January 19, 2009

Diaz finally makes Husker debut in first practice

Two days after finally being officially admitted to Nebraska, freshman center Brian Diaz took the practice floor for the first time as a Husker Monday afternoon.

Wearing a No. 41 red and white practice jersey, Diaz went through the full three-hour session, including working with NU's bench players under head coach Doc Sadler's supervision for the final hour of practice.

Overall, Sadler said he was pleased with what he saw from the 6-foot-11 Puerto Rico native in his first collegiate practice. Diaz was supposed to join the team this past offseason, but complications with his academic paperwork delayed his admission to the university for months until finally getting admitted Saturday afternoon.

"He did good," Sadler said. "I mean, obviously it's moving pretty fast for him. We took about an hour at the end to try to just help him. But that's not unusual. We're going to practice about an hour and 15 minutes with our main guys, and then we can maybe get him some extra work. But, you know, we'll see what happens."

While Sadler said Diaz, who weighed in at 235 pounds this weekend, would be well served to make good friends with the weight room, the newcomer's natural skill set was hard to ignore.

Diaz spent the majority of the day working against fellow freshman center Christopher Niemann (6-11, 265). Though Diaz struggled to match-up with Niemann physically, he showed solid offensive moves in the post and impressive shooting from the perimeter.

Sadler said he didn't run a single designed play with Diaz outside of the Huskers' base offense to help ease him in better. As far as his conditioning, Sadler said Diaz was still far from the level he needs to be, but he was glad to see the freshman make it through a full practice.

"I was very pleased with his skills, which I knew were there," Sadler said. "Tomorrow I'm sure he's going to be really sore, because he hasn't been doing that much."

After evaluating Diaz's first day as a Husker, Sadler knew exactly what question was coming next.

"Do I see him playing Wednesday (against No. 5 Oklahoma)? I don't know. I don't know," he said. "The last thing I want to do is put him in a situation where he's having to think it's too hard of a game against too good of a player (Blake Griffin) to be in there, not really feeling comfortable."

As much as Sadler may want to ease Diaz in, Nebraska's need for a presence in the post may have never been bigger than it is right now. Sadler said junior forward Chris Balham - who at 6-8 is the tallest player on the active roster - is having serious issues with his injured knee, which he had surgery on during the offseason.

Sadler said Balham's knee has gotten so bad that not only has his practice time been reduced significantly, Sadler is also regretting playing him in games as much as he has because of the stress and damage it's inflicted on Balham's knee.

"Chris is probably as in bad of shape health-wise as he's been in a long time," Sadler said. "I probably shouldn't have even played him (Saturday). (His knee) is just wore out. It's just wore out."

Even so, the Huskers have been able to piece together a 12-4 record and a 2-1 start in Big 12 Conference play without the services of a legitimate big man. Sadler said he still hasn't ruled out the possibility of redshirting Diaz this season and letting him spend the rest of the year adjusting to the collegiate game.

That decision, Sadler said, basically all comes down to what Diaz wants to do. Sadler said he still hasn't been able to sit down with Diaz and discuss his thoughts on playing or redshirting this season, and said that meeting likely won't occur until Friday or Saturday.

Obviously NU's trip to take on the Sooners is Wednesday, meaning it's probably unlikely Diaz will make his debut before the weekend. However, nothing is out of the question at this point.

"Sure, it's possible he could play Wednesday, but probably more possible he could play Saturday," Sadler said. "Again, so many things are just feeling anyway. Oklahoma does a lot of different things defensively, so it's not like it's just going to be man-to-man. They're going to half-court trap you and run some different zones, so it's unfair for him. If it was a team that we knew was just going to play man-to-man, it'd be different."

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