Thorir Thorbjarnarson, a 6-foot-6, 206-pound guard from Reykjavik, Iceland, begins his junior season on the Nebraska men’s basketball team, and after a whirlwind of offseason changes within the program, is the Huskers’ only returning player who logged minutes last season. Thorbjarnarson said he never considered transferring, saying, “I always had that in my mind that I was going to come back and keep playing here.” He played in 25 games last season, averaging two points and 2.1 rebounds and 1.2 assists. Thorbjarnarson returned to Lincoln earlier this month after averaging 10 points per game for Iceland’s senior national team in the Games of the Small States of Europe, and visited with Brian Rosenthal of Huskers.com for this question-and-answer session.
BR: How was your summer?
Thorir: “A little hectic, but also just a little refreshing, going back home to Iceland and see my family and friends. Especially my last couple of weeks in Iceland were really good. Probably record-setting weather – probably 65, 70. And our national team had a couple of home games for the European qualifiers in soccer. I got to see one of those. It was pretty cool.”
BR: Was it difficult to leave?
Thorir: “Uh, yes and no. You know, I always want to spend a little more time with my family, of course, and see my friends. But basketball is something I love to do, and here I am playing basketball. And we’ve got to get ready for an exciting season. It’s just best to come back and start early.”
BR: What do you like about playing at Nebraska?
Thorir: “In mean, the facilities, first of all, are awesome. It’s something quite different from what we have at home and what I have experienced. And also, I just like the nice and quietness of Lincoln. It’s not too big, it’s not crowded. It’s just kind of – as I say, I always talk about going back home – but it’s kind of like home. And the fans, of course. You have to mention the fans. They’re absolutely incredible. They support us so much, and going to play in PBA and then going to Husker games and volleyball and all that, it’s amazing.”
BR: What have you learned in your first two years here?
Thorir: “I’m getting used to things around here. I just learned a lot about myself. My freshman year, it was a learning curve. I didn’t play too much. We had a big roster. Last year, during toward the end of the season, when I started to play more, I mean, I just learned a lot about myself, you know? Of course, as a basketball player, that’s always what you want to do; you want to strive for more playing time. You want to play. You want to do good. That’s how I felt I played during the end of last season. But also just being here on my own, far away from all my friends and family in another country, I thought it was going to be a little harder than it is. I’ve grown a lot in these two years. I don’t know. I just thought I would be more homesick, you know? As I said, it’s always fun to go back to see your family and friends, but I also enjoy being here. As I said, Lincoln is a good place.”
BR: This is a completely different roster. You’re the only one returning with playing time. How strange is that for you?
Thorir: “It is pretty crazy. Coming back from break and there’s 14 new players and a whole new coaching staff, except for Gates. But this is how it is in college basketball, I guess. There can be a lot of big changes. Maybe not this drastic, but you know, this is how it went down, and we just got to accept that and work with what we’ve got.”
BR: Are you OK with the attention that may come as being the only returning player?
Thorir: “I mean, I haven’t really thought about it that much. I mean, yeah, it’s kind of crazy to think that from that first day I got to Lincoln, there’s no one left on the team that I was on my freshman year, and there’s Dachon from last year. But I don’t think about it that much. I’m still a Husker. Guys coming in, they’re Huskers, and now we’ve just got to form that bond and play for the ‘N.’ ”
BR: How do you get to know your new teammates?
Thorir: “We’ve played pickup games the last few days, and that’s been pretty good. We met in here (Hendricks Training Complex) and we had a meeting and were kind of going over things that I already knew, but there’s things they had to know, people they had to know. But yeah, playing pickup that last couple of days and just hanging around the locker room, it’s a good start. As the summer progresses, I hope to get to know them a little more, a little better, and build up the chemistry.”
BR: It’s early, but how do you feel about the team?
Thorir: “From what I’ve seen, I really like what’s going on. Even though it’s only been a few scrimmages and we’re still missing a couple of guys, it looks pretty good. From what I’ve seen of the guys who are here, they look like a great group of guys. I’m just excited to help building the chemistry. And it’s good to have a little international flavor on the team, too, because last year I was the only foreigner, but now we’ve got about five.”
BR: What’s your role on this team? What does Coach Hoiberg expect from you?
Thorir: “We haven’t talked in that regard much, but it’s just I know what kind of basketball I play, and he knows how I play. You know, as you said, being the only guy back, kind of guiding the guys. I know my way around here, I guess, and helping them in that sense. But basketball-wise, I’m still unsure. We’ve started workouts, and after the end of the summer I’ll have a clearer mind on what my role is with the team. Of course, you want to play more and contribute more. As a junior, now I want to play.”
BR: Maybe a better question would be how do you feel you fit into Coach Hoiberg’s system?
Thorir: “Yeah, run-and-gun, fast-paced, 3-pointers. Rule change in the NCAA, going back to the FIBA European 3-point line, so that’s something that I’m a big fan of. I played with that 3-point line before I got back here. I’m a fan of the rule change about the 3-point line. The way I see it, my game, I work a lot in space. Even when I don’t have the ball, I’m good at cutting and finding the openings. So with better spacing, broader 3-point line, there’s going to be more space as well. I’m guessing he’s a big fan of the rule change, too, because there’s going to be more space on the court. Yeah, I’m looking forward to learning the system and finding those openings and seeing what I can do in that regard.”
BR: What do you like about Coach Hoiberg and the staff in general?
Thorir: “I do like everybody that’s come in. Hoiberg, he’s obviously a guy who knows it all. He’s been at every level of the game. He’s had a successful career. He is also a former player, which I like, because he can put things into perspective. He knows what you’re going through. And he’s a straightforward guy. He’s talked about helping me with my shot, those kinds of things. And the rest of the guys that came with him, too.”
BR: And having Armon Gates return as an assistant coach has to help with the transition, too, right?
Thorir: “Yeah, he’s coming back for his second year, so he knows things around here as well. It’s good to see a familiar face. We still have our equipment manager Pat, and R.J. and Tim Wilson … it’s good to see all these familiar faces as well, but it’s also kind of exciting to have this new face of the Huskers.”
BR: What areas do you expect to focus on during your individual workouts?
Thorir: “Probably mainly for me would be becoming a more consistent shooter. And the weight room has to be a little more – I need to get stronger, I guess. But my number one goal will be to become a more consistent shooter, because I always look at myself as a shooter, but what I’ve missed is kind of getting that consistency going.”
Reach Brian at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.