Nebraska basketball has been staying in the headlines through much of the offseason — which isn’t an easy feat in a state that spends the summer months counting days to the start of fall football camp.
Momentum and interest is building in hoops, though, too.
From selling out Pinnacle Bank Arena to poaching coaches from Georgetown, the program continues to make news — the good kind — under Tim Miles, who’s entering his second season as head coach.
Nebraska begins play in November in a new 15,200-seat arena, and for the first time in school history, has sold out of season tickets in advance. The Huskers’ first opponent Nov. 8 will be Florida Gulf Coast — one of five teams that made last year’s NCAA Sweet 16 that will play in Lincoln this season.
The Huskers will play two Big East teams — a new one (Creighton) and a former one (Cincinnati, now in the renamed American Athletic Conference) — on the road.
And speaking of the Big East, Miles hired Georgetown assistant Kenya Hunter to his staff, and will pay him $230,000 — the highest salary by a Husker assistant.
That’s a recap of what’s new in Lincoln. What about around the rest of the Big Ten Conference?
Let’s take a look:
Mitch McGary turned down an invitation to try out for the USA Basketball World University Games, even though his Michigan coach, John Beilein, is one of the USA assistants.
McGary’s reasoning: He felt he’d be best served by spending his summer working on skill development rather than playing more games.
As a freshman last season, the 6-foot-10 McGary averaged 7.5 points and 6.3 rebounds, but had a monstrous NCAA Tournament, when he averaged 14.3 points and 10.7 rebounds in Michigan’s run to the national title game. His career highs of 25 points, 14 rebounds and 36 minutes all came in the NCAA Tournament, where he made six of his eight starts.
McGary, who bypassed the NBA Draft, attended the Nike Skills Academy in New Jersey in June. He told the Detroit Free Press that he’s working on his midrange game and improving his conditioning level, as he’s likely to move from center to power forward.
“I added a little bit of muscle,” McGary told the Free Press, noting he’s now 260 pounds. “I leaned up and got rid of any fat I had left in me.”
All Mike Gesell needed was some rest. Not that the Nebraska native is used to taking time off — but he had to.
Gesell, a point guard who started 30 of 34 games last season as a true freshman, was slowed at the end of the regular season and through Iowa’s run to the NIT championship game because of a stress fracture in his foot. In order to allow the injury to fully heal, Gesell took a month off from all basketball-related activity — shooting included.
“It was terrible,” Gesell told the Des Moines Register of this time off. “It wasn’t fun at all. But I had to stay disciplined because I just want this healthy and I don’t want it lingering.”
Gesell said he “felt great” after the time off, and was preparing to play summer pickup games.
A graduate of South Sioux City High School, Gesell is the only Iowa freshman to finish with at least 295 points, 85 assists and 85 rebounds.
They’re talking Final Four and national championship in East Lansing, and with good reason. The Spartans lose only one player — forward Derrick Nix — from last year’s 26-9 team that made the Sweet 16, and they should enter the 2013-14 season ranked among the nation’s top five.
What’s more, veteran coach Tom Izzo has been pleased with his team’s focus and work this summer, and said the Spartans are healthy.
“I’ve been really pleased with my guys,” Izzo said at a speaking engagement, according to the Detroit Free Press. “My assistants said this summer has been as good as it’s ever been. We’ve been healthy for the first time in at least three summers.”
Gary Harris, last year’s Big Ten freshman of the year who bypassed the NBA Draft despite being a potential lottery pick, continues to go through rehabilitation on his shoulders and is progressing well, Izzo said. Harris did not have surgery, a decision Izzo said appears to be a good one.
For the first time in seven years, Wisconsin is taking a summer foreign trip to play exhibition basketball games.
The Badgers will take an eight-day trip to Canada in August and play five games in Ottawa and Toronto. Perhaps the biggest benefit from this tour: the extra 10 practices that come with it.
And unlike the last time Wisconsin went on a summer tour — Italy in 2006 — incoming freshmen are now eligible to participate. That’s a big deal for the Badgers, who have six freshmen joining the program (five scholarship, one walk-on), and are looking to replace three starters.
Also, Josh Gasser, who suffered an ACL injury last fall and missed last season, will return. The junior is a two-year starter.
The biggest offseason news for the Hoosiers? Having two players selected among the top four picks of the NBA Draft. That’s a first in the storied history of Indiana basketball, and the fifth time the Hoosiers have had two players taken in the first round.
Victor Oladipo was selected second overall by the Orlando Magic, and Cody Zeller, who declared for the draft after his sophomore season, was taken fourth by the Charlotte Bobcats.
They’re the first Hoosier teammates to be taken among the top 15 picks since 1976.
