Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

Watson, Huskers Ready For New Season

By Brian Rosenthal

Tim Miles had returned from a west coast recruiting trip early in the summer when he received a text message from one of his veteran players.

Senior point guard Glynn Watson was letting Miles know he was back on campus after a month-long break. Then Miles, entering his seventh as the Nebraska men’s basketball head coach, received another message from Watson the next day, too.

“He said, ‘Coach, I can’t wait to lead this team and take Nebraska basketball to places it’s never been before.’ I literally almost cried,” Miles said. “That just meant so much to me, knowing what he’s been through.”

Watson, from Bellwood, Illinois, is the only four-year senior on the Nebraska roster. He’s persevered through two losing seasons. He’s experienced the heartache of a fourth-place Big Ten Conference team missing out on the NCAA Tournament.

The latter happened last season, when Nebraska finished a 22-11 season, including 13-4 in the Big Ten, by bowing out in the first round of the National Invitational Tournament.

“He was the first one in my office after spring break, ‘What can I do as a player to help us get better as a team?’ ” Miles said.

Watson wasn’t concerned about playing time or how many shots he could get or anything of the sort. The only statistic he was worried about was that number that falls under the ‘W’ column.

“I hope we can exceed expectations,” Miles said, “because there is nobody who deserves it more than Glynn.”

Oh, the expectations are there, all right. Nebraska begins practice Tuesday for the 2018-19 season with many national pundits saying the Huskers will again finish among the top teams in the Big Ten Conference, only this time, make the NCAA Tournament – and then some.

Athlon Sports magazine, for instance, pegs Nebraska as a Sweet 16 team. Yet Watson, Miles and the Huskers know simply making the tournament is the first goal.

“I feel it’s on us,” Watson said. “We’ve got the right pieces, and I think we’ve got a chip on our shoulder from last year, since we didn’t make the tournament.

“I think all of the guys have been doing that since the summer, playing with a chip on their shoulder, competing against each other. And when we get a chance to compete against somebody else, we’re going to take it out on them.”

Alas, that won’t happen, officially, for nearly 6 weeks. Until then, the Huskers will pick up with Miles and the coaching staff where they left off in the summer with NCAA-allowed individual and some team workouts.

“The biggest thing is we have expectations that are put onto us, not just from the inside, but from other people, too,” junior forward Isaiah Roby said. “We know we didn’t end the season like we wanted to, and I think guys are taking the steps to improve on that this year.”

With Watson, Roby, Isaac Copeland and first team-All Big Ten player James Palmer Jr. returning, the Huskers welcome back 73.4 percent of their scoring, 61.4 percent of their rebounds and 71.5 percent of their assists. Palmer, at 18.8 points per game last season, is the Big Ten's leading returning scorer.

The last time Nebraska returned so much experience came following the 2013-14 NCAA Tournament team. Yeah, Miles is well aware the following season didn’t follow lofty expectations; the Huskers finished 13-18, amid “some exceptional things” going on off the floor, Miles said.

In other words, Miles has more confidence in this team that’s been more established within the realm of the program altogether than the 2013-14 team, only the second here under Miles.

“I would say overall, this team has great practice habits, has great workout habits,” Miles said. “I’d say we’re further down the line with what expectation looks like. The 2014 team was such an upstart, and this team has been put together in a lot longer form, it feels like.”

Nebraska enters practice with both good news and not-as-good news on the injury front. Remember when a bad back limited Copeland to merely standing and shooting a year ago? Miles now describes a veteran who's catching passes off the side of the backboard and throwing down windmill dunks.

“He looks like he’s 18 again,” Miles said.

There’s no argument from Copeland, who averaged 12.9 points and 6.1 rebounds last season, and, at 106 Division I games (including Georgetown) has the most experience of any current Husker.

“It’s huge,” Copeland said, “I can already see a difference of where I’m at now to where I was a year ago at this point. It’s incredible.”

Yet, Nebraska begins practice with talented freshman Karrington Davis battling a hip issue, and Roby overcoming a foot/heel injury that’s related to plantar fasciitis. Roby will, though, be in repetitions when practice begins.

Copeland said the Huskers are “locked and loaded” for practice, and that he’s paying little attention to the preseason accolades thrown his team’s way.

“I don’t really care about that stuff,” Copeland said “I see it when people send it to me, but it’s not something I’m going out looking for. If it comes to my attention, it’s like, ‘Oh that’s cool, that’s nice.’

“But we really need to focus on what we’re doing and make sure we’re ready to play.”

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

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