Huskers Sign Pair of Top-Rated Prospects

Toni Soda and Ryan Anderson, a pair of top-100 rated players, have signed National Letters-of-Intent to attend Nebraska and play for the Cornhuskers beginning in the 2006-07 season, Coach Barry Collier announced Wednesday during the first day of the national signing period.

"We are excited about having Ryan and Toni join our program and the Husker family," Collier said. "Each one brings different talents and a solid basketball background, and they fill specific needs within our program. I look forward to getting them here on campus next summer and then working with them as they try to step in and contribute early in their career."

A native of Croatia, the 7-0, 230-pound Soda is playing this season at The Patterson School in Lenoir, N.C., under head coach Chris Chaney, who last year led Laurinburg Institute to the prep school national title with a 40-0 record. Behind Soda's eight points, 11 rebounds and three blocks per game, The Patterson School owns a 7-0 record this fall, including an exhibition win over last year's national high school champion Oak Hill Academy. Soda is one of six Patterson School players to sign Division I letters of intent on Wednesday.

Last week Soda was ranked No. 15 nationally among post-graduate (prep school) players by recruiting analyst Dave Telep of Soda is ranked No. 35 nationally according to HoopScoop and is the No. 100 prospect in the nation by the East Coast recruiting service Game Plan Sports.

Soda, who was the first commitment to the Huskers' 2006 recruiting class, came to the United States earlier this fall from Croatia after earning a spot at the Basketball Without Borders camp in Treviso, Italy. The camp is an invite-only instructional camp sponsored by the NBA and FIBA and the players are selected based on their basketball skills, leadership abilities and dedication to the sport of basketball. It featured 50 players ages 19 and under selected from 20 countries across the continent.

Soda previously played with Plastik Solin where he helped the team win the Croatian cadet championship in 2003. He also played on the junior national team and in the last year was selected to play on the Croatian Under 18 National Team.

A native of Seattle, Wash., Anderson will join the Huskers next season and could provide another strong perimeter threat alongside current Huskers Joe McCray and Marcus Perry. Anderson was ranked among the top 20 seniors in the West by one recruiting service, Hoop Review, and is No. 107 among all seniors by HoopScoop and No. 82 nationally by Game Plan Sports.

The 6-4, 175-pound Anderson showed incredible range while averaging 16.2 points per game for coach Mike Bethea at Rainier Beach High School last year when the Vikings went 21-8 and placed fourth at the state tournament. Rainier Beach won the state title in Anderson's freshman season and was ranked No. 1 in the nation, and the team finished second in the state in his sophomore season. He was named to the all-conference and all-city teams as a junior, and was selected to the all-state tournament first team after averaging 13.8 points per game in the tourney. Anderson also helped the Vikings to a third-place finish at the AND1 High School Basketball Championship in Philadelphia.

During AAU play this summer, Anderson averaged 12 points, four rebounds and three assists per game as his Friends of Hoop squad ran to the semifinals of the 2005 Nike Peach Jam. Later in the summer, he helped Friends of Hoop to the Main Event title in Las Vegas before reaching the Las Vegas Prep Showcase championship game. At the Prep Showcase, Anderson won the 3-point title, defeating Kevin Durant of Rockville, Md.

With Anderson and Soda's signing, the Huskers were ranked among the top 50 recruiting classes in the nation for the fourth time in the past five years by HoopScoop. The 2002 recruiting class that included current seniors Jason Dourisseau and Wes Wilkinson earned a final ranking of No. 16 nationally, while the Huskers' six current newcomers in 2005-06 were ranked No. 33 last year.

Ryan Anderson

On signing with Nebraska

"I am very excited to go to Nebraska. It's a different game in the Big 12 and I think it's a great opportunity to play with a team in that conference. And to have the chance to be involved with a school like Nebraska is an honor."

On what helped him choose the Huskers

"The town and the people. My parents loved the school right away and I loved the people and the way they embraced everyone with the teams. I was there for the Nebraska-Oklahoma football game and they were a big reason I choose Nebraska."

On his strengths

"Scoring is my strength and shooting. I know I need to get my body stronger and work on my defense like everyone. I also like to rebound. That is fun but can be a little dangerous too."

On the Nebraska coaches

"The coaches, they are great. They are down-to-earth guys off the court, which is what you want. And then on the court, they are all business and really get after it."

On meeting the current Huskers

"There was a chemistry right away. I bonded with them as soon as I got there, especially Jason Dourisseau and Jamel White. I also knew one of the players (Mike Smith) from when I was playing in New York and we had hooked up and played basketball before."

On what Nebraska offers off the court

"The music department was good and the coaches helped me meet some of the people in the department. I talked with them about some things that will help me get ready for what I want to do down the road. Eventually I obviously want to play in the NBA but the backup plan is to be a producer. I have a demo coming out soon and I play everything on it. I can play the saxophone, drums, guitar but the piano is my main thing."

Mike Bethea, head coach at Rainier Beach (Wash.) High School, on Ryan Anderson

"One thing Coach Collier and I talked about is Nebraska's need for someone to fill it up from outside and not too many people can shoot like Ryan. He is the type of player who has a strong will to win and it is infectious to his teammates. From a passing standpoint, he reminds me of a former player of mine, Jamal Crawford (of the N.Y. Knicks), in his ability to make his teammates better.

