Tai Webster

Tim Miles

Freshman point guard off to a good start at Nebraska

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After winning 19 games and making their first NCAA tournament appearance since 1998, more will be expected of Tim Miles’ Nebraska Cornhuskers in 2014-15. And rightfully so, as leading scorers Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields return to Lincoln to lead the way for a group that has the talent needed to factor into the Big Ten race. However, in order to do this the Huskers have to get better offensively when it comes to both assists and efficiency.

In 2013-14 Nebraska averaged just 9.5 assists per game, a figure that ranked dead last in the Big Ten. Add in the fact that the Huskers were ranked eleventh in the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio and tenth in offensive efficiency, and it’s clear that despite return two of the Big Ten’s better offensive weapons there’s room for growth on that end of the floor.

One player who has the potential to help Nebraska in this regard is freshman point guard Tarin Smith, who spent the last two years running the point for legendary coach Bob Hurley Sr. at St. Anthony HS in Jersey City, New Jersey. A first-team all-state selection after averaging 15 points and four assists per game as a senior, Smith has already grabbed the attention of his new coaches and teammates according to Brian Rosenthal of the Lincoln Journal-Star.

Remember Benny Parker? Last season’s fan favorite and spark off the bench who earned the nickname “Energizer Benny” because of his relentless on-ball defense?

Yeah, Smith has held his own, and sometimes more, against Parker.

“Benny is one of the best defenders we have, and he gets up into (Smith) every time, but he handles it better than any freshman, I think, would handle pressure against Benny Parker,” Nebraska guard Terran Petteway said.

“I like how Tarin Smith handles the rock. He’s a real point guard. He can get into the lane, dish out and his shot is coming along well. And he’s sneaky athletic. He will dunk on you. I didn’t think he had that much hops, but he can get up if he wants to.”

Just one player averaged two assists per game last season, and that was rising sophomore Tai Webster. Webster was able to gain invaluable experience this summer playing with New Zealand’s national team at the FIBA Basketball World Cup, and he’s expected to take a step forward for Nebraska this season. Having multiple options at the point would certainly benefit Nebraska as it looks to make a run at Big Ten preseason favorite Wisconsin, and that’s where Smith comes into play.

Petteway and Shields will once again lead the way offensively. If players such as Webster and Smith can step forward to make things easier for those two, ultimately the entire team will reap the rewards.

Hawaii’s Isaac Fotu, Nebraska’s Tai Webster feature in New Zealand World Cup win

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New Zealand hasn’t exactly had the most impressive performance at the 2014 FIBA World Cup — they picked up their first win of the event on Wednesday by beating Ukraine 73-61 — but they have been the team that college basketball fans have paid the most attention to.

Two of the five collegians that made a roster for the World Cup play for the Tall Blacks, and Hawaii star Isaac Fotu may be the best of the bunch right now. He averaged 14.9 points and 6.1 boards last season, and has put together a pretty impressive performance at the World Cup. In Wednesday’s win, he finished with 10 points and 10 boards.

His head coach at Hawaii, Gib Arnold, is in Bilbao, Spain, and has raved about Fotu’s play.

”He’s a perfect fit for Hawaii and we couldn’t ask for a better kid from New Zealand,” Arnold told Fairfax Media. ”He’s an absolute king of the island — they love him. He’s on all the billboards, all the posters, people wear his jerseys. We are a pretty big city, one of the biggest in America, with no pro team. So he’s the Kobe Bryant, the Kevin Durant of Hawaii.”

Arnold has to be ecstatic with that he’s seen thus far from Fotu, who thinks that this tournament will be a big step for him going forward.

”It’s been great for my game and I’ve learnt a lot just playing against older, more experienced guys,” he told Fairfax Media. ”It will be a good transition going back for my junior year, and I’m definitely going to be better for it.”

Tai Webster, a rising sophomore guard for Nebraska, finished with eight points, seven boards and three assists for the Kiwis while Kansas freshman Svi Mykhailiuk played just three minutes before getting pulled.

