UNO's pursuit of pace has put CJ Carter at the point.
Carter, the sophomore from Omaha Benson who started at the off-guard spot last year, will be the starting point guard when the Mavericks open their season with Friday's 7 p.m. game against Northern Illinois at the Ralston Arena.
“It might give us a little more ball pressure up front, which hopefully starts our defense,” UNO coach Derrin Hansen said. “And we would like to get up and down the floor more. CJ has done a good job and feels comfortable at the point.”
Carter's shift moves Caleb Steffensmeier into a reserve role, even though the junior from Omaha Creighton Prep ranked third in the country with a 3.4 assist-to-turnover ratio last year.
Playing alongside Steffensmeier, Carter averaged 10.4 points and 2.6 assists. Carter shot 46.6 percent from the field, Steffensmeier 32.1.
“It's a big role for me, and I'm looking forward to it,” Carter said.
While still competing at the Division II level, UNO recruited Carter thinking he could play either position. The Mavs' opinion didn't change once they got him on campus and moved to Division I, either.
Early last year he played both, shifting to the point when Steffensmeier rested. But eventually UNO had him focus strictly on the off-guard spot to prevent being overloaded.
Now things have evolved, Hansen said.
“In all of our motion stuff, he's fine,” Hansen said. “He's got to run some of our sets and quick hitters from a different spot on the floor and with the ball in his hands, so that will be a change. But he'll adjust to that.”
An athletic 6-footer, Carter's mind-set is different, too.
“Basically I'm the captain on the floor, the extra coach on the floor, so that's different from last year,” Carter said. “I'm basically controlling the team and looking to get other people shots instead of getting my own.”
He's also being asked to come out of his shell and be more vocal on the floor — like he was in his days at Benson, where he played both guard spots.
“I felt more comfortable doing that in high school,” Carter said. “Last year I was looking to the older guys and letting them handle things, but now I've got to speak up more.”
Carter said he looks to Steffensmeier for advice and is focused on becoming more of a pass-first player than he had been as an off-guard. Still, scoring big isn't out of the question.
“I'm not sure if I'll score more or less,” he said. “I'm just looking for wins — however many I score is fine with me.”
Last season, UNO's only win in 16 tries against Division I opponents came in a 77-72 victory at Northern Illinois on Dec. 3. Since-departed wing Mitch Albers had 26 points that night, and returning starting center John Karhoff had 21.
“Anything can happen Friday, but hopefully we can get a win that can get us started for the rest of the year,” Carter said. “Last year against them we were just aggressive. We should have been playing like that all year.”
Redshirts possible for guards Bradley, Tyus
Coach Derrin Hansen said UNO is still considering redshirting freshman guards Marcus Tyus and Jalen Bradley.
“Marcus is up in the air,” Hansen said. “I would say Jalen is probably headed for one, but that's not final.”
The 6-foot-1 Tyus, from Ramsey, Minn., averaged 27 points per game as a senior at Anoka High School. The 6-foot Bradley averaged 21.9 points as a senior at Norfolk and is the fifth-leading scorer in Class A history with 1,638 points.
“We've got some depth and some players in front of them, and we're looking at where we're going to be in two, three, four years,” Hansen said. “We'll be (NCAA) tournament eligible down the road.”
Deciding on Tyus, Hansen said, has been difficult.
The Mavs return starting guards CJ Carter and Caleb Steffensmeier as well as backup senior point guard Jacques Coleman, brought in a pair of junior college wings in Justin Simmons and Alex Phillips and have a veteran sharpshooter in senior Tyler Egli.
“Usually redshirting plays itself out and it's clear what is best for everyone,” Hansen said. “Marcus has been one of the tougher ones. Is he good enough? Sure. Are there (major) minutes there? That's what we're trying to decipher.”
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