LINCOLN — A NU normal for every Husker sport except men’s basketball, which, let’s face it, has become acquainted with the peculiar and bizarre over the years. More on Fred Hoiberg’s ballers in a minute.
First — you, Nebraska fan, may think you’re ready for the long silence brought on by prudent measures to contain the coronavirus. Perhaps you are. Perhaps, well, maybe not.
Spring sports in Huskerdom haven’t generally kept pace to the fall or winter events unless NU was steaming toward one of those College World Series berths in baseball or softball. There are sports that transpire — golf, tennis, bowling — that you may know little about.
But in covering it for more than 20 years — uninterrupted for the past 13 — I know, too, how Nebraska sports, even in the spring, weaves itself into the fabric of fans lives. Even at church Sunday, the folks I knew who live and breathe Husker baseball — season-ticket holders, a person who listens to every game on the radio — joked it was like a new thing for Lent they were giving up. Considering the last home game was just five days ago, wait until the ache spreads.
I asked folks on my Facebook page this weekend what they’d miss most. The answers were poignant:
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Kevin Horn: “I work a lot of weekends at my office. Will miss listening to Husker baseball on the radio while I work.”
Linda Reichert: “Love my baseball but as an event staffer will particularly miss connecting with both home and visitor fans regardless of what sport.”
Stu Kerns: “As a baseball season-ticket holder, I typically spend a ton of hours with friends and my “baseball family” sitting around me. Baseball is a very conversational sport. I’ll miss the conversations (and the occasional outburst of excitement).”
Derek Johnson: “Overreaction to everyone’s practice report, just because the coaches mentioned such and such a player.”
Somehow, I think the latter still might happen.
In more recent years, fans have become increasingly excited by spring football recruiting. Who’s visiting? Who’s the new scholarship offer? Is the in-state kid with a lot of options going to let his eye wander beyond the borders? What about that high school superstar with a Wyoming or Ohio offer — is Nebraska going to come through? At least some of that intrigue can still happen but, with the NCAA mandating a full-on dead period until April 15 — and that’s just the preliminary end — it’s more likely that recruiting gets pushed deeper into the summer and fall.
Is a December signing period still viable?
The Nebraska defense has its share of concerns, but the secondary is flush with talent.
Perhaps, yes, if the coronavirus is deemed contained by April. Coaches seem to like the December date — it allows for far more “next cycle” recruiting the following January — and programs can rally to finish strong in December. Last cycle, you’ll recall, Nebraska finished with a flurry, nabbing 11 commits — including that of blueshirt Isaac Gifford — in December. That turned a mediocre class into a top 25 haul. And remember, Nebraska — and any other school with a coach in his third year — has had a couple of cycles to build relationships with 2021 prospects.
The Huskers would have been in a bad spot had this happened in 2018. Two years later, Nebraska’s recruiting is likely much more robust.
Is a new official visit calendar in order? Probably so.
The NCAA dead period eliminates a few official visit weekends as it is, so at the very least, a few more weekends, bleeding into July would be fair. And that’s assuming the virus isn’t an emergency pandemic by then.
Still, there was something oddly comforting Sunday about multiple players announcing their commitments to Ohio State, Wisconsin and Purdue. Not because of the schools they picked, but because sports life went on, recruiting didn’t stop. If anything, the text messages will be more furious than ever. Assistants are creative and resilient. They’ll find ways.
Before becoming the biggest story in America for a few hours Wednesday night, Fred Hoiberg found a way in Indianapolis, meeting with Western Illinois graduate transfer Kobe Webster and convincing him to commit to Nebraska. No coach has worked harder or courted more players to overhaul a roster in the past 11 months.
He'll be eligible to play in the 2020-21 season.
But after one of the worst seasons in school history, it’d be fair to say quality, not quantity, is key for the Huskers moving forward.
Webster could be fairly presumed a replacement for Cam Mack, who declared for the NBA draft this weekend — while retaining his eligibility — and almost certainly is headed toward a pro career sooner than later. Mack is talented (he averaged 12 points 6.4 assists and 4.5 rebounds) and also inconsistent enough to miss multiple starts — and eventually multiple games — for showing up late, missing curfew and violating team rules. He fell off the map late in the season — averaging 7.43 points and 26% shooting in his last seven games — as Nebraska fell into a spiral of uninterrupted losing.
It won’t be surprising if Mack’s not back. And he’s not likely to be on the only one.
As it stands, Nebraska’s 2020 recruiting class is entirely composed of transfers — two from junior college, two from other teams. Add that to three players sitting out — also transfers — and it’s fair to ask, as we did last year, what the chemistry might look like. Talent? No question.
But the 2019-20 had more talent than seven wins. The Big Ten was a beast. It’ll be that way again next season.
Presuming there is a next season.
OK, too dire. Rally behind science, practice social distancing, keep your faith and expect one heck of a fall sports calendar when it all comes back into focus. Imagine how rich the experience is going to be after it’s been taken away for a while.
In the meantime, we have plenty to write about, including Husker spring football, which had its media event just days before sports came to a standstill. It should encourage you that coaches seemed, almost to a man, confident in their offseason self-scout.
“The best I’ve felt going into a spring camp,” defensive coordinator Erik Chinander told me. The program has taken a few hits to the chin. But coaches told us they learned and have grown from it. There’s still a lot to examine there, and we’ll be doing it.
Oh — and there will be recruiting. The miracle of modern technology makes sure it never stops. For anything. Including coronavirus.