Yannick Moreira, New Zealand’s Haka dance highlight Tuesday’s World Cup

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New Zealand got their chance to play against the United States in group play of the FIBA World Cup on Tuesday, and while the Kiwis impressed with their pregame Haka dance, the Americans still won, 98-71.

The loss dropped New Zealand to 0-3 in group play and put them in a position where advancing is going to be a tall task.

That’s really neither here nor there for college hoop fans, but it’s worth noting that there are two collegiate hoopers on that New Zealand team — Tai Webster of Nebraska and Isaac Fotu of Hawaii. Against the Americans, Webster finished with just four points in 15 points, going 1-for-5 from the floor and turning the ball over four times against Team USA’s loaded back court. Fotu faired a little bit better, chipping in with eight points and a pair of rebounds in 17 minutes.

Webster and Fotu have been solid playing against some very good competition, but perhaps the most impressive college player at the event has been Angola’s Yannick Moreira, who plays for Larry Brown at SMU. Moreira was a top JuCo recruit in the Class of 2013 but wasn’t quite as good as he was expected to be as a junior. That may change next season, however, as Moreira has had a pair of big games in Bilbao. He finished with 16 points and 10 boards last week against Korea and, on Tuesday, he posted team-highs of 13 points and nine boards in a loss to Mexico.

The only other college hooper in action in Tuesday’s World Cup action was Kansas guard Svi Mykhailiuk. He went scoreless in nine minutes against Turkey, but the Urkanians picked up a key win over Turkey. The win will go a long way towards getting Urkaine through group play.

Ohio senior forward contributes to Senegal’s first FIBA worlds victory since 1998

Maurice Ndour
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Prior to Sunday, Senegal’s senior national team hadn’t won a game at the FIBA Basketball World Cup (formerly known as the FIBA World Championships) since 1998. That changed Sunday afternoon, as the Senegalese held off Puerto Rico by the final score of 82-75. Senegal’s squad was led by Mouhammad Faye (20 points) and former Louisville (and current Minnesota Timberwolf) center Gorgui Dieng, who accounted for 18 points and 13 rebounds in the victory.

Senegal is also one of four teams at the FIBA Basketball World Cup that has a current college player on its roster, and on Sunday Ohio senior forward Maurice Ndour provided some help off the bench. Ndour accounted for eight points, two rebounds and two steals in 30 minutes of action off the bench. In two games at the Basketball World Cup Ndour, who was a second team All-MAC selection last season, is averaging 6.0 points and 2.5 rebounds per game.

Next up for Ndour and his teammates is a game against Croatia Monday morning.

Ndour was the only collegian at the event to experience victory on Sunday, and he was also the most productive from an offensive standpoint. New Zealand’s college tandem of Isaac Fotu (Hawaii) and Tai Webster (Nebraska) combined to score four points and grab six rebounds in their team’s 75-62 loss to the Dominican Republic, with Webster accounting for four of the six rebounds. Next up for New Zealand: the United States on Tuesday.

SMU senior center Yanick Moreira, who posted a double-double in Angola’s win over South Korea on Saturday, wasn’t as effective in his team’s 75-62 loss to Lithuania. Moreira finished the game with two points and two rebounds in just five minutes of action. Lastly there was Kansas freshman Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, who played ten minutes in Ukraine’s 81-76 loss to Finland. Mykhailiuk scored four minutes during his time on the floor, which came after not playing at all in Ukraine’s opener Saturday.

SMU center’s double-double leads Angola to win at FIBA Basketball World Cup

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Saturday marked the start of the FIBA Basketball World Cup, with the United States and hosts Spain both coasting to comfortable victories. The event is loaded with professionals, which is to be expected, with there being just five players currently on college basketball rosters participating. Among those five is Angola center Yanick Moreira, who’s a member of Larry Brown’s program at SMU.

