Fans got their first look at a new era of Nebraska basketball on Friday night, as new head coach Fred Hoiberg introduced 13 new players to a sold out crowd at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
On a brand new, lighter-tinged court, the Huskers split into Red and White teams and scrimmaged for 24 minutes. Sophomore guard Dalano Banton led the Red team with 12 points and freshman guard Samari Curtis led the White team with 12 of his own as the Red team cruised to a 56-39 victory.
Players from both the men’s and women’s teams were introduced to the songs of their choice, which ranged from “Not Unusual” by Tom Jones (Akol Arop) and “Dance with somebody” by Whitney Houston (Jervay Green) to “Nonstop” by Drake (Haanif Cheatham).
The crowd gave a warm welcome back to former head coach and current assistant Doc Sadler, who is back with the team for the first time since 2012.
There was dancing. A lot of dancing. All night long. Hoiberg and Larry the Cable Guy fired golf balls at Sadler in a pre-scrimmage video. Several players held an impromptu dunk contest before the event.
And of course, Rick Ross showed up an hour late and put a struggling MC out of his misery.
Earlier in the week, Hoiberg warned the media that the style of play would not be important to him on Friday night. He said that instead, he was going to worry more about how the team looked in Friday morning’s scrimmage.
The Red and White teams combined to shoot 7 for 33 from three point range in the game.
The White team was comprised of Kevin Cross, Shamiel Stevenson, Derrick Walker, Curtis, Jervay Green, Matej Kavas, Charlie Easley and Bret Porter. The Red team featured Arop, Cam Mack, Dachon Burke Jr., Jace Piatkowski, Cheatham, Yvan Ouedraogo, Thorir Thorbjarnarson and Banton.
Nearly every player scored at least once in the fast-paced scrimmage. Besides Banton’s 12 points, Burke added 11, Ouedraogo scored 10, Mack scored 9 and Cheatham finished with 7 points.
For the white team, no player besides Curtis scored over five points.
But basketball was secondary on this monumental weekend in Lincoln. Tonight was about introductions, of which there were plenty.
Arop and Green quickly became fan favorites with their song choices and crazy dance moves. Sadler’s moves were also popular, as were his comedic chops in the clip aired before Hoiberg’s entrance.
Before the scrimmage tipped off, Hoiberg took the microphone and briefly addressed the crowd.
“I can’t thank everyone enough for all the support that we’ve gotten since we took this job back in April,” Hoiberg said. “We had a whole new roster that we’ve to put together with 13 new guys. We’re real proud of these guys with the way that they’ve come together.”
At halftime of the scrimmage, former player Isaiah Roby was introduced to the crowd to a loud ovation. Roby was drafted 45th overall by the Dallas Mavericks back in June. After his introduction, he went to the sidelines and gave his former assistant coach Armon Gates a hug before returning to his seat.
A fun evening quickly turned strange following the scrimmage. To pass time as the concert stage was getting set up, ESPN personalities Maria Taylor and Mike Golic Jr. took center court to break down Nebraska football’s Saturday night showdown with No. 5 Ohio State.
After the five minute segment, there was about an hour long wait for Ross. Shortly before the concert, his MC began speaking to what was left of the crowd from behind a black curtain stage right. In an odd Wizard of Oz-type moment, he started yelling to the DJ on stage to play music. When technical difficulties ended that effort after several low bass notes, he started hyping up the crowd with some…interesting statements, including:
“When I say corn, you say Huskers!”
“Whenever you see a Cornhusker on the street, you’ve gotta feed those guys!”
“Man, this team is for real. We about to win the division. Final Four!”
Eventually, Rick Ross came on stage. Most of the crowd had left, and the pit was less than half full.
More importantly, both the men’s and women’s teams came on stage to dance and party with the rapper throughout the concert. While the environment may have been bizarre, moments like that can have a significant pull for recruiting, which is why Ross was invited in the first place.
The dawn of a new era of Husker hoops is coming quickly, and Friday night showed just how much different it will be.