The highest-rated recruiting class in Nebrasketball history will soon arrive in Lincoln. ESPN ranked Nebraska’s class 15th while Rivals has it at No. 20, averaging out to 17th according to the 247Sports Composite.
The headliner is the first 5-star recruit Nebraska has landed coming out of high school: Bryce McGowens. He’s ranked 24th by ESPN and 247Sports and 26th by Rivals, averaging out to 25th in the 247Sports Composite.
Just how good is he? Well, he scored 2,288 points in his high school career between his three years at Wren High School in Piedmont, South Carolina, and his one year at Legacy Early College.
That career included a 65-point explosion during his junior year at Wren that showed off just how potent of a scorer he really is. The full game is available on YouTube. By my count, he shot 22-of-31 from the field, 8-of-14 from 3 and 13-of-16 from the free-throw line, and he added four rebounds, four steals, one assist and one turnover in 28 minutes in a 103-78 playoff win against Travelers Rest.
Let’s start with the 3-pointers. McGowens shot 40% from 3 on nearly 700 attempts in his high school career, and we’re not talking about toe-on-the-line catch-and-shoot 3s here. I’m terrible about guessing distance, but by my estimation his average attempt length was 22.7 feet, and his makes were from 23.8 feet on average.
McGowens set the tone right from the start. This was his second touch.
McGowens faked a back-cut then popped back out for the catch-and-shoot look above, which he buried despite the close-out and contest.
McGowens made his first five catch-and-shoot 3s before missing his last three. He’s not just a spot-up shooter, though. His others came off the dribble, either step-backs or pull-ups, and he shot 3-for-6 on those. Here’s the first step-back triple he hit.
McGowens brought the ball up and ended up isolating on his defender. As you can see here, his man is up pretty tight.
McGowens makes one hard dribble to his left, forcing the defender to retreat…
And then he steps back to create the space he needed to get the shot off.
The defender does a pretty good job closing out and contesting the shot, but it didn’t matter. Money.
McGowens’ touch off the dribble extends inside the arc as well. He shot 4-of-6 on 2-point pull-up jumpers.
This was the first possession of the game. Wren won the tip and McGowens started off the ball, setting up on the right wing with the ball across the court. A teammate came over to get McGowens free with a screen.
McGowens flashed to the ball and caught it, squaring up as the defender hustled to recover and get back in front. He reads the situation and gives the defender a shot-fake.
The defender reacted to the fake and left his feet, so McGowens put the ball on the deck back towards the middle of the floor.
Suddenly finding plenty of space, McGowens rose up on balance and let it fly.
He knocked down the shot, letting Travelers Rest know it was going to be a long day.
McGowens has incredible touch and the body control to knock down shots even when he isn’t totally on balance. Later in the first quarter, he went back to the pull-up.
McGowens isolated at the top of the key once again, showing off his first step and long strides to get by his defender.
McGowens had his man beat and the defender panicked, reaching out to get a hand on him. Seeing the help defenders sliding into the paint and feeling the contact, McGowens decided to rise up for the jumper.
He was hoping for the foul call but didn’t get it. Instead he just knocked the shot down, even though he was off balance, falling back and leaning to his left a bit.
That same touch extends to in-between shots as he went 3-for-3 on floaters. This next play was one of the most impressive he made and shows how his length allows him to cover a lot of ground in a hurry.
After a Travelers Rest bucket, McGowens brought the ball up and called for a ball screen.
Travelers Rest tried to hard-hedge and trap the screen, but McGowens beat the trap and turned the corner.
This kid picked the ball up at the 3-point line as a defender helped off his man in the corner to drop into the paint. He took one step with his left…
Then took another step with his right around the help defender…
And rose up for the right-handed floater elevating off his right foot.
He used the same Euro-step into a floater move two more times, and on the third one he converted the floater while getting fouled. Again, touch and body control.
McGowens has the ability to get all the way to the rim as well as he shot 7-of-8 around the cup (the only miss was a dunk attempt he got rim-stuffed on as a defender flew by). He made three dunks, two acrobatic layups, a finger roll and a tip-in.
He can get to the rack off the bounce almost whenever he wants, but the threat of McGowens’ jumper also makes him dangerous off the ball. On this play, his teammate missed a 3-pointer but another Wren player secured the ball and kicked it out to McGowens wide open on the right wing. A defender franticly closed out as McGowens gave a slight shoulder fake after he caught the ball.
McGowens blew by the defender closing out and got into the paint. Another defender was waiting for him in front of the rim, so he came to two feet in the middle of the lane and elevated.
McGowens jumped sideways to avoid the defender, going with an up-and-under type of move mid-air that led to an inside hand finish he flipped over the rim and in.
I think the number of free-throw attempts speaks for itself and it is a huge part of his game. He attempted 756 free throws in his career and converted them at a 75.5% clip. He’s so long and crafty off the bounce that it is difficult for defenders to stay in front of him.
McGowens is rather slight, and oftentimes the contact knocks him off balance pretty easily. If he can get some work done in the weight room in Lincoln and add some muscle to his frame, he could start to turn those fouls into and-ones and become even more of a handful.
That leap from high school to college is difficult even for some of the most talented prospects, but McGowens has the tools needed to be a complete scorer at the next level — to which 65 points in one game would attest.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.