As for current Indiana players, both Will Sheehey and Yogi Ferrell made the USA Basketball Men’s World University Games team, which begins play in Russia on Sunday. They join fellow Big Ten players Aaron White of Iowa and Adreian Payne of Michigan State on the USA team.
Do you remember Greg Paulus as a former Duke basketball player or a former Syracuse quarterback?
Only three years after concluding his college playing career on the football field, Paulus has climbed the ranks to assistant basketball coach in the Big Ten Conference. Paulus was on the Buckeyes’ staff the past two seasons as video coordinator, and earlier this week was promoted to assistant coach.
“He has done all the right things to make himself ready for this opportunity,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said in a news release. “We are fortunate to add his basketball experience and knowledge to our coaching staff.”
Paulus was a three-year starter at Duke and played from 2006-09.
Also, Ohio State has released its nonconference schedule. The Buckeyes play at Marquette and host future Big Ten foe Maryland while also facing Notre Dame in New York City.
The Nittany Lions are losing Jermaine Marshall, their top three-point shooter last season, but gaining a transfer from Miami (Ohio) who’s expected to provide some scoring.
Allen Roberts, who’s earned his undergraduate degree, will have immediate eligibility and finish his career this season in State College. The 6-3, 215-pound Roberts averaged a team-best 12.3 points and made 46 three-pointers last season for a Redhawk team that went 9-22. He’s also recovering from a knee injury he suffered late in the season.
Marshall, meanwhile, announced in the spring he was leaving Penn State a year early to pursue a professional career in Europe. He has since changed plans, and is now transferring to Arizona State.
Marshall will graduate in August, making him an immediately eligible player. He averaged 15.3 points last season.
Rayvonte Rice was among three Illini players to share most-improved player honors at the team’s year-end banquet.
That’s saying something for Rice, who didn’t even play last season.
The transfer from Drake was so impressive as a practice player, though, that first-year coach John Groce wanted to recognize Rice’s efforts. Groce called the redshirt season the best he’s seen in 19 years as a head coach, according to the Champaign News-Gazette.
Rice, who made the Missouri Valley Conference All-Newcomer team as a freshman, averaged 15 points over two seasons at Drake. The 6-4 guard sat out last season at a transfer, and he’s dropped his weight from 265 pounds to 235, and he’s cut his body fat from 12.7 percent to 6.1.
Rice is eligible to play this season, when Illinois will welcome four more transfers — Darius Paul (Western Michigan), Aaron Crosby (Seton Hall), Ahmad Starks (Oregon State) and Jon Ekey (Illinois State). Only Ekey, a graduate student, is eligible to play immediately, although Starks has applied for immediate eligibility.
What kind of recruiting splash could first-year coach Richard Pitino make with the Gophers?
There’s much talk about the highly touted players within Minnesota state borders — Tyus Jones, Reid Travis and Rashad Vaughn — although Pitino appears to be making headway with a couple of big-time backcourt players from the East Coast in the 2014 class.
Five-star prospect Isaiah Whitehead, from Lincoln High School in New York, and four-star Ja’Quan Newton, from Neumann-Goretti High School in Pennsylvania, are being heavily pursued by Pitino and his top recruiting assistant, Kimani Young, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
The guards have tweeted about possibly playing together, and are planning official visits to Minnesota this fall.
Former Nebraska assistant Ben Johnson also is a new member of Pitino’s coaching staff.
Thanks to the graduate transfer rule, coach Matt Painter has welcomed a couple of 23-year-olds who should add some needed experience and maturity to the Boilermakers’ roster.
Sterling Carter, a former Seattle University guard, and Cornell graduate Errick Peck, an Indianapolis native, will play their final seasons at Purdue. Before their arrivals, Painter would’ve had a roster with only two upperclassmen.
The Lafayette Journal Courier reports that both Carter, a strong three-pointer shooter, and Peck, a combo forward, will likely be role players. Carter, though, shot 36.8 percent on threes over 66 career games at Seattle, averaging seven attempts a game.
Both Carter and Peck are immediately eligibly after earning their undergraduate degrees.
What’s new at Northwestern? Well, the entire coaching staff.
Longtime Duke assistant coach Chris Collins was named the Wildcats’ new head coach in March, and he’s hired three new assistants. Among them, his former high school coach.
Brian James, a veteran NBA assistant, coached Collins at Glenbrook North High School in suburban Chicago — 25 years ago. James spent the past three seasons with the Philadelphia 76ers, where he coached alongside head coach Doug Collins, Chris’ father.
Other new assistants are former Northwestern guard Patrick Baldwin and Armon Gates, who was an assistant at nearby Loyola-Chicago. Gates replaced Tavaras Hardy, who left for Georgetown after Collins had announced he’d retain Hardy, a seven-year veteran of the Northwestern staff.