By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Focus on what you can control.
This advice used to sound “kind of cliché,” but now it’s something Damiri Lindo embodies.
The University of Nebraska at Kearney redshirt junior has learned to block out the external distractions and “stay locked in” on his goals as a basketball player and student-athlete.
“That’s where my head is at right now,” he says. “The past few years have been wild, but it’s also like, what can I learn from this? Where can I find the positives?”
An Oakland, California, native, Lindo started his college basketball career at Holy Names University, a small, Division II school located about 10 minutes from his home. He spent three years there, including the COVID-canceled 2020-21 season, and averaged 9.4 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game as a two-year starter.
Although the coach who recruited him during high school was no longer there, Lindo still felt comfortable at Holy Names, a place where he could play basketball while remaining close to family and longtime friends.
He never planned to leave the university – until there was no other option.
In late 2022, the 155-year-old Catholic school announced that it would be closing at the end of the spring semester. Lindo and many of his teammates immediately entered the transfer portal, hoping to find a new home while playing their final season for the Hawks.
“It was tough, but I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, and that’s why I ended up here,” Lindo said. “I’m very appreciative of Holy Names for the opportunity they gave me. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be here.”
With his recruitment window open again, Lindo thought about staying in California, but he was also interested in a few MIAA schools, including UNK.
“I was looking for a real growth opportunity,” he explained. “Going to a school closer to home might have been more comfortable and I might have been able to transition easier, but I think coming all the way out here was the best fit for me.”
Lindo saw a chance to play elite-level basketball in the MIAA – “That’s something I was looking for as a competitor,” he said – and the UNK coaching staff saw a versatile guard with the size and skill set to make an immediate impact in the conference.
“He can do a little bit of everything,” UNK interim head coach Antoine Young said. “He’s a strong, physical guard. He can get downhill. He’s got a good mid-range. And if you leave him open, he’s able to shoot the 3. At 6-foot-5, he’s a guard who can hurt you in a lot of ways.”
He’s also a “great kid,” according to Young.
When Lindo visited campus for the first time and met his future teammates, there was an instant connection.
“We felt like he fit our culture,” Young said. “He comes from a great family and a great background. He really fit the type of kid that we want to bring into the program.”
And the program really fit his needs.
“They made me feel welcome, and I think that was a big thing,” Lindo said. “This is my first time leaving home, and it’s been a little different. But I think different is good.”
LEADING BY EXAMPLE
Lindo made his Loper debut Nov. 25 against Wayne State, scoring nine points in 21 minutes off the bench.
He’s started all 14 games since then and leads the team in scoring average (12.5) while shooting 83% from the free-throw line and 38% from beyond the arc. Three other players – D’Aundre Samuels, Sean Evans and Sean Murphy – also average double-figure scoring for the Lopers.
Although the team is just 5-13 this season, Lindo believes all the ingredients are there for future success.
“We have a lot of talent. We have the pieces to be really good,” he said. “For us, it just comes down to being mentally locked in every game and every practice. And that has to be across the board, from the coaching staff down. We’ve had some spurts where we’ve really shown who we can be as a team, and I think now it’s just about becoming consistent with it.”
Playing for his fourth head coach in four years, Lindo has never allowed his faith in himself or his teammates to waver.
That’s one of his leadership qualities.
“The guys really respect him,” Young said. “He really wants to be part of a winning program and get a program going in the right direction, and I think the guys genuinely follow that.”
At 22 years old, Lindo sees himself as a big brother for the younger players, someone who’s there to encourage them and get them through those “tough conversations.” He’s also a “gym rat” who’s always working hard to get better.
“In order to be a leader who can speak to the guys and really connect with them, you have to show them that you’re about what you say you’re about,” he said. “Before I can hold anybody else to a standard, I always have to look at myself first.”
Lindo approaches basketball like a business, because he expects to play professionally. He lives alone in a residence hall on campus, allowing him to focus on athletics and academics.
“Those two things are the most important,” said Lindo, who’s studying business administration and sports management. “Understanding that I’m at a time when I can set myself up for success without distractions has been super big for me.”
Young, who played professional basketball in the Netherlands, Switzerland and Mexico, believes Lindo has the talent and determination to accomplish his goals. Lindo looks to Young for guidance.
“I listen to what he says because I understand that it can make me a better person and a better player,” Lindo said. “This is somebody who has been in the shoes that I want to fill.”
He’s also supported and inspired by his parents and other family members. His father Delroy is an accomplished actor who’s appeared in numerous films, television shows and theater productions and his mother Nashormeh is an artist, educator, curator and consultant who previously served as chair of the California Arts Council.
“I’m here for myself, but I’m also here for my family and I want to make them proud,” Lindo said. “That’s something that I don’t take lightly, because I understand that I have a real support system.”
Lindo plans to complete his degree in spring 2025, allowing him to play college basketball for another year. Right now, he’s “fully focused” on remaining at UNK.
“I feel like we have a lot more to accomplish, especially with the guys that we have,” Lindo said. “I really want to win with these guys and I really want to do something special.”