 17 the program had mutually parted ways with assistant Matt Abdelmassih. The next day it was announced Doc Sadler, special assistant to the head coach, would not be a part of the staff going forward and that the position was being eliminated. Staff changes were expected and likely were agreed upon when Hoiberg restructured his contract.

The most significant move is Abdelmassih, who singlehandedly oversaw Nebraska’s recruiting operation for the last three seasons and did little on court coaching. Hoiberg has never had a season as a college coach without Abdelmassih on staff.

There has also been roster movement as the Huskers added their first piece out of the transfer portal in North Dakota State transfer and Lincoln East product Sam Griesel.

The Lincoln native was a four-year starter at NDSU, and he averaged 14.3 points, 6.6 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game this past season. At 6-foot-6, Griesel is being brought in to run the point for Nebraska, which he had done for the past two seasons in Fargo. Following the news of Griesel’s transfer, Bryce McGowens officially declared for the NBA Draft. The goal has always been the NBA for the first five-star recruit in program history, and his play down the stretch may have secured him a spot in the first round.

The two roster moves are likely far from the last for Hoiberg’s program this offseason.

Right on Schedule

Bryce McGowens prepares to throw down an alley-oop against Minnesota. The Huskers went on to win their first Big Ten game of the season over the Gophers, 78-65.
Bryce Mcgowins drives for the slam dunk in the Minnesota game. The Huskers won their first Big 10 game over the Gophers 78-65. HUSKERS ILLUSTRATED PHOTO BY REGGIE RYDER.

As the Huskers Stumble, Bryce McGowens Matures on the Court

Opinion • By Jacob Bigelow • Photos by Reggie Ryder

Just before Nebraska’s first Big Ten win of the season against Minnesota, I was listening to an Omaha radio host describe the situation around Nebraska’s basketball program in brutal terms: “There is no hope, there is no joy,” the voice said. Then he added this hopeful note: “But there is Bryce McGowens.”

This was supposed to be the breakthrough season for Fred Hoiberg’s Huskers, at least in the eyes of the much-tortured fan base. Others questioned the level of expectations not only for the season but for the program as a whole. But as a group, there was excitement and hope over the arrival of McGowens, and this, despite a dismal win-loss record, especially in the Big Ten, and the pitiful way the team looked most of the season, has born out. McGowens, the first five-star recruit to ever sign and come to Nebraska straight out of high school, has been the real deal and has given fans something to cheer about, both on and off the court.

But living up to the hype wasn’t easy. Nor should it have been. Being a freshman is a learning experience, right? Still, McGowens, along with his brother, Trey – perhaps the main reason Bryce chose to come to Nebraska in the first place – were to be in the eyes of Nebraska fans at least, one of the more dynamic backcourts in the Big Ten and possibly even the country. That all changed when Trey broke his foot in the third game of the season against Creighton. A near miraculous recovery had Trey back on the court a mere two months later, but his injury was a big setback for both. Before the team departed for their road game at Iowa on Feb. 13, Trey described Bryce’s struggles when Trey was sidelined, recalling that his younger brother was on the verge of tears and that when they’d talk off the court, “(Bryce) felt like he didn’t want to play at times because it was just so hard for him.”

Those two months were hard for everybody associated with the Huskers.

Anyone who follows the team has noticed the extra pep in Bryce’s step since Trey returned Jan. 17 against Indiana. It shows in Bryce’s statistics as well. In the seven games since Trey’s return, Bryce was averaging 19 points on 41.6% shooting, including 31.4% from 3-point range. That stretch of games included a career-high 29 points against Rutgers. Bryce may even be taking pointers from his older brother on the defensive end where both his effort and output have improved.

Bryce was asked about what has helped him adjust to the Big Ten’s physicality, following a second half in which Rutgers bullied the freshman whenever he touched the ball. He mentioned strength and conditioning and nutrition as keys in his growth and development throughout the season, and he talked about how he feels stronger overall.

You can also see a change in his shot selection, especially from beyond the arc. Couple that with an increase in aggressive takes to the rim, and the freshman is rounding into the one-and-done prospect for which he was tabbed heading into the season.

Disagree? Consider this: At the time of this writing, McGowens’ 16.5 points per game trails only Duke star Paolo Banchero in terms of freshman scoring average among power conference players. Also, McGowens has been named Big Ten Freshman of the Week six times. By the end of the season, he may have more freshman-of-the-week awards than his team has victories.

You have to wonder what McGowens’ game may have looked like if his older  brother had remained healthy all season.

In another season to forget, it’s hard to believe that if McGowens leaves for the NBA Draft, he would be Nebraska’s third pick in a four-year span, when prior to Isaiah Roby being selected in 2019, the program hadn’t seen one in the 20 years before that. (For those wondering: Dalano Banton, 2021.)

For me, it’s a bit disturbing to hear some of the criticism directed at this team from around the state. The win-loss record is one thing, but I hear murmurs from some that this Nebraska team has no one fans can relate to. Some even say that no one on the roster is likable. I can tell you that from my perspective as someone who attends many college and high school games, that is a bad rap.

McGowens is a basketball fan, and in his free time he often can be seen in a gym near you taking in a basketball game. He’s attended high school games in multiple cities at various levels and even has been to other college games in the state. The 19-year-old from South Carolina has embraced the basketball community in a state where basketball at all levels is usually an afterthought to football.

So, regardless of how this season comes to a close, the status of the head coach after the season and whether McGowens is one-and-done, Husker fans would be wise to just enjoy every chance they get to watch the young man play and appreciate his contributions. Hopefully, the Huskers can land others like him in the future.