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Sadler Confident In Return To Huskers

By Brian Rosenthal

It’s no secret that Doc Sadler has reunited with Fred Hoiberg and returned to the Nebraska men’s basketball program in large part because of his defensive coaching prowess. To wit: When he was head coach at Nebraska from 2006-11, Sadler’s Huskers led the Big 12 in scoring defense three times in five seasons.

Asked if he’s still the same defensive coach, Sadler quipped, “I better be.”

As he has many times before, he credited his good fortune of learning from some of the best defensive-minded coaches in college basketball throughout his career.

Yes, Sadler said, he still has pride in believing he can coach his players to play defense successfully in practices with Hoiberg.

“In a very limited amount of time, may I add,” Sadler said, “because his practices are pretty much all offense.”

Sadler, dressed in a long-sleeved Nebraska T-shirt, displayed the same humor and candor Nebraska fans learned to appreciate when he was head coach, as members of Hoiberg’s staff met with the media Monday at the Devaney Sports Center.

The biggest storyline with Sadler, obviously, was his return to Lincoln after seven years, and one he tried to downplay best he could.

“This ain’t the first new job I’ve taken,” Sadler said. “But I’m excited to be back, I’m excited to be working for Fred, and I’m excited to have an opportunity to be a part of something that I came to do, thinking I could get done as a head coach, and didn’t get done."

That, of course, is to win in the NCAA Tournament.

“Now I have an opportunity to be a part of a staff to get that done. How many people get that chance?”

Yes, Sadler sees why some people may think his return is a bit awkward -- and he would, too, he said, if he were a younger coach.

"But," he said, "my ego is way out the door. They've taken it a long time ago."

Sadler said he went “back-and-forth” on his decision to leave his job as head coach at Southern Miss but focused on two factors: One, he tired of being a head coach, especially after five challenging years at a program riddled with NCAA sanctions.

“I was ready to say it’s over,” Sadler said. “Had a great run, let somebody else do it.”

The second was an opportunity to work again with Hoiberg, who hired Sadler to his coaching staff at Iowa State in 2013-14, when the Cyclones finished 28-8 and advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.

The hype on Hoiberg and his offensive mind, Sadler said, isn’t exaggerated.

“He’s every bit that everybody talks about,” Sadler said. “Obviously you’ve got to have players, but offensively, his imagination is really, really good. He sees it different. I think all of us talk about certain things, the spacing and things like that, but I’m not for sure college coaches demand it like he does.”

Hoiberg will find shots for his players, Sadler said, and they’ll be good shots, too. They'll also have freedom.

“He allows guys to shoot shots that I used to think, ‘God, you’ve got to be kidding me,’ ” Sadler said. “He’ll say, ‘No, no, just let him go, don’t say nothin’ to him,’ cuz I was wanting to kill ‘em sometimes.”

Part of Hoiberg’s success stems what some have referred to as a “position-less” offense, or playing the best players, regardless of their natural position. For example, Sadler remembers at Iowa State when Hoiberg played Royce White – all 6-feet-8, 260 pounds of him – at point guard.

“Couldn’t shoot a lick, but nobody could stay in front of him, either,” Sadler said. “Who would’ve ever thought to put him at the point guard position? (Hoiberg) did. It’s a mismatch game that he’s coached and played in. He understands.”

Sadler then segued into Isaiah Roby, who’s entered his name into the NBA Draft but is still contemplating whether to return for his senior season. If Roby does return, “that guy’s game will be expanded so much it’s incredible,” Sadler said. “That will help him down the road.”

Sadler is also impressed with junior college transfer Jervay Green, who solidified his commitment to Nebraska after a weekend visit to Lincoln. Green, the No. 8 junior college scorer in the nation last season (he averaged 23.6 points for Western Nebraska) had signed under previous coach Tim Miles.

Sadler saw Green play in a 16-team jamboree in October, one in which his coaching friend Billy Gillispie participated as head coach at Ranger Junior College.

“Not to put a lot of pressure on him, but I thought by far the best player of all the teams,” Sadler said. “After spending time with him this weekend, wow, what a great kid. Unbelievable person.”

As for his goals at Nebraska, Sadler isn’t bashful about setting the bar high – well beyond simply winning a game in the NCAA Tournament.

“National championship,” he said, matter of fact.

“I mean guys, Texas Tech was one shot away…. I’ve coached at Texas Tech. It’s not like they’ve got a lot of answers that we don’t have. But they got hot at the right time.”

Whereas Sadler believed a mere 20 teams stood a realistic chance of winning the NCAA Tournament years ago, he now says that number is closer to 100 teams. That’s in part because of the “blue bloods” relying on freshman one-and-done players, and more other teams relying on juniors and seniors.

Experience, he said, is hard to beat, and not just for big schools. Ask Loyola-Chicago, which advanced to the Final Four in 2018.

“Why not think like that?” Sadler said.

Reach Brian at brosenthal@huskers.com or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.

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