by Roy Nelson Jr.
With the recent exposure and success of some of Omaha’s brightest stars on the hardwood, it seems that Nebraska may be on the verge of becoming a basketball goldmine to be reckoned with in the nation. With players like Hunter Sallis, Saint Thomas, and Chucky Hepburn receiving national recognition, as well as three of the state’s top teams being ranked in MaxPreps national top 25 list this year, the metro is proving that we are more than just a football state. Yes football is still king here, but the talent on the hardwood can no longer be ignored.
Over the past decade, the metro has produced great talent that has captured the attention at the highest levels. With players like Khyri Thomas and Justin Patton being drafted into the NBA, Tra-Deon Hollins, being recognized as one of the best defenders in the NCAA during his time at UNO, and Treshawn Thurman making it to the NBA G-League, and a plethora of others that are making careers overseas and in semi-pro leagues, the metro is making a statement that we deserve more respect. Not just nationally, but even right here at home. And I think this upcoming generation has the tools to take it even further.
Sallis is a consensus 5-star, top-15 player in the country, by far the highest ranked in the history of our state. He recently committed to Gonzaga University, which has been a top 5 basketball program for at least the past 10 years, and just played for the national championship this past season. He has been selected to every major All-American game and was chosen as a 2nd team All-American. Saint Thomas, a Loyola University commit, was chosen as a 2nd team all-American by MaxPreps and along with Sallis led their Millard North team to this year’s state championship and nationally ranked in the top 15 to end the season. Hepburn put together one of the best high school careers in recent state history and will be continuing his playing career at Wisconsin. These are all programs with recent NCAA tournament success and they intend to be huge parts of those program’s plans in the coming years. With all these accolades, the most honorable thing about these players is their unwavering support of one another. These players understand how important they are to each other’s success. They do not allow the narrative of rivalries come between their long times friendships and brotherhood, which allows them to sharpen each other and push one another to greater heights.
Not only are the players excelling, but the higher demand for development of these players has brought forth more skills development coaches and trainers that are doing great things for our community. Guys like Kristopher Kuhn of HoopRank, Lamar McMorris of Results Academy, and many others have been giving back and pouring into this next group of players with the knowledge and skills that they have learned during their playing days to prepare them for the next level. It is programs like these that will continue to shape the direction of basketball in our city. And before you know it the small city in the middle of the map will become the stomping ground for some of the best basketball talent in the country.