University of Nebraska head women’s basketball coach Amy Williams could tell there was something different about Sam Haiby during the recruiting process.
The former Moorhead Spuds star wasn’t just basketball focused.
“I would call her and she would be out playing pick-up hockey,” Williams said. “She’s just a very unique individual.”
Now a sophomore at Nebraska, Haiby has proved to be a unique talent for the Cornhuskers. The 5-foot-9 guard ranks second on the team in scoring, averaging 11.3 points per game through 20 games. She’s also averaging 3.8 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.7 steals per contest.
Haiby, who played basketball for the Spuds in high school, is having a homecoming of sorts this week. Nebraska (15-5, 5-4 Big Ten) plays at the University of Minnesota at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 30, in a Big Ten Conference tilt at Williams Arena.
“I’ve been looking forward to this game for a long time now,” said Haiby, whose team didn’t play at Minnesota last season due to the unbalanced Big Ten schedule. “To be able to play in front of my family and friends back in my home state, it’s going to be really fun and exciting for me.”
The game could feel more like a home game for Haiby, who is expected to have a sizable cheering section at Williams Arena. Moorhead girls basketball coach Jed Carlson said the school is sending a bus with 60 fans to Thursday’s game, including current Spuds players. Some of those players were teammates with Haiby.
Carlson is grateful the schedule worked so he could bring his team to watch Haiby play against the Gophers. She finished her Spuds career with 2,421 points, 748 rebounds, 525 assists and 405 steals. That was good for 25.7 points, 7.4 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 4.7 steals per game during her high school career.
“It means a lot,” Carlson said. “I think it’s really fun for our kids. She’s kind of a legend for the kids who are playing now.”
Carlson said he had to turn a few people away by the end of if because the fan bus was filled.
Jay and Janet Haiby, Sam’s parents, will also be at Thursday’s game. They have made four of their daughter's games this season, and around eight or nine during her freshman season.
The Big Ten Network is a go-to for the Haibys when they cannot watch Sam play in person.
Sam not only is going to have a bus filled with Spuds fans at the game, she also played on a traveling team based in the Twin Cities area when she was in high school.
“It’s going to be a fun deal,” Jay said, “There are a lot of ties there.”
While Janet said she follows Sam’s academics more closely than athletics, it’s been fun to watch her daughter excel on the court for the Cornhuskers. Sam was also the team’s second-leading scorer as a freshman, averaging 10.0 points per game off the bench.
“She is really enjoying her college time,” Janet said. “It’s still a little bit surreal to me to watch her on (television).”
Sam has started all 20 games this season, averaging nearly 26 minutes per game. She’s improved her 3-point shooting making 39% (22 of 56) of her shots from beyond the arc. As a freshman, she shot 31% (15 of 48) from 3-point range.
“She worked hard this offseason to become a more consistent perimeter shooter,” Williams said. “She’s got that explosiveness to be able to get herself to the basket … the better she’s shooting from beyond the arc, the more it opens up opportunities and avenues and lanes for her to be able to us that explosiveness to the basket.”
Williams also likes that Sam can affect the game in multiple areas, whether it’s grabbing a rebound, setting up a teammate for a basket or getting a steal.
“It’s critical,” said Williams, a former head coach at the University of South Dakota. “It’s one of the things we absolutely loved about her in the recruiting process. We’re constantly looking for that versatility.”
Williams said Sam is an “absolute sports junkie” who in the spring often watches Cornhusker baseball or softball games. She played baseball in high school.
“We went to Topgolf over Thanksgiving break and she had a beautiful golf swing,” Williams said. “I think she just has a natural instinct to be good at almost anything.”
Sam likes the challenge of being a Division I athlete in a Power Five conference. Last Friday for example, her class schedule ended soon before an early afternoon practice. After that, the team took a plane to Madison, Wis., for a game. Nebraska earned a dramatic 72-71 victory, rallying from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter. Haiby had a key steal with 7.7 seconds to play in the fourth quarter and added two key free throws with 5.3 seconds to go to seal the road victory.
She finished that game with 11 points, six rebounds, three assists and five steals.
“Once you get here it’s definitely a lot at first with class and everything, and then in the conference that we’re in, you’re traveling quite a bit,” Haiby said. “But it’s been really fun and my coaches and teammates support me every step of the way.”