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 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.”
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 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.
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.