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.