Men’s Basketball upgrades front court, prepares for opener against Minnesota

As the 2017-18 points and rebounds leader, Jackson (above) pulled double-duty at the perimeter and the post to make up for injury. Now, an enhanced depth chart at front court lets him focus on his thing. Photo courtesy university communications.

Kenneth Pancake

For the Omaha men’s basketball team, its time to put the 2017-18 season in the rearview mirror.

The team is fired up to give it another go after returning from a disappointing year. This time, Omaha returns with more statistical talent, and brings in some new difference makers in the front court.

“Our whole team is a year older, and a year stronger, and a year better,” Head Coach Derrin Hansen said. “[We] have four double-digit guys returning, as opposed to last year.”

“It’s a different mindset than last year” senior guard Zach Jackson said. “This year we have a chip on our shoulder, more to prove.”

Omaha has only failed six times since 1969 to get to ten wins. The team finished with only nine wins last season, but much of that was due to circumstances beyond the team’s control. Many of the team’s most talented starters suffered injuries, such as forward Mitch Hahn (shoulder) and the since-graduated forward Lamar Wofford-Humphrey (knee).

“Having Mitch out last year, it wasn’t a problem for me to (adjust)… but that was a big piece missing,” Jackson said.

“Action Jackson” enters his senior season as a first-team all-Summit League player – and Hansen is optimistic about the team’s success with Jackson and Hahn leading the team for another year.

“We have a returning first-team player, but going into last year, we had a pre-season second team pick [in Hahn] … really, we have two all-league guys on our squad,” Hansen said. “It’s the same two guys sitting next to me (as last year).”

But the new guys are fun too.

“There’s so many new faces, as far as like coming in and out… in practice, you’re going against new guys,” Hahn said.

Many of those additions come on the front court, where depth is badly needed. Transfer Brett Barney and redshirt freshmen Wanjang Tut and Evan Tricker will all be eligible to play immediately.

“It makes our frontcourt have more depth… having those guys in our rotation will definitely help us,” Hahn said.

The goal with any of coach Hansen’s teams is simple: play a tough non-conference schedule to tune yourself up, play a competitive conference schedule and put yourself in a place to win the Summit League tournament in the spring.

“You have to get through your pre-conference, and if you can get through as healthy as you can, and get as good as you can… then you’ll be better going into the conference season for it,” Hansen said. “To be able to take our brand… and to be able to play on the PAC-12 network… and the Big 10 network… (it’s) invaluable to us.”

“Obviously, (we) want to make the NCAA tournament,” Jackson said. “I’m just happy that I got to spend all four years here… just ready to give it my all for my last year.”

The team opens at Minnesota on Tuesday, Nov. 6.