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Nebraska men's hoops practice, 7.23

Nebraska senior guard Haanif Cheatham (right) warms up against freshman guard Charlie Easley in July at the Hendricks Training Complex. The Huskers will be on display at a scrimmage Friday.

Haanif Cheatham was the first.

The grad transfer guard was the first player to commit to Fred Hoiberg and Nebraska after Hoiberg was named head coach. Thirteen other new players followed in a month-long period that could tamely be described as "crazy."

And in the madness, perhaps, Cheatham's name slipped into the background.

But as the Huskers have begun to gear back up for their trip to Italy next week, Cheatham's voice has again come to the forefront. That's not by accident.

"I see Haanif as being one of our leaders. And he's always talking. That's where it starts with your guys. If they're going to lead, they've got to be able to talk out there on the floor, and we've seen that," Hoiberg said Tuesday. "He’s only been out here for three practices, but you’ve seen early on that he’s a guy that really will try and talk to the team. So I think leadership is a big thing with him — he’s a tough kid. "

Cheatham's toughness will come in handy for a team that Hoiberg has openly described as needing to be better when things aren't going well. After three years at Marquette as a top-100 recruit out of high school, and an injury-shortened 10-game stretch at Florida Gulf Coast last season, the Fort Lauderdale, Florida, native has seen plenty while make 73 Division I basketball starts.

He averaged nearly 12 points per game as a freshman at Marquette, followed by 8.7 as a sophomore. He played only five games as a junior before averaging 13.2 points per game last season before a shoulder injury ended his season.

Now he's at his third school and his final year of college ball, and trying to figure out the best spots in town to grab a bite to eat.

"I think I’ve settled in pretty well. I’m a food guy so I’m still trying to find all the food spots. But other than that, I’ve been enjoying it," Cheatham said. "I’m enjoying being around my teammates. It’s been a good experience so far and I know it will continue to be throughout the year."

A 6-foot-5 guard, Cheatham is reminiscent of Evan Taylor, the transfer guard who became a prominent voice on the 2016-17 and 2017-18 Nebraska teams. Taylor had "juice" in the locker room, as former NU coach Tim Miles put it, a key figure in holding the locker room together.

Cheatham could fill a similar role. The biggest difference being Cheatham has the credentials of a major college hoops athlete. Those kind of chops come in handy in July, when an entirely new roster is grinding away behind closed doors trying to learn about each other while becoming a cohesive unit.

"I come in every day trying to lead us, be vocal, just pick everybody up when times feel down. Just understanding that, ‘Listen guys, it’s early. We’ve still got time to improve, but let’s just do it with improvement and make sure we’re going hard with everything we do,'" Cheatham said. "You play how you practice. So once we go hard, once we continue to grind throughout the summer, things will be good for us."

Cheatham is experienced enough to have already taken an overseas trip. Coincidentally, it was to Italy during his freshman season at Marquette. The flight over will be rough, he said, but the experience will be valuable.

And Cheatham will get the first real chance to lead his new teammates.

"You ask the question, can you teach (leadership). Can you teach those little things, can you teach guys to be better communicators," Hoiberg said. "It’s an innate quality in Haanif. He’s got it in him, and a lot of that probably stems from the fact he’s played at a high level. We could tell when we were recruiting him that he was going to be one of our better leaders."

Reach the writer at 402-473-7436 or cbasnett@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraCB.

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Husker basketball reporter

A Ravenna native, Chris covers the University of Nebraska men's basketball team and assists with football coverage. He spent nearly 10 years covering sports at the Kearney Hub and nearly four years at the Springfield News-Leader in Springfield, Mo.

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