LINCOLN — Dachon Burke was supposed to be the next guy.
It went Terran Pettaway, Andrew White, James Palmer and then him — the next transfer to lead Nebraska. He left Robert Morris in 2018 after averaging 17 points per game — expected to be the player coaches and fans put their hopes on for next season.
In a matter of months, that plan fell apart. Burke lost his coach and many of his teammates. He was recruited over. He’s gone from The Guy to just another guy.
“I’m taking it well,” Burke said after practice Tuesday. “I mean, obviously got recruited by (Tim) Miles, you know. Things happen for a reason. I still love Miles to this day. He and I have a good relationship. (Fred) Hoiberg, he’s a great guy since he’s been here. Things have gone well as a team.”
Burke still has a chance to be a serious contributor for Nebraska. But his guaranteed starting spot? That’s gone. The massive playing time he was slated for? Out the door.
Nebraska’s backcourt is now flooded with talent, and what Hoiberg does with positions 1 through 3 is anyone’s guess.
Burke will battle for playing time with juco transfer Cam Mack, Mr. Basketball in Ohio Samari Curtis, juco transfer Jervay Green, returner Thorir Thorbjarnarson, graduate transfer Haanif Cheatham and Nevada transfer Shamiel Stevenson. Hoiberg could play any of them at point guard to small forward.
Burke, a gritty, in-your-face defender and slasher from New Jersey, is up for the challenge.
“I feel like I improved a lot,” Burke said of a year on the practice squad. “I’d say when I first came in, I was trying to go up and down, not really slowing the game down. And then I started watching film, and I feel like that helped me a lot. I watch film a lot now.”
The 6-foot-4 Burke spent two years at Robert Morris. He appeared in 33 games as a freshman, scoring 7.6 points per contest with 3.9 rebounds. He blossomed a year later with 17.6 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.1 steals per game. He shot 33% from 3-point range and 45% from the floor.
He had his best game as a sophomore against LIU Brooklyn with 29 points, including 3 of 4 shots from 3-point range, and six rebounds. Less than two weeks later, he scored 11 with 14 rebounds against Mount St. Mary’s.
“One thing is on his mind a lot of times, and that’s score the ball,” Hoiberg said. “I’ve been very pleased with Dachon. The one thing with that kid you are never going to have an issue with is, he’s going to go out there and play hard.”
Burke said he picked up what he calls “cheat codes” from guarding Palmer all last year. Things to do off the ball to get ahead of your guy, things to do when the ref isn’t looking. And he learned early he needs to be the aggressor to play in the Big Ten.
“Coming out of that bubble and hitting first, I’ll say,” Burke said. “As a sophomore, going against a pro every day, that helps your game. So I just try to tell the guys, ‘You gotta stay physical, you gotta stay aggressive on defense and on offense, you can’t just (do it) on one side on the court.’ ”
A lot of times, sit-out transfers struggle in their transition from the scout team. For 12 months, their job is to bother the starters as much as possible. To be ball hogs, shoot from wherever they want, foul like crazy.
And according to players and coaches from last year, Burke was very good at all of that, often the best player at practice. But when transfers become eligible, it can take time to get back to playing within a system and to shed the bad habits.
Hoiberg doesn’t want just one primary scorer. He has a lot of weapons. So the first step for Burke will be weaning him off the mentality of scoring first and being the only option.
“Our biggest thing with Dachon is making simple plays,” Hoiberg said. “He, at times, tries to force the issue, drive through two. But when he draws the defender, his job is to make the simple play.”
Nebraska is in the early stages of rebuilding. In the fourth summer practice, which the media were allowed to watch, there was no difference between starters and backups. There is no depth chart. Everyone is on equal footing.
Burke has been here before.
He has never gone from one season to the next with more than four of the same teammates. He knows the importance of becoming a team-first guy. So he’s been Ubering a lot, he said with a smile, driving around any of the 11 new scholarship players through Lincoln. He says the team is in a “caterpillar” phase.
“We’re not a butterfly yet,” he said. And Burke acknowledges that now is a fragile time, when he and the team need to open up to each other and grow close.
Only after that’s done can the depth chart be sorted out, and only after that will Burke really know where he stands.
“You have to embrace the challenge, I would say,” Burke said. “Embrace the process. You come in, you think you know, but you just gotta be all open ears.”