LINCOLN — Nebraska basketball isn’t Noah’s Ark yet.
But when coach Tim Miles blew his whistle Saturday to start the first day of practice for 2017-18, his roster was much closer to having two of everything than at any point in his six years at the school.
“I’m really excited about this team,” Miles said. “We’ve got excellent depth. The quality of our practices is going to be better than ever.”
Don’t overlook that last sentence.
Regardless of what Allen Iverson said in his famous rant about “practice,” college teams from the lower half of a power conference need quality practice work to move up.
“From the get-go this year,” Miles said, “you’ll have a truer look at what you’ve got right away so you can get game-ready. And we need to be game-ready right away with our schedule.”
Programs like Nebraska, which has two upper-division conference finishes since the turn of the century, sometimes struggle to find a decent starting five. Going 10 deep is often a pipe dream.
But this Husker roster is different. First, there is a better mix of personalities. The energy vampires are gone.
“Our chemistry is a lot better,” assistant Kenya Hunter said. “Our whole group hangs out, which is different. There aren’t cliques, where just the older guys hang out and the freshmen hang out.
“That’s a good sign. The vibe is really different with this team.”
Second, the level of talent and the seriousness about basketball are such that no one interested in playing time can slack off in a workout.
Point/combo guards Glynn Watson, a junior All-Big Ten candidate, and Thomas Allen, a four-star freshman who turned down Kansas for NU, go nose to nose daily.
“There’s no doubt that Thomas Allen is learning a lot from Glynn Watson,” Miles said. “Glynn has taken him under his wing and mentored him. That’s great to see Glynn take on a new role that way.”
In low-post workouts, the floor shakes in the Hendricks Training Complex when 6-foot-11, 268-pound Jordy Tshimanga, 6-8, 247-pound Duby Okeke and 6-8, 265-pound Tanner Borchardt get busy.
“We go at each other,” Okeke said, smiling. “I’ve never really had a big body to go against like that. With him and Tanner, it’s like we’re playing off each other, and we’re all getting better.”
On the wing, the mixture of 6-3 Anton Gill (a steady leader and accomplished defender), 6-6 Miami transfer James Palmer (who also has shown point-guard skills), 6-5 Evan Taylor and 6-6 Nana Akenten (who swishes more shots than anyone I’ve seen since 3-point school-record holder Cary Cochran) looks to provide defense, ball movement and 3-point shooting.
Playing time at forward also will be intense, with Georgetown transfer Isaac Copeland, Isaiah Roby and Jack McVeigh battling.
If you’re counting, that’s 12 players mentioned who will challenge for playing time. No wonder the preseason workouts and free-play sessions have had a noticeable edge.
“It will be a very different team,” Tshimanga said. “We added a lot of new pieces. With more talent overall, it makes us all work harder. We fight to the last second of the clock.”
Okeke sees that, too.
The 22-year-old graduate transfer from Winthrop grew up in ACC and SEC country. He has played in the NCAA tournament, set school records for blocked shots and helped pull an upset last year at Illinois while also facing power conference foes in his career like Florida State, North Carolina State, Butler and Maryland.
So what does this self-described “old head” see at Nebraska?
“It looks like a basketball team to me,” he said. “I’m ready and the team is ready. All the outside noise doesn’t matter.”
The noise about Nebraska, which is coming off a 12-19 season — the fourth below-.500 mark among Miles’ five teams — will be about another bottom-tier finish. Tshimanga begs to differ.
“It is a different vibe,” he said. “Everybody can feel it. I’m sure you guys can feel it as well.”
Since the departure of four players in the spring and the arrival of the newcomers in the summer, there is a new vibe. This team is more athletic and skilled than the 2013-14 NCAA tournament team. Drama and selfishness have been almost nonexistent.
Does that signal a breakthrough year? I won’t try to sell you that, especially for those of you still dizzy from Nebraska football’s hype machine.
Just don’t sleep on the Huskers. This boat may float farther than the experts think.
Do you think the 2017-18 roster is Tim Miles' most talented at Nebraska?
"When coach Tim Miles blew his whistle Saturday to start the first day of practice for 2017-18," The World-Herald's Lee Barfknecht wrote. "His roster was much closer to having two of everything than at any point in his six years at the school." Do you think this is Tim Miles' most talented roster at Nebraska?
Photos: Nebraska basketball's in-state high school signings since 1986
These are the players from Nebraska that signed on scholarship with Husker basketball out of high school. The list dates back to players that signed in 1986, Danny Nee's first season, and includes the player, his high school and the year he graduated. Did we miss anyone? Let us know by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org