"This season we are putting a lot of emphasis on his leadership ability and helping hold his teammates accountable. But I told him that ‘You can't hold anyone accountable until you walk the walk yourself,' so he needs to lead by example. If he starts those things, he will be on his way to a pretty successful freshman year of college. He is already a pretty mature kid, and one intangible kids need in college is a high maturity level. That is something I will work to grow.

"One thing you are going to get is a player who is mentally tough and has a will to win. His biggest asset is he is a mentally tough kid. That will help him and coach Collier will get him ready physically. One thing a lot of kids need to adjust to in a conference as tough as the Big 12 is the mental aspect. Some kids are ready to go physically and not mentally. One of Ryan's strong suits is that he is a mentally tough kid.

"He had 13 double-doubles last year and is a good position rebounder. He has a nose for the ball, and that's something you can't coach. He is a performer in a big forum. When the lights come on, he is not nervous at all."

Jim Marsh, head coach of Friends of Hoop AAU team, on Ryan Anderson

"Ryan is a fearless, don't-care-if-I-miss shooter, which is something that coaches love. He is a very good shooter and hits it the same in the first half as he does with three seconds and have to have it to win.

"He has a nose to be around the basketball and he's a very creative and willing passer. We had a big kid playing with us this year, 7-0 Spencer Hawes, and he gave Spencer more than his share of absolutely unbelievable passes on many occassions. Ryan would go to the hoop and find a way to ge the ball to him; he's just so creative."

Toni Soda

On signing with the Huskers

"I am very excited. I think coach Barry (Collier) and coach Scott (Spinelli) are good coaches and I like the team. I think I will be happy there. The school was also important. "

On why he came to the U.S. to play in college

"I need to work on my strength, I need to get stronger. I can also get quicker feet (working in the post)."

On Nebraska's fans

"I liked the arena and the fans. They have a lot of fans there. The football game was crazy. I had never seen anything like that before."

Chris Chaney, head coach at The Patterson School, on Toni Soda

"I think Toni has adjusted real well, actually better than I expected. When a foreign kid comes over here, it usually takes a year for him to get used to the speed of the game and way of life off the court and the academics, but he seems like he has been year a couple years already. He is an unreal kid; he is nice and polite off the court and despite being such a young kid at 17 years old, he's very skilled on the court. There are not that many big guys in the country to start and not many who are that skilled. He has great hands and knows how to play on both ends of the court. I think he definitely will be an NBA player, no doubt.

"Toni has a great knowledge of the game and great hands. He knows how to play on both ends and catch the ball the right way, has good low-post moves and can come out for the 15-footer; there is nothing on the court he can't do. It is just a matter of him getting more experience and getting stronger every day to make sure he is ready to come to Nebraska and ready to play right away. I think he will be ready and I've said many times before that if he wasn't already set to go to Nebraska, that every coach in the country would be recruiting him.

"He is different from European players as people think of them. A lot of people think Europeans are soft, but he is definitely not soft. He likes to play way more inside than outside and will set a low-post presence right away (at Nebraska)."

Tim Thomas, assistant coach at The Patterson School, on Toni Soda

"For a seven-footer, Toni can run the floor and catches everything, has a great jump hook and his basketball IQ is very high. There are not that many seven-footers who can run, catch and are that skilled. We have high major athletes here and this will be like a redshirt year for him to get ready. We have about 15 guys I expect will sign with Division I schools and every day in practice he is going against guys like he will see in the Big 12. When a kid steps on campus, the normal high schooler has not seen that kind of play, so this is a tremendous situation for him."

Ivan Soda, Toni's father (through a family member as interpreter)

Was it a hard decision to let Toni come to the United States and now Nebraska?

"The decision was hard for Toni and the family but Toni has always wished to play in the NBA and to see America. That is his dream and that's how he ended up coming to the U.S."

Did meeting the coaches and building a bond and trust play a large part in the decision?

"One of the main reasons (they decided on Nebraska was) when coach Barry (Collier) came to talk to the family, Toni saw him and felt like he trusts him and knows him for years. That was one of the main reasons the decision was easier because they were comfortable with them."

Was it important for him to go to a place where he can get a good education or were you only focused on his basketball development?

"Equally. Going to Nebraska, school is important to Toni and the family. When coach Barry was here, he presented the school and showed the brochure about what the program looked like and they really liked the program and thought it was the place for him. It was a double hitter where he could get a good education and the basketball program can develop him and hopefully he can make it to the next step professionally."

What did you know about Nebraska before the coaches started recruiting Toni?

"I had heard about Nebraska and saw a little on the Internet but didn't know much until coach Barry (Collier) came. I am happy about it and look forward to Toni going there and being part of a big program."

Did you feel like Toni had to come to the United States to develop?

"I am not a coaching expert, but the national team coach says Toni had outgrown his (age group) and he should move to a harder, bigger team like Nebraska where he will get development he really needs and it would be best. We were comfortable with Nebraska and knew it was the best place for him especially with Aleks (Maric) there and his development. It didn't have to be Nebraska, but he needed to go to some place else because he can't get the development in Croatia. Toni just started playing basketball three years ago when he was 14 and then was invited to join the national team. He had always watched the NBA on TV and played in the streets and wanted to develop more."

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