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Italy was fun. So was Doc Sadler coming back. Rick Ross was a little different, but that was pretty fun, too.

Each of those moments -- and everything that has happened in between -- have been pretty fun, as well, as the Nebraska men's basketball team takes its first few steps into the Fred Hoiberg era.

Tuesday, though, the fun really starts.

Nebraska and Hoiberg will (finally) be part of a game that counts. The Huskers open the 2019-20 season against UC Riverside at 8 p.m. at Pinnacle Bank Arena.

"I’m really excited to get out there to see what we have in this type of setting, in this type of environment. If you don’t have nerves, you’re in the wrong business," Hoiberg said Monday. "That’s what this thing is all about — all the preparation, all the work that we’ve put into it — to hopefully go out there and play at a high level.

"Again, there’s so many variables that can happen out on the floor on any given night, and we just need to go out there and handle it the right way, and learn from everything we do — the good things, the bad things, and hopefully keep taking steps in a positive direction."

You will often hear at least some form of those final few words from Hoiberg this season. Hopefully keep taking steps in a positive direction. Nebraska has some talent, but this is merely the first step in an effort to build toward something Nebraska's program has never achieved in 122 basketball seasons. It will, quite literally, be a process as the current roster learns Hoiberg's system, and the coach and his staff work to acquire the talent needed to move the Huskers forward on both a Big Ten and national level.

There will be good nights and rough nights, though Hoiberg and his team would certainly prefer more of the former as NU settles into another season after an offseason that was eventful, to say the least.

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"I think we showed it in the exhibition game. The first five, six minutes we were down 10-0. I think we were really nervous, I think playing in front of the PBA fans is going to be a great experience and you’re always going to be a little anxious," senior guard Haanif Cheatham said. "But we’ve just got to go back to our training. We prepared for this moment as a team. It’s a whole new team, but we feel like we’ve been playing together for a couple years now. We’ve prepared for the moment, and now we’ve just got to go out there and execute."

Hoiberg said NU will roll with the same starting lineup it used in the exhibition game against Doane — a four-guard lineup featuring Cam Mack, Dachon Burke, Jervay Green and Haanif Cheatham around freshman forward Yvan Ouedraogo.

If you're keeping track, that's four transfers and a true freshman from France in the starting five, although Burke was in Lincoln last season as a sit-out transfer. The Doane game offered a taste of what things will look like. Tuesday's matchup against UC Riverside, which went 10-23 last season and ranks 286th out of 353 teams in the preseason KenPom projections, will offer another.

"Practice was cool, but you get tired of practice a little bit. You just want to play in front of people. It’s a nervous feeling at first, but the nerves get out, you play with your team, and the guys had fun," Cheatham said. "(Against Doane) I think we showed a lot of excitement on the bench, I think we showed a lot of excitement on the court playing with one another, and tomorrow it’s only going to get better from there."

Of course Hoiberg wants to win. You don't become a collegiate legend and play 10 years in the NBA without having a competitive streak. But no matter the opponent, Hoiberg for now just wants to see his program move forward.

"Every game will be an opportunity for us. We have 30 chances now, starting tomorrow, to go out there and hopefully leave everything on the floor, go out and play together, and through tough times, most importantly, stick together," Hoiberg said. "But I’m confident in this group. They’ve been phenomenal since we’ve been going, I’ve seen tremendous growth throughout this process, and hopefully we get off to a good start tomorrow night."

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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