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March 4, 2010

Thursday notebook: Huskers building for next year

Times have certainly been low for Nebraska for the past two months, and they may have reached the lowest point yet following Tuesday's 81-68 loss to Colorado on Senior Night.

However, as is the case with any team in any sport - no matter the record, there's always next year.

This season may have been one hard lesson after another for the Huskers' young and inexperienced roster, but the hope is that all of the struggles now will lead to an equal amount of rewards next season.

In particular, NU's eight first-year players were thrown straight into the fire and had to learn on the fly in one of the toughest conferences in college basketball. As a result, the players say they have seen their games and on-court maturity grow immeasurably over the course of the season.

"There are a lot of things I know now, like how things work here and how the game works and all that," redshirt freshman center Jorge Brian Diaz said. "I think the experience and the confidence I've gained this year is helping me out and is something I'm getting better at… We're getting a lot of learning experiences this year. I think we're going to come back next year with more experience and more hungry to win."

Diaz and freshman forward Christian Standhardinger have arguably gained as much as anyone from their unexpectedly large roles in Nebraska's rotation.

With a combined 26 starts and 44 games played, the duo has become fixtures in the Huskers' lineup, especially since the start of Big 12 Conference play, when Standhardinger was finally eligible to play after having to sit out the entire non-conference schedule because of an NCAA ruling.

More than anyone though, it's been Diaz who has made the most improvement out of Nebraska's newcomers. Not only has he played in all 30 games this season with 23 starts, he's also averaged 8.8 points and 4.1 rebounds and ranks seventh overall in the Big 12 and leads all of the league's freshmen with 1.3 blocks per game.

He's also had to go toe-to-toe with some of the best big men in the nation, including the likes of Kansas' All-American Cole Aldrich, Iowa State's Craig Brackins and Texas' Dexter Pittman.

"It's been a great experience playing with those great players," Diaz said. "You're learning from them, and you can kind of see that you can do it to if you keep working hard."

Standhardinger has had to play catch-up since joining the lineup prior to the Big 12 opener against Texas A&M on Jan. 9. However, it hasn't taken him long to get up to speed.

Along with posting the highest individual scoring total of any Husker this season with 25 points against Iowa State, Standhardinger has slowly been able to adjust from the European style of basketball to the American collegiate style. It hasn't always gone smoothly, and head coach Doc Sadler said he still has a long way to go before he fully adapts, but he couldn't deny the Munich, Germany, native has plenty of potential to grow into.

"The biggest thing is that I knew when he started that it was going to be an eye-opening experience for him," Sadler said. "He had the really good so-called game against Texas A&M, and then you throw him in against Kansas and nothing went right. You can talk to a kid, and you can coach a kid, but the best coaching and teaching point is that bench.

"The things that he was maybe able to do in practice, he wasn't able to do in the games, and he couldn't understand it. He was broke down about as low as you can get, and he's a very confident person. I knew he was broke, but at the same time I also knew that he could score points. He's still got a long way to go, but he's getting there."

For all the freshmen and first-year players, Sadler said he's still waiting for the flashes they've displayed throughout the year to become more consistent occurrences. When that happens, Sadler said the results would undoubtedly follow, especially in the win column.

"They're getting to play," Sadler said. "A lot of freshmen don't get to play as much as they've gotten to play. I think they're all getting better. You see some really good games, but the consistency game in and game out isn't there. They've all had some very good games, and that's encouraging."

Anderson holding onto NBA dreams

Ryan Anderson's Senior Night obviously didn't go nearly as planned, but he hasn't lost all hope of a brighter end to his basketball career just yet.

Even though his stats - 11.0 points and 5.1 rebounds per game - aren't exactly eye-popping and his team is ranks at the bottom of the Big 12 standings, Anderson said he hasn't given up on taking his game to the next level.

"My dreams are to play at the next level, as is with any player," Anderson said. "You're goal is to have aspirations and dreams to play at the next level. Maybe in the NBA or overseas. I'd love to play in the NBA."

Last year, Anderson threw his name in the hat of players potentially declaring early for the NBA Draft to get a gauge of what he needed to improve on to impress scouts. He said he hasn't heard anything from the league since then, but said he would once again enter the draft pool following this season.

Over the course of his four years playing the Big 12, Anderson has matched up against more than his share of eventual lottery draft picks, including players like Kevin Durant, Michael Beasley and Blake Griffin.

If nothing else, at least he can say he took on future NBA stars and for the most part more than held his own. However, he doesn't plan on those games being the last times he'll get the chance to match up against those guys.

"Hopefully I can guard them again," Anderson said. "That'd be nice. But yeah, I have plenty of stories to tell the kids. Plenty of stories. I can say, 'Hey, look at me. This is what I was doing when I was playing.' 'Dad, what was this about?' 'Ah, he dunked on me, but it was all right. I think we won that game.'"

Sadler: Diaz needs big offseason

As much progress as Diaz has made this season, Sadler said the most important period of his development was going to come in the eight-month span when he doesn't play a single game.

Because of his thin frame, Diaz (6-11, 235) has been somewhat overmatched against the bigger, stronger post players of the Big 12. Along with increased weight training, Sadler said Diaz will have continue to develop his low post moves as well as work on his rebounding throughout the offseason.

"The big deal with Brian is between March and October for what kind of year he's going to have," Sadler said. "The year he has between March and October is going to dictate how good he's going to be."

Sadler said Diaz's experience this season has obviously been beneficial, but because of Nebraska's limited depth in the post he was forced to play Diaz more than he would have liked.

"The thing that's made it hard for him is getting to play so much," Sadler said. "He shouldn't have gotten to play so much. He should have been coming off the bench. If you really look and study his situation, the games that he's played his best, maybe the games right before that he didn't get as many minutes."



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