Jorge Brian Diaz is the poster boy for what Nebraska coach Doc Sadler is hoping is a bigger, stronger and tougher Cornhuskers team in the 2010-11 season.
Diaz, a 6'11" sophomore center, added 20 pounds of muscle over the summer to get his weight up to 248. He had a fine debut season, averaging 8.8 points/4.0 rebounds/1.0 assists/24.3 minutes a game but Nebraska went 15-18, including an ugly 2-14 regular season record in the Big 12--though the Cornhuskers did upset Missouri in the first round of the conference tournament.
“He has changed a lot,'' Sadler told the Omaha World-Herald. "Not just physically, but he's talking more. I'm never going to say he's going to be a vocal leader, but he's more vocal and confident than he was a year ago. I think that's what the weight room brings to him."
Diaz was part of an overall emphasis by Nebraska on strength and conditioning in the summer. Sadler felt his team got pushed around too much in conference play last winter. In fact, while most teams restrict their conditioning to running once school is back in session, the Cornhuskers have been doing heavy weightlifting throughout September.
“In conditioning, it's more basketball-related stuff that they can relate to in a game,'' he said. “We want to put them in a situation in conditioning where there is a minute to go and they are just exhausted and they've got to make times. There will be winners and losers. The winners are going to benefit. The losers are going to have to continue to do more.''
Abbott Working Hard at Arizona State
Arizona State guard Ty Abbott was All-Pac-10 last season as a junior. He wants to have an even better senior year after putting up a 12.0/4.4/1.6/28.7 line as the Sun Devils went 22-11. Thus, Abbott worked out extensively during the summer to try to ensure a big finish to his college career.
Abbott described his regimen to the Arizona Republic: "Wake up, have a workout, start about 9 and go to about 11. Go home, have lunch, let the dog out. Go out and get some shots up. Lift weights and run from about 1-3:30 p.m. Then from 4:30 to 6:30(play pick-up). Later on that night, call up Trey Sanders, who was a walk-on sophomore year, and we'll go back and I'll work on shooting, post moves, stuff like that."
Abbott tied for the team lead in scoring last season with forward Rihards Kuksiks, who is also a senior. A third senior starter, guard Jamelle McMillan, is also expected to be more of a scorer after averaging 6.0 points a game last season. Thus, Abbott does not feel the responsibility to be the go-to guy, even if a higher scoring average would theoretically improve his stock in the NBA Draft.
"Being my senior year, it's kind of like my showcase year or whatever you want to call it," Abbott said. "At the same time, I feel like guys get to the draft off making their team win. So if I can improve and show that my improvement is helping us win instead of just going off and scoring 30 points, then yeah, that's what I want to do."
Hall Not Worried About Competing for Minutes
Forward Kenny Hall was one of the reasons why Tennessee did not collapse last season after four players were suspended following their arrest during a traffic stop on New Year's Eve. Then a freshman, Hall got more playing time that expected and wound up averaging 3.6/3.0/0.2/12.4 for the 28-9 Volunteers.
Hall is seemingly going to have a small role this upcoming season, lost in the shuffle of a deep frontcourt. However, Hall told the Knoxville News Sentinel that he plans on forcing his way into significant playing time and is not bothered about potentially being overlooked.
"I just know that hard work will always show up as long as I contribute and do what I can do, and we do what we're supposed to do and go to the Final Four and win championships," Hall said. "I've got a dominant personality, and one of my characteristics is to be the best I can be. Like anyone else, when I go home or back to my neighborhood, I want to hear people saying they saw me play on TV.''
At least, Hall should be pain-free in 2010-11 after playing with a sore foot last season that required surgery in July.
Major Decision on a Point Guard
New coach Alan Major seems to be walking into a great situation at Charlotte as the 49ers return four starters from a team that went 19-12 last winter, though a late-season collapse cost them a shot at the postseason and veteran coach Bobby Lutz his job. Major, though, will have to decide on a starting point guard during the preseason.
His choices are sophomore Jamar Briscoe and freshman Luka Voncina. Briscoe is a transfer from North Carolina Central who sat out last season in accordance with NCAA rules, while Voncina has been in the United State for barely a year since moving from his native Slovenia.
Though the 5'11" Briscoe is five inches shorter than Voncina and is more of a scorer than passer, he figures to have the edge because of his college experience. He had averages of 17.8/2.5/2.7/33.3 as a freshman with North Carolina Central in 2008-09 and was 40th in the nation in percentage of possessions (30.3) and 82nd in the percentage of shots (30.7).
"I've got two words for Jamar: energy and efficiency," Major told the Charlotte Observer. "He's got a great motor and we'll need to see that. He's also going to have to understand that at Central, he might have had a game where he shot 10-for-17. Well, that might be 4-of-7 for us because he's got guys around him who he can spread it around to a little bit. It will be different role for him. He won't need to do the same things as he did at Central, where he was asked to be a valued shooter and valued scorer first and foremost."
John Perrotto is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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