Moreira played in just 23 games last season due to injury, so this time on the court ahead of the 2014-15 season could prove valuable for him as he looks to solidify his spot alongside Markus Kennedy in the SMU front court rotation. Moreira got off to a good start Saturday, accounting for 16 points and ten rebounds in Angola’s 80-69 victory over South Korea. Moreira made seven of his eleven field goal attempts, and six of his ten rebounds were of the offensive variety.

After being outscored 30-16 in the third quarter, which wiped out most of Angola’s 18-point halftime advantage, the Angolans outscored Korea 28-21 in the final quarter. As part of Group D, which includes Lithuania, Slovenia, Australia and Mexico, Angola is looking to earn one of four available slots in the knockout rounds. Saturday’s win gets them off to a good start, and Moreira and company will look to move to 2-0 when they face group favorite Lithuania Sunday afternoon.

Moreira was the lone collegian to reach double digits Saturday, but he wasn’t also the only player to experience victory. Ukraine’s Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, who will join the Kansas program immediately after his tournament is completed, did not see any action in Ukraine’s 72-62 win over the Dominican Republic. The Ukraine is in Group C, which in addition to the favored USA has three current college basketball players.

The other two current collegians in Group C are New Zealand’s Isaac Fotu (Hawaii) and Tai Webster (Nebraska). Both saw time in New Zealand’s 76-73 loss to Turkey, with Fotu accounting for seven points and four rebounds in the defeat and Webster finishing with six points and five rebounds. Corey Webster led New Zealand with 22 points and Rob Loe, who played his college basketball at Saint Louis, added 11 to go along with six rebounds.

Maurice Ndour, who will be a senior at Ohio this season, accounted for four points, three rebounds and two steals in Senegal’s 87-64 loss to Greece in Group B play. Gorgui Dieng, who played at Louisville, paced Senegal with 21 points and 14 rebounds.

Five college basketball players to participate in FIBA Basketball World Cup

Nebraska v Ohio State
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With the first FIBA Basketball World Cup (formerly the FIBA World Championships) set to tip off next weekend in Spain, most of the attention has been focused on the many professional players who will be participating. And rightfully so, when considering the fact that the rosters of favorites such as the United States, Spain and Argentina are loaded with NBA players.

But the event will also feature five college basketball players who will be on campuses in 2014-15, with New Zealand’s roster having two of those five players. One of those two, Nebraska sophomore guard Tai Webster, even played a key role in New Zealand’s surprising 102-96 win over Serbia on Sunday, as he scored 21 points. Professional veterans Kirk Penney (you may remember him being on Wisconsin’s 2000 Final Four team) and Mike Vukona led the way offensively, scoring 29 and 22 points respectively.

The experience of playing in the FIBA Basketball World Cup is an incredibly valuable one for the college players, as they get to sharpen their skills and compete against the best players in the world ahead of the upcoming season. And for Webster, who averaged 3.9 points and 2.0 assists per game as a freshman at Nebraska, a good tournament would provide the springboard needed to put together a solid sophomore campaign.

Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields return to lead the way for Tim Miles’ Cornhuskers, but they’re going to need more from players such as Webster if they’re to make a second consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament.

Joining Webster on the New Zealand national team is forward Isaac Fotu, who in his two seasons at Hawaii has emerged as one of the best front court players in the Big West. Fotu averaged 14.9 points and 6.1 rebounds per game last year, earning first team All-Big West honors as a result. And with leading scorer and rebounder Christian Standhardinger out of eligibility, Fotu stands to receive even more attention from opponents in 2014-15.

The other three current collegians participating in the FIBA Basketball World Cup are SMU senior forward Yanick Moreira (Angola; 6.0, 3.9), Kansas freshman guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (Ukraine) and Ohio senior forward Maurice Ndour (Senegal; 14.1, 6.9). As a junior at Ohio, Ndour earned second team All-MAC honors.