Husker basketball coach Fred Hoiberg will spend summer getting to know his team

Nebraska men’s basketball coach Fred Hoiberg, second from right, answers a question during the Big Red Blitz in Norfolk on Thursday. The coaches also made stops in Fremont and Ashland.

NORFOLK — Fred Hoiberg watched film on the bus.

Across the aisle, Scott Frost did a crossword puzzle.

“He’s a lot smarter than me,” Hoiberg said, sporting a bright red Nebraska polo and black slacks outside the DeVent Center.

Seven weeks into the job, Hoiberg’s been busy. He’s signed 11 new players, attended the college graduation of his daughter at Kansas, tried to buy a house in Lincoln, toured the town with Frost, golfed with Larry the Cable Guy and John Daly. On Thursday, he made his first public appearance with Athletic Director Bill Moos, Frost and a handful of Nebraska coaches. The tour — the Big Red Blitz — made stops in Norfolk, Fremont and Ashland to raise funds for flood victims.

As with all coaching hires, particularly prominent ones, they don’t seem real until they are. But Hoiberg was officially part of the Nebraska team on Thursday. Fans got to experience, for the first time, Hoiberg and Frost, clean cut in polos with short blonde hair pushed to the same left side, answering questions back and forth about Nebraska sports. An image that, in 2015, seemed impossible.

Hoiberg shook hands of fans, joked that had he gone to Nebraska over Iowa State, Tom Osborne would’ve made him into a tight end, and spoke about the importance of raising money for the state he was born in.

“It’s great to come out here and raise some good money for the flood relief. It’s been a crazy spring for what a lot of people have gone through,” Hoiberg said. “So to come out here and be able to spend some time with fans is real important.”

Hoiberg’s summer is just starting. In 10 days, his team will convene for the first time to prepare for a trip to Italy. That foreign trip allows Nebraska to have 10 free practices, giving Hoiberg and his team a chance to find a rhythm. And, really, to actually meet for the first time.

“All I’ve seen of these players is what I’ve watched on film,” Hoiberg said. “And I’ve liked what I’ve seen.”

Hoiberg has 11 new additions to his team. Five of them are transfers, two are from junior colleges, four of them are true freshmen. Though a few won’t be in Lincoln in early June, the opportunity to start to mesh this early is something Hoiberg and his staff will take full advantage of. Yvan Ouedraogo, from France, will be out for the Italy trip while competing in the U18 World Championships. Matej Kavas won’t be done at Seattle University by June 9. Neither will Haanif Cheatham, who has to cross a few T’s before graduating from Florida Gulf Coast.

So Nebraska will deal with what it’s got. But what it’s got is a group already exciting Hoiberg.

During the question and answer session of the afternoon, Hoiberg pointed out Jervay Green and Cam Mack as players he really likes. And compared true freshman Kevin Cross to Georges Niang, the best player Hoiberg coached at Iowa State.

“I think this group is going to come out and play extremely hard and play together, and that’s a good place to start,” Hoiberg said.

Hoiberg set the expectations in front of fans on Thursday, in both the big and little picture. With this team, Hoiberg doesn’t know how pretty it will look. They don’t have size, so they’ll probably be really small at times. They don’t know yet who will play what position, who will start.

But they will run. And they will shoot an extraordinary amount of 3-pointers.

“You’re gonna sometimes look to someone next to you and say, ‘Did they really just shoot that shot?’” he said. “We’re coming into this with an open mind. We have got 11 new faces, we only have two players coming back from last year’s team, there’s a lot of unknowns right now with our group. But we’re excited about our team, the way we put it together.”

After an hour, the program closed, all the coaches receiving a standing ovation. Hoiberg waved and loaded onto the bus painted like a cream Nebraska helmet, his scarlet shirt disappearing into the dark to watch more film on the ride to Fremont.

Chris Heady covers Husker football and is the Nebraska men's basketball beat writer. He started at The World-Herald in 2017. Follow him on Twitter @heady_chris. Email: chris.heady@owh.com.

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