Big Red Blitz: Fred Hoiberg believes in Isaiah Roby; Scott Frost says weight room gains ‘staggering’

Big Red Blitz: Fred Hoiberg believes in Isaiah Roby; Scott Frost says weight room gains ‘staggering’
Fred Hoiberg appeared to the public for the first time as Nebraska's head basketball coach on Thursday. CHRIS MACHIAN/THE WORLD-HERALD

NORFOLK — Isaiah Roby’s decision came down to the wire.

But ultimately, the 6-foot-8 utility forward decided to remain in the NBA Draft.

“First, we wish Isaiah all the best,” head coach Fred Hoiberg said in Norfolk on Thursday. “He’s got a great future ahead of him. He’s everything you’re looking for at the next level in terms of size, athleticism, skill, he can put he ball on the floor, he can push the ball down and initiate the offense, and so we wish him all the best.”

Hoiberg appeared at a public event for the first time since being hired as head coach. He was joined by Bill Moos, Scott Frost and four other head coaches. A few noteworthy moments from the hour-long chat held to raise money for flood relief.

>> Hoiberg, who has a long, long list of connections back to the state of Nebraska, had a cousin and godson in attendance.

>> Every coach introduced — Rhonda Revelle, Mark Manning, Amy Williams and Hoiberg — was met with light applause. Frost was given a standing ovation when introduced.

>> Frost gave a few roster updates. Wide receiver JD Spielman is practicing fully after suffering a concussion during the spring. He also said junior college running back Dedrick Mills should be ready to go for the summer.

> The football team got back to campus 10 days ago, Frost said, and the improvements in the weight room “are staggering.” Frost said last year, when he asked strength coach Zach Duvall how many guys were making strides, Duvall gave him a few names. Now, that list is about a dozen names, he said.

>> Frost was quoted in Sports Illustrated shortly after being hired that year two was going to be the year Nebraska really took off. On Thursday, he instead preached patience. “We won’t be where we really want to be for a long time. But we’re a lot closer this year than we were last year.”

>> Hoiberg said he was excited about his roster, though he doesn’t know it super well just yet. He’s only ever seen his guys on film, but feels confident the group of 13 will play hard together. Hoiberg is especially excited about junior college guards Jervay Green and Cam Mack. He also compared incoming freshman Kevin Cross to former Iowa State star Georges Niang.

>> Hoiberg said he tried to hire Michigan head coach Juwan Howard while at the Bulls. Howard was introduced as Michigan’s head basketball coach on Thursday. “I think he’ll do a great job at Michigan,” Hoiberg said.

> The bus loaded up and headed to Fremont, where we’ll have more coverage of the Big Red Blitz later today.

Fred Hoiberg will spend summer getting to know his first Husker team, but likes what he’s seen so far

NORFOLK — Fred Hoiberg watched film on the bus.

Across the aisle, Scott Frost did a crossword puzzle.

“He’s a lot smarter than me,” Hoiberg said, sporting a bright red Nebraska polo and black slacks outside the DeVent Center.

Seven weeks into the job, Hoiberg’s been busy. He’s signed 11 new players, attended the college graduation of his daughter at Kansas, tried to buy a house in Lincoln, toured the town with Frost, golfed with Larry the Cable Guy and John Daly. On Thursday, he made his first public appearance with Athletic Director Bill Moos, Frost and a handful of Nebraska coaches. The tour — the Big Red Blitz — made stops in Norfolk, Fremont and Ashland to raise funds for flood victims.

As with all coaching hires, particularly prominent ones, they don’t seem real until they are. But Hoiberg was officially part of the Nebraska team on Thursday. Fans got to experience, for the first time, Hoiberg and Frost, clean cut in polos with short blonde hair pushed to the same left side, answering questions back and forth about Nebraska sports. An image that, in 2015, seemed impossible.

Hoiberg shook hands of fans, joked that had he gone to Nebraska over Iowa State, Tom Osborne would’ve made him into a tight end, and spoke about the importance of raising money for the state he was born in.

“It’s great to come out here and raise some good money for the flood relief. It’s been a crazy spring for what a lot of people have gone through,” Hoiberg said. “So to come out here and be able to spend some time with fans is real important.”

Hoiberg’s summer is just starting. In 10 days, his team will convene for the first time to prepare for a trip to Italy. That foreign trip allows Nebraska to have 10 free practices, giving Hoiberg and his team a chance to find a rhythm. And, really, to actually meet for the first time.

“All I’ve seen of these players is what I’ve watched on film,” Hoiberg said. “And I’ve liked what I’ve seen.”

Hoiberg has 11 new additions to his team. Five of them are transfers, two are from junior colleges, four of them are true freshmen. Though a few won’t be in Lincoln in early June, the opportunity to start to mesh this early is something Hoiberg and his staff will take full advantage of. Yvan Ouedraogo, from France, will be out for the Italy trip while competing in the U18 World Championships. Matej Kavas won’t be done at Seattle University by June 9. Neither will Haanif Cheatham, who has to cross a few T’s before graduating from Florida Gulf Coast.

So Nebraska will deal with what it’s got. But what it’s got is a group already exciting Hoiberg.

During the question and answer session of the afternoon, Hoiberg pointed out Jervay Green and Cam Mack as players he really likes. And compared true freshman Kevin Cross to Georges Niang, the best player Hoiberg coached at Iowa State.

