Huskers Usher in New Era in 2012-13
Throughout his coaching career, Tim Miles has built his reputation on rebuilding basketball programs.
At Southwest Minnesota State, he took a team that had one winning season in the previous decade and led them to the Division II Elite Eight in four seasons. At North Dakota State, he took a program from the Division II level to the Division I level, putting the Bison in position to earn an NCAA Tournament bid in their first season of eligibility. Most recently, he guided a Colorado State program from seven wins in 2007-08 to 20 wins and the school's first NCAA appearance in nine years in 2011-12.
As Miles embarks on his first season at the helm of the Husker program, he looks to create a foundation for success in the future. While the style has varied at each level, the philosophy based on solid fundamentals and hard work has remained constant.
"When people see Nebraska under my watch, I hope they see a team that plays hard, that plays together and plays smart on offense," Miles said. "The greatest compliment a coach can have is that his team doesn't look like they need a coach," Miles said. "Hopefully, we get to that point sometime during our season where our guys become a well-functioning team that understands the game plan and can execute it extremely well."
Miles and his staff got to start the transition during the summer, as new NCAA rules allowed teams to practice during the summer months, giving the new Husker coach a head start on his first season.
"The summer work was vital to everyone across the country," Miles said. "For us, it gave us more time with our players and as we start practice, there is not as much new stuff that we have to introduce because it was introduced in the summer. It will make that transition a little more seamless."
After losing four starters from a team that went 12-18 in its first Big Ten season, Miles has worked tirelessly to help replenish the Huskers' talent, adding two Division I transfers who will be eligible in 2013-14 as part of an eight-player recruiting class.
Although the Huskers return eight letterwinners from last year, only five have seen significant action during their time at Nebraska. While the lack of depth is often a negative, it also helps to quickly firm up a playing rotation.
"Every guy that plays this year will have a chance to play a lot and to contribute to the success of this team." Miles said. "When you are thin in numbers, it may relax the players because they know they are going to get a chance, and a second and third chance.
"Many times, that takes the pressure off and allows you ways to improve. We want our guys to improve in all areas and find a way to be a successful team that can go out and win games."
The Huskers' frontcourt could be a strong point for the 2012-13 squad. Nebraska returns Brandon Ubel, who started every game in 2011-12, and regains the services of Andre Almeida, who missed all of last season after a knee injury. In addition, freshman Sergej Vucetic and sophomore Kye Kurkowski will battle for playing time.
The lone returning starter for the Huskers, Brandon Ubel provides a calming influence. The 6-foot-10 forward averaged 6.7 points and a team-high 5.3 rebounds per game despite playing out of position because of injuries. He reached double figures seven times, including a career-high 17-point effort against Iowa. Ubel played some of his best basketball down the stretch, averaging 9.3 points on 68 percent shooting, 5.0 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game in the Huskers' final six contests. He will be counted on to play a leading role as a senior.
"Brandon is a leader and someone we are going to rely on," Miles said. "He is a player who can play multiple positions and has a lot of versatility for our system. More importantly, he is a leader and one of the most dependable kids in our program. He will not only provide valuable leadership to our young players, but also reach out beyond the parameters of our team and through the community and across the state."
Andre Almeida was sorely missed last season, as he was forced to redshirt because of a knee injury. The 6-foot-11, 314-pounder is healthy and provides the Huskers with interior size after playing in 30 contests and averaging 5.2 points on 56 percent shooting, 3.3 rebounds and a team-high 1.3 blocked shots per game in 2010-11. He was sixth in the Big 12 in blocked shots in just 15 minutes per game. Almeida, who scored 20 points in his Husker debut, showed the ability to play well in big games, scoring 10 points and grabbing seven rebounds in a two-point loss at Kansas, and adding 10 points and grabbing five rebounds in a win over No. 3 Texas.
"I'm excited about Andre and his potential," Miles said. "He's gotten better and better over the summer and fall, and I believe he is going to have a good season for us. If we are successful, we are going to need him to have a good season."
Sophomore Kye Kurkowski gives the Huskers another returnee in the post. The walk-on appeared in two games last season and has worked hard to add bulk to his 6-foot-10 frame since he arrived on campus. He has added 25 pounds since arriving at Nebraska and could be in line to make a significant contribution this year.
