The newest member of the UNO men’s basketball team was barely a week removed from his only visit to Omaha and on the threshold of a mission trip to the Bahamas when he called to make his commitment.
Elishja Duplechan wanted to leave home with a clear head and ease the minds of the Maverick staff.
“I didn’t want the coaches to be all stressed out,” Duplechan said. “I made my decision literally the day before I left. I wanted to let them know that I was coming so they didn’t have to worry about it.”
The 5-foot-10 guard from Sacramento, California, starred as a freshman last season at Yuba College, a two-year school near his hometown. He’ll have three years of eligibility remaining and arrives in Omaha this month.
Duplechan was recruited by Division I teams in California coming out of Sheldon High School, but he opted to go to Yuba, where he averaged 18.7 points and 5.2 assists per game.
“I felt the schools that were recruiting me weren’t the best fit,” Duplechan said. “After talking with a number of people that I really trusted, I came to the conclusion that going juco for a year would be best for me.”
UNO coach Derrin Hansen said the Mavs are getting a combo guard who can break down a defense off the dribble, go end to end quickly, make shots when he’s open and make plays defensively.
“The thing about him is his skill set,” Hansen said. “I think he can be dynamic with the ball. I think he shoots it well enough. That gives him the ability to get on the floor a little quicker because he can play multiple positions. And it gives us more combinations to play because he can play both positions. It’s a win-win.”
UNO’s players are scheduled to return to campus next week. That’s a later arrival than in seasons past.
Hansen had the Mavs practice before spring break as a team “to get the sour taste out of our mouths” following a 9-22 season in which they were plagued by injuries and struggled to win away from home. UNO, which played 10 of its first 11 games outside of Omaha, went 1-18 when not at Baxter Arena.
“We usually have come back in June and taken July off,” Hansen said. “This year we went harder in the spring than we probably ever have because we were not coming back until July. By coming back in July, that’ll push our workouts closer to the school year. We’ve never done that. We’re doing some different things here to catapult us into the season a little better.”
The Mavs will bring back five players who started eight or more games last season, including double-digit scorers Zach Jackson, Mitch Hahn and JT Gibson. KJ Robinson averaged 9.6 points.
Hansen hopes all of them, and sophomores Matt Pile and Ayo Akinwole, can take a step forward this season.
He’s also looking forward to having Hahn healthy again. The Fremont product missed half of his junior year due to a shoulder injury. Hahn had surgery after the season ended and is rehabbing.
“He has just now started to shoot from close range and do some ball-handling, moving that shoulder a lot more,” Hansen said. “That put a damper on his junior year coming off a really good sophomore season. It was frustrating for him. We felt bad for him. It not only affected him, it affected our team.”
The Mavs also played all of last season without talented freshman Zach Thornhill, who was forced to redshirt after suffering a preseason injury. Hansen said that was an unfortunate blow for UNO.
“Thornhill had a really good preseason for us,” Hansen said. “He was for sure in the mix and was everything we’d hoped he was going to be and more. He just started to come off the injury at the end of the year. He practiced with us a little bit at the end, but he should be 100 percent when he comes back in July.”
The Mavs will also add freshman Wanjang Tut. The former Omaha Burke star sat out last season after transferring to UNO from The Skill Factory, a prep school in Atlanta. The 6-foot-8 Tut should be able to make an immediate impact for the Mavs in his first college season.
“We sure like his ability around the basket,” Hansen said. “We sure like his ability to make plays. We like his basketball decisions. He has an uncanny sense to score the basketball. He’s good at that. And he’s like a sponge. He’s taken to coaching really well. That being said, he hasn’t done it under the lights yet. We’re looking forward to putting him in some competitive situations to see how he reacts.”
With Tut, Thornhill and Duplechan, UNO has three first-year players who could make an immediate impact. The guard from California said he’s prepared.
“I’ve always played against the top competition across the country — basically, my whole life,” Duplechan said. “I feel like my game is going to translate. I can score at all three levels. I’m a good driver. My mid-range game is pretty good. I can also hit the 3. At the Division I level, I think you have to shoot to succeed.”
Hansen said he’s interested to see the competitive level of his team coming off a rough season. The Mavs lost their final five games by an average of 15 points and didn’t put up much of a fight at the end.
The spring drills provided a chance to put all that behind them.
“I want to see how cohesive of a unit we can become,” Hansen said. “I want to see how we can handle the ups better and how we can handle the downs better. There’s ups and downs to every season. How can we handle that better and come through that more smooth? I’m really curious about that.”