No matter what style of basketball you want play, you better have the dudes to play it.
The Nebraska basketball team needs dudes, both to fill out its roster for the upcoming season and to reach the heights Fred Hoiberg is being paid handsomely to take the program. And Hoiberg and the men who will do most of the heavy lifting for him on the recruiting side would rather not wait long to see results.
"Get some ballers in here, that’s for sure," NU assistant Matt Abdelmassih said of Nebraska's plan for the 2019 recruiting class. "Get some athletes that fit the way we want to play. I feel really good today on where we’re at making progress with getting kids that can help us win. Of course, what we’re inheriting is somewhat of a blank canvas, and it might not work perfect, but we certainly are going to put together the best team possible to where we can go out and compete."
There's a reason Abdelmassih, at $380,000 annually, is Hoiberg's highest-paid assistant and makes more than some of his better-known counterparts in the football office, among them Mario Verduzco, Travis Fisher and Ryan Held.
"He’s one of the most important hires I’ve ever made," Hoiberg said at Nebraska's football spring game. "He does such a good job connecting with kids and getting our foot in the door with some really high-level players."
Abdelmassih and Armon Gates are charged with putting the pieces in place to start building a Husker roster that, as of Saturday, had four open scholarships, and potentially more pending the decision of junior forward Isaiah Roby on whether to turn pro or stay in school, and other potential attrition.
What this staff does have is a blueprint.
Like they did at Iowa State, Nebraska's coaches are mining the transfer and junior college markets for players that can help immediately and a year from now.
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The experience those players have helps, Abdelmassih said, but there are other important reasons.
"Certainly one thing I’ve always done, every year I’ve been in college basketball, at the bare minimum we have always taken two sit-out transfers. It balances out the roster really well. You’re not going to make more than nine to 10 players happy (with playing time), so 10 eligible players is always something that you really want to try and lock in on," Abdelmassih said. "It’s also important when you take a sit-out transfer that they’re not going on that journey themselves during the sit-out year. Because it is a very lonely one. And to have multiple guys sitting out that can be there with each other, definitely, to me, has shown a lot of promise and upside."
In the current landscape of college basketball, where the transfer portal will likely swell to well more than 800 players by mid-May, teams are foolish to ignore that pool of talent, Abdelmassih said. Having worked in a NBA front office with Hoiberg, Abdelmassih made an apt comparison between acquiring players in the pro game and in college.
"When somebody says they don’t deal with transfers, that’s like neglecting free agency in the NBA — you’re not building your entire roster off of the draft (or high school players at the college level). And if you do, you better get really lucky," Abdelmassih said. "So we’re certainly not going to neglect it. It will be a huge part of what we’re trying to do here, as long as I’m working here."
As of Friday, Nebraska had already scheduled official visits with six NCAA Division I transfers and two junior college guards, with more likely getting lined up in the coming days and weeks. The Huskers already have a reaffirmed commitment from juco guard Jervay Green. They'll host another juco guard, Cam Mack, next weekend.
There's also work getting done on the high school recruiting route. Nebraska, as of the end of last week, had offered 32 prep players in four different recruiting classes. NU is swinging big, too. Dior Johnson, a guard in the 2022 class, is one of the highest-rated players in the nation.
The hope is that, much like what happened at Iowa State, the Huskers build quickly in Years 1 and 2, and the ensuing success helps build inroads to a higher level of recruit.
It worked at Iowa State, where Hoiberg went 16-16 his first year, then followed it up by winning 23, 23, 28 and 25 games the next four seasons.
"Our first year at Iowa State was such a significant year for us, because we laid our foundation on how we wanted to play, and what our philosophy would be recruiting-wise. And being .500 that year at least gave us the opportunity that we knew we could make that jump," Abdelmassih said. "Not to say that our goal was to finish .500 by any means, but the goal is to make sure we make our mark where people know what the path is going to look like for us to get this place to the top of the conference."
Getting to the top of the Big Ten won't be easy. Nebraska's best teams under Tim Miles never finished higher than fourth, and this season's team, thought to be the best in years, slipped to 13th.
But if Nebraska can find the athletes, Abdelmassih is convinced the Huskers can make the jump.
"All the teams that I’ve been a part of, we’ve typically had, at the bare minimum, four guys on the court that were some of the best athletes on the floor out of the 10 that were playing," Abdelmassih said. "Shot-making ability is huge; you’ve got to be able to stretch the floor. Having five guys on the floor that can shoot, make threes, is something that we’re certainly going to focus on."