"Kye possesses good athleticism for his size and a nice touch around the basket," Miles said. "He has continued to work hard on his physicality and improving his strength, and he will add to our depth inside."
The lone freshman among the Huskers' post players, Vucetic comes to Nebraska after spending the 2011-12 season at AIM Prep in Michigan, where he averaged 19.5 points and 12 points per game. The Serbian played in one of the top youth programs in Europe, and the 7-foot-1 center is the tallest player in the Husker program in over 20 years.
"Sergej has a great mind for the game and an excellent skill level," Miles said. "As he continues to improve physically and work on his strength and conditioning, he has a chance to have a very bright future in this program before his career is over at Nebraska."
Another newcomer who won't make his Husker debut until next season is sophomore Walter Pitchford, who transferred from the University of Florida and will sit out this season. The 6-foot-10, 229-pounder played in 13 games for the Gators as a true freshman last season after averaging 17.4 points, 9.5 rebounds and 4.5 blocks per game at East Lansing (Mich.) Summit Christian Academy.
"Walt is a dynamic athlete with a lot of natural talent, as well as a dynamic personality," Miles said. "He has a chance this year to learn what we are trying to do and work on improving his skill set. If he does those things, Walt has a chance to be a special player."
The Huskers will have two new starters in the backcourt, as Nebraska has to replace 2011-12 starters Brandon Richardson and Bo Spencer, who combined for 22.4 points and 6.6 assists per game. Junior Ray Gallegos, who redshirted last year, and sophomore Trevor Menke are the incumbents entering the season, while newcomers Deverell Biggs, Benny Parker and Mike Peltz could all bid for playing time.
Gallegos, who could see time at guard or on the wing, was a valuable backup during his first two years in the program and used last season to get stronger and improve his overall game. He averaged 2.8 points and 1.0 rebounds per game as a sophomore in 2010-11, but has been one of the Huskers' top performers in the offseason. Gallegos showed glimpses of his potential in 2010-11 averaging 10.6 ppg during a three-game stretch to close non-conference play, including a career-high 14-point effort against Grambling.
Sophomore Trevor Menke is the Huskers' most experienced lead guard entering the 2012-13 season. He is in his third year in the Nebraska program and played in three games in 2011-12, including NU's Big Ten Tournament opener. He possesses an advanced understanding of the offense and was rewarded for his efforts by earning a scholarship in August.
"We awarded Trevor a scholarship because of the hard work he does on the floor and in the classroom." Miles said. "He earned his way on scholarship and pushes everyone in the gym to work harder. Trevor truly cares about Nebraska basketball and wants us to be successful because it matters to him."
Junior college transfer Deverell Biggs was the first player to sign with Nebraska after Miles was hired in March, and gives the Huskers a potential difference-maker in the backcourt. The 6-foot guard earned first-team NJCAA All-America honors at Seward (Kan.) County Community College last season, averaging 14.6 points, 3.1 assists, 3.3 steals and 3.7 rebounds per game to help the school to a third-place national finish. Biggs honed his craft at Omaha Central, where he was a two-time first-team All-Nebraska performer. He was the unanimous 2010 Nebraska High School Player of the Year as a senior, when he averaged 21.8 points and 4.8 rebounds per game in guiding the Eagles to a state crown.
"Deverell is a difference-maker because he is a skilled playmaker who makes his teammates better," Miles said. "Offensively, he knows how to score and is very hard to guard and also has the athletic ability to make plays on the defensive end."
Freshman Benny Parker has an opportunity to earn significant playing time early in his career after a decorated high school career. A first-team all-state selection at Sumner Academy in Kansas City, Parker averaged 24.8 points, 6.2 assists and 3.9 steals per game en route to winning the DiRenna Award, representing the top player in the Kansas City metro area. He started all four years in high school, totaling 1,468 points, 375 assists and 355 steals in leading Sumner Academy to a pair of state crowns.
"Benny possesses a lot of quickness and is an excellent on-the-ball defender," Miles said. "His biggest strength is that he can dictate the pace with his speed and when he attacks, it has the potential to change the whole complexion of the team."
