Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

Going Deep: Copeland Addition Huge For Huskers

By Brian Rosenthal

Isaac Copeland had no time to initially celebrate Tuesday’s news the NCAA had declared him immediately eligible for the Nebraska men’s basketball team.

The 6-foot-9 forward was running late for class.

Copeland said the good news didn’t set in until he sat down in class and his “phone was blowing up.”

Of course, one of the texts came from Nebraska coach Tim Miles, in the form of a bitmoji.

“He’s real goofy,” Copeland said.

Especially when Nebraska’s program receives news this significant.

Copeland, a midseason transfer from Georgetown, remained confident and mentally prepared to play, believing the NCAA would grant his waiver for a medical redshirt. He also braced himself for the worst-case scenario because, well, it’s the NCAA, and nobody ever knows for certain.

“I was under the impression I probably wouldn’t find out until the day before the first game,” Copeland told reporters Tuesday at the Hendricks Training Complex. “Once I found out today – we haven’t even started official practice yet – it’s a big relief, and I’m happy.”

The addition of Copeland, who has two years of eligibility remaining, gives Nebraska an experienced athletic forward who can interchange with sophomore Isaiah Roby. Copeland says he’s at his best when he’s affecting the game at both ends, and wants to prove he can be a playmaker consistently.

“He can play like the 3, 4, he can stretch the floor, he can make shots, he can make threes, post up,” Nebraska junior point guard Glynn Watson said. “That’s going to help us a lot.”

Without the waiver, Copeland would not have been able to play in games until the end of the fall semester of classes.

“That’s big on our team,” Watson said. “He’s been playing well in practice, so that’s going to be big for us, being together as a team, because we don’t him sitting out, then coming in at the middle of the season, then have to get into the routine.”

Copeland played in 73 games at Georgetown in two-plus seasons, making 49 starts for the Hoyas. As a sophomore in 2015-16, he averaged 11.1 points and 5.4 rebounds per game in 33 starts for the Hoyas.

Beginning his junior season last year, Copeland had a nagging back injury that turned worse after Georgetown played Maryland on Nov. 15.

“I remember I went to the basket and fell,” Copeland said. “I played through it, because I had a lot of adrenaline, but that night, I was barely sleeping.”

The Hoyas had only one day of rest before playing Arkansas State, then hopped on a plane headed for Hawaii and the Maui Invitational.

When Copeland decided to leave Georgetown in December, having played in only seven games, he didn’t have a lot of time to determine where he wanted to go. He made a checklist of things he needed to feel most comfortable; on that list was trust with the coaches.

Nebraska assistant Kenya Hunter was among the first to reach out to Copeland after he was granted his release. Hunter had recruited him to Georgetown.

“I’ve always felt comfortable with him,” Copeland said.

So Copeland chose Nebraska, knowing he’d need back surgery before returning to the court. He did, on Feb. 23, and his recovery and rehabilitation have gone well, perhaps even ahead of schedule.

Nebraska’s medical staff cleared him near the end of the summer break, and Copeland focused most of his time in the weight room, building a strong core.

“It’s a long process, coming here the middle of January, not really knowing too many people, getting surgery and getting back playing,” Copeland said, “and finally being able to realize I can play at the start of the season, it feels great.”

***

I ran into Watson outside the Nebraska basketball coaches offices on Tuesday. He stopped and said hello and stuck up a conversation, which, for those who’ve been around the soft-spoken Nebraska point guard, is encouraging to see.

Coaches want Watson to open up more and embrace a leadership role on this team.

“I think he’s embracing the role. He’s very comfortable,” Copeland said. “think he feels now he has two years under his belt, this is his third year, it’s his time to step up and really make things work.”

After all, as Copeland said, Watson is the point guard, and everything starts with him.

Sometimes even hallway conversations.

“He’s been more quiet in previous years,” Copeland said, “and I think this year he’s made a lot of strides, from what I’ve seen, in being more vocal.”

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

 

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