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Yvan Ouedraogo

Freshman forward Yvan Ouedraogo could be primed for a big role with Nebraska basketball this season.

He doesn't look like a kid, and he won't be asked to play like one.

But Yvan Ouedraogo, all of 17 years old, is still very much a kid — at least in age — even though he figures to play an important role in the reconstruction of Nebraska basketball.

Instead of getting ready for a high school basketball season, or locking down a driver's license or any of the other pastimes that come with being an American teenager, Ouedraogo will instead be grinding through preseason workouts and, eventually, going to battle with the biggest bodies in the Big Ten when the Huskers reach the meat of their season.

One of the most intriguing players on an already intriguing roster, Ouedraogo remains shrouded in a bit of mystery. He didn't play with the Huskers on their tour of Italy. He didn't arrive in Lincoln until a few days after classes started in August.

And he has one big goal.

"I want to be great this season," he said Sunday.

A native of Bordeaux, France, Ouedrago looks every bit of the 6-foot-9, 260 pounds he's listed at on Nebraska's roster. He's a massive human who wouldn't look out of place on Scott Frost's Husker football team. Instead he'll fill a sorely needed role on Fred Hoiberg's basketball team — a young player with a Big Ten-ready body who can run in Nebraska's uptempo scheme.

He was one of the early signees for Hoiberg, choosing Nebraska in May, as the coach and his staff overhauled Nebraska's roster through the spring. Ranked as the No. 135 player in the 2019 class by 247Sports, Ouedraogo picked Nebraska over TCU, Georgia Tech and Vanderbilt.

His commitment was first reported by ESPN, which in case you hadn't noticed, doesn't often report on basketball players committing to Nebraska.

"I took a lot of visits; I had a lot of colleges (interested in me), but Nebraska was, I think, the better atmosphere," Ouedraogo said. "I really like Fred Hoiberg. He really, during my visit, explained everything. ... They want me to play hard, to score the basketball, take rebounds, finish, play defense."

Ouedraogo spoke while participating in the Husker Heroes event at Memorial Stadium. He was almost certainly the youngest Nebraska athlete who took part, and not that much older than some of the attendees. And still, he stood out in the crowd.

"The first thing you notice about Yvan is his size and physicality, especially for just turning 17 in March,” Hoiberg said in a release announcing Ouedraogo's signing. “He gives us an immediate physical presence which was a priority for us. He has unbelievable upside and is someone we think can develop and flourish in our system.”

He is Nebraska's largest player, both by height and weight. On a team mostly devoid of proven rebounding options, the importance of Ouedraogo's development could become a central storyline in Hoiberg's first season.

Playing for France at the 2018 FIBA U16 European Championships, Ouedraogo averaged 12.7 points and 9.7 rebounds per game as his team finished fourth. This year he moved up to the French U18 team, and as the second-youngest player on the roster, averaged 4.0 points and 3.6 boards in 15 minutes per contest as France finished fifth. 

Ouedraogo is still adjusting — to college life, to life in America, to a new language and a new culture. But even at his young age he's had a lifetime of experiences. Besides living in France, he spent six years living in the African nation of Burkina Faso. After picking up a basketball for the first time at age 9, he's played against high-level competition for much of his career.

So maybe it shouldn't come as a surprise that he seems unfazed at what lies ahead as he prepares to play a season as one of the youngest athletes in Division I hoops.

"I'm 6-foot-9, but I'm really fast for a 6-9 guy. I can dribble. I can finish," Ouedraogo said. "I want to help the team go to the NCAA Tournament; win the Big Ten. I just want to be good."

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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