A late addition to the Husker roster, junior walk-on Mike Peltz will try to make a bid for playing time. Peltz spent the last two seasons at Western Nebraska Community College, ranking among the national leaders in assists at 6.2 per game, while adding 7.5 points and 4.9 rebounds per game in helping the program to its first national ranking since 2005. Peltz was a two-year captain at WNCC and guided an attack that featured five players who averaged double figures last season.
"Mike is a valuable addition to our program," Miles said. "He is a very smart player who understands the game well and is good for the style we want to play."
The Huskers will have a different look on the wing this winter, as Nebraska looks to replace both of its starters at the position from last year. Senior Dylan Talley is the Huskers' top returning scorer at the position and could be poised for a breakout year, while veterans David Rivers and Jordan Tyrance provide experience. Freshman Shavon Shields heads a group of newcomers who could make a bid for early playing time.
One of three seniors on the roster, Talley returns as the Huskers' top returning scorer, averaging 8.9 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game in his first season at Nebraska. He was Nebraska's top reserve last season and came off the bench to score double figures in 11 contests, including a season-high 18 points against Oregon. Talley shot 37 percent from 3-point range, despite battling a thigh injury that sidelined him for five games during the year. He closed the year on a high note with 16 points at Minnesota and 10 points against Purdue, and he is healthy to begin his senior year.
"Dylan will be a guy that our team looks to for leadership, not only because of his experience, but also because of his competitiveness on the court," Miles said. "He is ready to compete physically and mentally, and has the ability to score. I expect Dylan to have a much improved season."
David Rivers was one of the beneficiaries of the Huskers' injuries in 2011-12, as he had an opportunity to get valuable experience. He made 19 appearances and averaged nearly nine minutes per game off the bench. His best effort came against South Dakota State, when he set season bests in both points (eight) and rebounds (five) in 18 minutes of action. Rivers has worked hard in the weight room, adding nearly 20 pounds from last season and has the length to play significant minutes on the wing as a sophomore.
"David has a lot of athleticism, but also cares about his role on the team and helping us be successful," Miles said. "He has worked hard on opening up and being more of a communicator on the court, and as he gets more comfortable, it will only help his confidence on the court."
One returnee who could surprise people and earn playing time is sophomore walk-on Jordan Tyrance. He has seen limited duty in his first two years in the program, making two appearances as a sophomore and seeing just six minutes of playing time. The 6-foot-3 guard has made strides in the offseason and the Huskers' depth at the position could force him into action.
"Jordan is a good athlete and is a very active player," Miles said. "As someone who has grown up in Lincoln, he is invested in this program and has worked hard to become a contributor to our team."
One freshman who could make a push for significant playing time is Shavon Shields, who averaged 21.2 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists per contest at Olathe (Kan.) Northwest High School last year. A first-team all-state performer as a senior, he shot 60 percent from the floor, including 40 percent from 3-point range. Shields possesses good size and has impressed teammates and the coaches with his poise on the court.
"Shavon has a lot of talent, but also a great mind for the game," Miles said. "He knows how to win and makes plays that shows a high basketball IQ. He has a great maturity that you don't often see in freshmen."
Freshman Max Ritchie will add depth in his first season as a Husker. A four-year starter at Nebraska City High School, he totaled over 1,000 career points and averaged 20 points, six rebounds and four assists per game as a senior. Ritchie has been one of NU's hardest workers in the offsesason, adding 15 pounds since arriving on campus in June.
"Max is a hard worker who keeps improving and has a great mind for the game," Miles said. "He loves being in the gym, and you see that in the effort and hustle he shows on the court."
Nebraska's final newcomer on the wing is Terran Petteway, who will sit out this season after transferring from Texas Tech and will have three years of eligibility remaining beginning in 2013-14. He played in 27 games as a true freshman, making 11 starts and averaged 3.3 points and 2.1 rebounds per game. Petteway had a season-high 13 points against DePaul and grabbed 10 rebounds in an overtime loss to Texas. He was a prolific scorer at Galveston Ball High School, averaging 27 points and nine rebounds per game en route to District MVP honors.
"Terran is a great player in transition and getting to the basket, and we are going to use this year to work on improving his outside shooting and learning our system," Miles said. "If he makes the strides we think he can this year, he will be a very good player for us."