“I think this group is going to come out and play extremely hard and play together, and that’s a good place to start,” Hoiberg said.

Hoiberg set the expectations in front of fans on Thursday, in both the big and little picture. With this team, Hoiberg doesn’t know how pretty it will look. They don’t have size, so they’ll probably be really small at times. They don’t know yet who will play what position, who will start.

But they will run. And they will shoot an extraordinary amount of 3-pointers.

“You’re gonna sometimes look to someone next to you and say, ‘Did they really just shoot that shot?’” he said. “We’re coming into this with an open mind. We have got 11 new faces, we only have two players coming back from last year’s team, there’s a lot of unknowns right now with our group. But we’re excited about our team, the way we put it together.”

After an hour, the program closed, all the coaches receiving a standing ovation. Hoiberg waved and loaded onto the bus painted like a cream Nebraska helmet, his scarlet shirt disappearing into the dark to watch more film on the ride to Fremont.

Husker coach Scott Frost wants his squad to display traits shown by resilient Nebraskans

FREMONT, Neb. — Maybe visions of tough losses at Wisconsin and Iowa popped into his head for a moment. Maybe Scott Frost merely found an audience of tough-minded folks who’d fully appreciate his vision for Nebraska’s 2019 football team.

But an answer that initially compared coaching to parenting — “you have to talk to your kids every single day” — progressed into one of those offseason statements that could well set the tone for a team expecting to make a big jump in year two of the Frost era.

“If there’s an emphasis this year, I want to be a tougher team, I want to be a more physical team, a tougher team,” Frost said during the second leg of the Big Red Blitz. “Attitudes have really changed in the locker room. I feel really great about where our kids are from a mentality standpoint.

“But you guys all remember the Nebraska that was nasty and when people got on the field with you they were going to lose the next week, too, because we beat the piss out of you.”

The crowd at Christensen Arena laughed, then applauded for five seconds.

“I want to get a little of that nasty back,” Frost said. “And to give the people out here a compliment, I want our team to resemble the people of Nebraska. The people of this community, and the others we’ve been in, have been through a lot.”

By that, Frost meant the March flooding that devastated much of Nebraska, taking lives, livestock, homes and farms in its wake. Fremont was practically reduced to an island during the worst of it, floodwaters encircling the town running over roads.

Seventy-year-old Fremont native Mark Peterson was part of the relief effort, unloading supply trucks and stocking shelves. So much bottled water was donated, Peterson said Thursday, that the city had to ask folks to stop.

“It was a long process,” Peterson said. “Some people still aren’t in their homes.”

Peterson sat near the front of Thursday’s event with a row of friends. He was excited to see all of the Husker coaches, including new men’s basketball coach Fred Hoiberg, but the main attraction for him — and clearly most Husker fans — was Frost, who wore a black striped shirt and black pants in contrast to the red worn by other coaches. Hoiberg got mild, pleasant applause as he took the stage. Frost, as he did in Norfolk, got a standing ovation.

Before his time on stage and during it, Frost discussed the usual topics.

  • Year two of Zach Duval’s strength and conditioning program is ahead of year one. Duval now rattles off the names of a dozen or more players making progress, rather than just a handful, whenever Frost asks him.
  • New running back Dedrick Mills is a bigger, different kind of weapon in Nebraska’s backfield.
  • Frost feels great about the defensive line, believes the secondary has grown the most since last season, and wants more depth and production out of the linebacker spot. Wide receiver, too, is a concern, where junior JD Spielman is the only proven returning Husker and incoming California graduate transfer Kanawai Noa — whom Frost could not discuss — is the second-most experienced pass-catcher at the college level.

Frost also said he liked bonding with the coaches who came on the trip — Hoiberg, wrestling coach Mark Manning, softball coach Rhonda Revelle and women’s basketball coach Amy Williams. Frost said he hasn’t had much time to talk to any of them — though he and Williams knew each other in college — and having Hoiberg aboard was “fun.”

“I’m just thrilled he’s here for the future of our basketball program and athletic department,” Frost said. “I’m also thrilled he’s here because he’s the new guy now and can get all of the attention. I can just sit back and answer all the questions I had to answer last year.”

Hoiberg got his share of questions — one was so specific to Hoiberg’s philosophies that Hoiberg guessed the question must have come from a coach — and, when asked, Hoiberg listed, with ease, the players he’ll have next season and the strategies he’d prefer to use.

But for all of Hoiberg’s connections to Nebraska, on Thursday, it was Frost’s Nebraska in the audience. He pointed out on the “One State, One Heartbeat” shirts Nebraska football unveiled after the flooding.

“There’s a lot of perseverance and toughness and character that exists in Nebraska people,” Frost said. “Our football team needs to resemble that and mirror that. I think we’re bigger and stronger to the point where we can be more physical and a little tougher, and I want to see that come out in our team this year.”

Fremont fans applauded after that line, too. In NU’s three-town blitz Thursday, the coaches didn’t pick Omaha, Lincoln or Kearney. They picked towns along Highway 77 and Highway 81 that had seen hard times.

That wasn’t lost on another Fremont native, 28-year-old Trent Hepburn.

“We’re 40, 50 miles away from Lincoln,” Hepburn said. “So for them to come here, it means a lot.”