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January 7, 2010Watching Quincy Hankins-Cole take the court, one would automatically assume he would be exactly what Nebraska's roster had been missing.
At 6-8, 240 pounds, the junior forward came into the season seemingly destined to be the physical force in the low post the Huskers had been looking for. However, the transition from junior college to Big 12 Conference basketball has been a little tougher than the Roosevelt, N.Y., native had anticipated.
Along with having to adjust to a whole new level of game speed and conditioning, Hankins-Cole has also had to become more confident in his game in order to be the contributor many expected he would be.
After 15 games of non-conference play, Hankins-Cole said he feels much more comfortable both with himself and his team heading into the start of the Big 12 schedule Saturday against Texas A&M.
Still, the shock of what is expected for players in the best conference in college basketball hasn't completely worn off.
"I've never gone through anything like that," Hankins-Cole said. "I had tough conditioning (in junior college), but I don't think I've ever gone through anything like this before. It pays off in the long run though."
Hankins-Cole has put together a couple nice performances in his 13 games played so far this season, including two 15-point nights in wins over Jackson State and Southern Utah. However, he's also been hampered throughout the year with injury issues, most recently a leg injury that held him out of two straight games against Chicago State and Oregon State.
Because he was banged up for the majority of the non-conference season, head coach Doc Sadler didn't sound confident when talking about how much Hankins-Cole could help Nebraska bang in the post during Big 12 play.
"I'd say as far as durability, he's been about the least durable guy we've had," Sadler said. "You hope that he would, with his body, that he would add some depth, but I've not seen that consistency yet from him that convinces me that that's going to be the case."
How well he can handle the physicality of the Big 12 will likely be a day-to-day situation for Hankins-Cole for the rest of the season. One thing that is for sure, though, is that he won't be afraid to go up against any big man the conference has to offer.
"Size don't matter to me," he said. "If Coach tells me to go bang with them, that's what I'm going to do."
Confident Holley ready to make an impact in Big 12 play
If nothing else, freshman guard Myles Holley has no shortage of confidence heading into his first run through the Big 12.
Though he's averaged a little less than 11 minutes of playing time in only nine games this season, Holley said he's made enough progress through the first half of his first collegiate season to play a role for Nebraska during conference play.
In particular, Holley said his rebounding ability was likely his strongest asset at this point. He currently ranks sixth on the team with 3.0 rebounds per game, and he posted the third-highest total of any Husker this season when he hauled in 11 boards against Southern Utah.
"Rebounding has always been a part of my game because I'm so athletic and it's hard for people to box me out," Holley said. "I've basically been rebounding all my life. Being the type of player that I am - high-flying, athletic - it's important to rebound.
"Coach Doc is real big on rebound, rebound, rebound. When I get a chance to show what I can do, I'm going to rebound, rebound, rebound."
Coaches agree Big 12 is as tough as ever
During Thursday's Big 12 coaches' teleconference, each of the 12 coaches were asked about the overall strength of the league and whether this season may be its best yet since its debut in 1996.
As of Thursday, Kansas and Texas were sitting as the No. 1 and 2 teams in the nation, respectively, and Kansas State (11th) and Texas Tech (22nd) were also in the Associated Press Top-25. Not only that, Texas A&M, Baylor and Oklahoma State all received votes in the poll.
All 12 teams have a record of 9-5 or better, and the league currently boasts a combined winning percentage of nearly 83 percent (140-29), marking its best start ever.
In other words, the answers from the coaches were pretty much the same across the board.
"I think everyone knew that Kansas and Texas were going to be two teams that when everything was said and done would have a legitimate chance to play for the National Championship," Sadler said. "I also, even in preseason I made a statement that the teams such as Colorado, Iowa State, Texas Tech, Baylor - I thought the bottom of the league was going to be by far the strongest it's ever been, and I think it's pooling to be that. Besides (Kansas and Texas), I think the other 10 teams have shown that they can go places on the road and win, because all of us have done that. We've taken care of home court pretty much.
"It sets up for an unbelievable year as far as the fans are concerned and the players are concerned. It's going to be a long year for coaches because each and every night, you better have your team ready to play no matter who it is."
Last year's loss at buzzer not forgotten by NU
As much as Sadler has tried to make his returning players forget about last season's heartbreaking loss to Texas A&M in Lincoln, the bitter taste the game slightly still lingers.
For those who may have forgotten the game (or blocked it out), A&M's Josh Carter drained a deep 3-pointer as time expired to give the Aggies a 57-55 victory.
If anything, Sadler has tried to use the game as an example for his young roster of how one or two plays can change the outcome of a game in the Big 12. Before Carter's shot, Nebraska had led since the 14-minute mark of the first half.
"Obviously we were disappointed," Sadler said. "As I've told this team, there's going to be some times during the year when you're going to win a game like that and you're going to lose some games like that, but the next day that game's over with."
Though he didn't even play in the game nor was he even on the team at that point, freshman guard Christian Standhardinger was almost as upset as anyone when Carter's shot went in.
Standhardinger just happened to be on his official recruiting visit for that game, and he still remembers vividly how he felt watching his future team suffer such a sudden and heartbreaking loss.
"I was watching it and I was like, 'Oh no!'" Standhardinger said. "I just watched it go in there, and it was so sad. I was not on the team at this time, but this loss, like, really bothered me because I know I would go to Nebraska, and then (for A&M) to shoot a buzzer 3-pointer and win with one? I was so, ugh. I'm so excited to be there at Texas A&M and get the revenge for that and kick their butts."
***Sadler said outside of lingering injuries for guards Brandon Richardson and Eshaunte Jones, Nebraska is probably as healthy as it's going to be all season heading into Saturday's Big 12 opener. He also said both Richardson and Jones were getting healthier and should be able to make it through the conference schedule barring any setbacks.