Nebraska natives Dourisseau and Wilkinson were two of the most improved players in the conference last season and hope to lead the Huskers to their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1998. Maric burst onto the conference and national scene last year when he set the Nebraska freshman rebound record (169) and ranked 11th in the Big 12 Conference with 6.3 rebounds per game. Maric also just missed out on cracking the NU freshman top 10 for scoring (8.0 ppg) and was seventh in blocked shots (16) by an NU freshman.
The Huskers met with the media from 2:45 to 3:50 p.m. Thursday. Nebraska was joined during the session by Colorado, Baylor, Iowa State and preseason top-10 foes Oklahoma and Texas. The six-team session concluded Big 12 Media Days. Representatives from national television outlets including ESPN, Fox Sports Net and CSTV, along with national publication beat writers that cover the Big 12 were among the media members on hand to hear about Nebraska's prospects for the 2005-06 season.
MODERATOR: I would like to introduce Coach Collier. And the Nebraska team. Coach, if you will, introduce your players, please.
COACH BARRY COLLIER: On the end, Wes Wilkinson, 6-10, senior, Grand Island, Nebraska. Aleks Maric in the middle here, 6-11, sophomore from Sydney, Australia. Next to me is Jason Dourisseau, 6-6, senior from Omaha, Nebraska.
Like all the teams here, we're happy to be here and happy that the season is really upon us. We have had a half dozen practices and we have a bunch of newcomers to our team as these guys will, I am sure, share with you.
And trying to mix them together and formulate an idea of the different combinations and so forth has been a real challenge, but at the same time it's been a lot of fun because we have a very talented, more athletic team than we have probably ever had in the time I have been there and so we're going to adjust to that and hopefully play to our strengths. We'll find out, whether that means one more possession a game or maybe ten or fifteen if we can really handle the faster pace.
Q. You mentioned the young guys and I think you probably had one of the better recruiting classes in the Big 12. Does it look as good on the court as it does on paper?
COACH BARRY COLLIER: I think it does. One of those newcomers is a junior college transfer, B.J. Walker, who is about 6-9 and close to 240 and obviously he has got experience having played 60 or 70 games in junior college. He has played well and figures to be in our rotation somewhere.
But we also have five freshmen and three red shirt freshmen -- or three red shirts who are now in their first year of action. And Marcus Perry in that who red-shirted last year as a junior college transfer, he's really shooting the ball we will for us. All of those -- it is a big group, all of those newcomers in different ways have shown some of the things that they can do and they are behind these guys, of course, because they don't know how we're trying to do things as a team completely yet. But it's coming.
Q. I think most people look at Nebraska as a team that might break through this year, perhaps maybe more than some others. Do you guys see it the same way and what are going to be the key factors for that to happen?
JASON DOURISSEAU: I think we do see it that way, just simply the fact that we can compete athletically with the upper echelon teams in our league and that hasn't really been the case in some aspects of it the last few years. We have a deep, talented team this year. We also have experience to go with it. I think we're looking for it to be a breakthrough year as well.
ALEKS MARIC: I agree with Jason. I think we're going to (inaudible) team this year, has the capability of breaking through in the upper half of the Big 12 hopefully. We'll be very competitive, and will be some surprises this year.
Q. You mentioned being able to compete athletically with these other teams. Do you think that has been the main thing holding you all back?
JASON DOURISSEAU: No, I won't say it's the main thing. You still have to shoot the ball, pass the ball, be able to dribble it without turning it over. It definitely helps as far as rebounding and things like that because if you can jump higher than somebody or as high, that gives you a better chance to grabbing the rebound, but it's not the main thing, but it's definitely going to help us this year.
Q. You haven't finished above 7th in the conference in your tenure at N.U. What is going to be different this year that's going to allow to you get in the top half of the Big 12?
COACH BARRY COLLIER: I think the major thing that we look at every year is that our team formed up for the very first time on the first day of classes when we had everybody together and we have until the end of the season to get as much out of it as we possible I can.
We don't really look at what previous teams have done or try to predict even the future or even worry about, you know, the pre-season rankings. I like the old adage of when it comes to rankings, that our cow died last night, we don't need that bull anymore.
In this case, we just will go -- we focus on what our team is doing every day in practice, and when that happens -- when I see that, I get excited about these three guys next to me and their teammates and how important they place the -- what importance they place on our collective success.
I think that over time players get better and programs have a chance to get better. Part of our struggle last year was injury to a couple of seniors that really hampered them. The good news on that side was that we had a couple of freshmen who probably got more playing time because of those injuries and were more of a factor for them. With Aleks being one of those and Joe McCray, another one who is not with us today, but those guys are going to be much, much better, I believe, as sophomores having been through that experience.
Then all of the things these guys did in the off-season, west went to China with the team during the summer, Aleks played on the Australian 21 and under team and had basically another year of experience. That many games during the off-season, during the summertime on the highest level of play. And no one worked harder than Jason. I know that because of all the time that he put in. So there's just -- seems to be great focus with this team and clearly that's important.
Q. You mentioned Marcus Perry. Any other new guys you think have a significant impact?
COACH BARRY COLLIER: Marcus is certainly one who has a chance because of his special ability to shoot the ball. Mentioned B.J. Walker. I think one of our -- the junior college transfer, and two other guards that have played well in the early going, Marcus Walker and Jamel White, Kansas City and New York City respectively. They will challenge and push and help Charles Richardson who is a returning pointguard for us and that's a real key position for us. And then we have got a couple of really athletic freshmen forwards and Kyle Marks and Chris Balham are those two. Probably in the order that I rattled those off, that's who is played the best so far.
Q. How much is the presence of more depth, more guards who can play, how much does that help McCray -- focus off him?
COACH BARRY COLLIER: Obviously the better balance that we have the better we'll be as a basketball team. If you break down how we shot the ball last year, you'd have to come to the conclusion that we seldom hit the side of the barn from the inside last year and we need to be a better shooting basketball team.
I think when Joe shoots the ball well some games, it made all the difference in the world. There are other games when he didn't shoot well and we didn't really have anybody else to pull out and help us in that way. Wes, with this group and Jason, Wes is as good a shooter as we have. At 6-10 now, he's even -- I don't know what he ate in China but he grew another inch over the summer.
We do have more shooters -- we did not have as good a shooting team last year. Part of it too is we have to be a better -- make better shot selections. That's going to help with going into the bigger guys and making it a focus to go inside to Aleks and play inside out and get a better balance with shot attempts.
Q. Any player hates it when he says coach wants to see the ball in your hands more. You think you all going to have the inside game to answer some of those questions?
WES WILKINSON: Do I think -- yeah, I think we will. We have got Aleks Maric returning this year. He was an awesome presence last year. B.J. Walker, another large guy inside. We got some other large athletic players down there that will help contribute to that.