Bryce McGowens is the crown jewel of Fred Hoiberg’s top-20 2021 recruiting class, but he isn’t the only top-100 recruit in the class. Wilhelm Breidenbach, a 4-star forward from Mater Dei (Santa Ana, California), is a talented prospect in his own right and someone that Hoiberg and Matt Abdelmassih made a priority early on.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the high school basketball season in California got pushed back further into the spring. Mater Dei is currently competing in the CIF Southern Section Championships, and unfortunately they’re doing it without Breidenbach as he suffered a torn meniscus in mid-May.
Breidenbach was averaging 15.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.8 assists for the undefeated Monarchs when he went down. Since then, Mater Dei has gone 4-2.
Breidenbach recorded six 20-point performances as a senior before his injury, the latest of which came against Capistrano Valley Christian on May 14. Breidenbach finished with 21 points on 8-of-11 shooting (1-of-3 from 3) and 4-of-6 free-throw shooting, 10 rebounds (one offensive), five assists, one turnover and two steals in 28 minutes by my count.
That game showed all the reasons Hoiberg sees the 6-foot-9 forward as such a good fit for his system. Let’s take a closer look.
We’ll start with the scoring. Mater Dei went to Breidenbach on the first play of the game, getting him the ball in the mid-post on the right side of the court.
Breidenbach turned and faced up his defender, looking to attack to his left hand, towards the middle of the court.
He put the ball on the deck twice, getting his defender on his hip as a guard from the far side dropped into the paint in help.
The help defender tried to wall up on Breidenbach, but the future Husker took the contact and put the ball up softly over the top.
The ball hit the heel of the rim and dropped through while the help defender bounced off Breidenbach and went flying. Strength has been something of a, well, weakness throughout his high school career, but he showed he can finish through contact on this play.
Later on, Breidenbach caught the ball on the wing and immediately threw a shot-fake at his defender. His man reacted to the fake and Breidenbach put the ball on the deck to attack to his left.
Breidenbach dribbled the ball twice, and as a help defender slid over in front of him he rose up instead of barreling forward, shooting a left-handed push floater from about 10 feet out.
Once again, Breidenbach showed off a soft touch as the ball caught the front of the rim and bounced in.
Perhaps his most impressive bucket came in the third quarter. Breidenbach had the ball but gave it up and then reposted near the elbow, sealing his man and catch the ball in the mid-post.
Breidenbach dribbled towards the middle of the floor, backing his man down. As he saw a help defender digging down from the top of the key he spun back to his right.
After the spin, Breidenbach gave the defender a slight shot-fake, hitting him with an up-and-under move.
Breidenbach split his man and the help defender then went up with his left hand for the bucket.
Breidenbach has terrific footwork, whether it be in the low or mid post. He prefers to finish with his left hand around the basket (despite shooting jumpers with his right) but can use either one around the basket. He went 1-for-2 on right-handed jump hooks in this game. He also got a dunk on a terrific set play against a 2-3 zone and had a couple of lucky bounces go his way for uncontested bunnies at the rim (one off a deflected pass and the other off a bricked jumper).
Breidenbach went 1-for-3 on 3-point shots, though his toughest attempt was the one he hit. In the second quarter, he caught the ball near the elbow, reverse-pivoted to face up then put the ball on the deck and stepped back for the 3, swishing it. The two misses were catch-and-shoot looks, one from the left wing and the other from the left corner.
Breidenbach certainly has the ability to hit perimeter shots, but I’m still not sure what kind of a shooter he actually is. On MaxPreps, Mater Dei tracks makes but not attempts, so it doesn’t show a percentage. In the nine games I watched on YouTube (two from his sophomore year, six from his junior year and this Capistrano Valley Christian game from his senior year), he shot 7-of-21 from deep. He has 59 made 3s in 113 career games including 12 3s in 21 games this season.
Even more than the shooting potential, I think the part of Breidenbach’s game that Hoiberg is most excited about (based on what he’s said about him since he signed) is his passing, and he dropped some absolute dimes against Capistrano Valley Christian.
Early in the second quarter, Breidenbach pulled down a defensive rebound and immediately looked to push the ball up the floor (grab-and-go ability is another thing that makes him a good fit for Hoiberg’s style of play).
He dribbled the ball once with his left hand then saw a teammate streaking ahead and, in one motion, transitioned from dribble directly into pass with his left hand.
Breidenbach hit his teammate in stride and the Monarch dribbled in for the finish plus a foul.
Breidenbach scored or assisted on Mater Dei’s first 11 points, and 20 of the team’s 31 first-half points.
Skip ahead to the third quarter and Capistrano Valley is back in the 2-3 zone it had used at different points throughout the game. Mater Dei got the ball to Breidenbach at the high post. Breidenbach took a dribble to his left as the top defenders pinched down, and as he’s moving he sees a teammate cutting towards the rim.
Breidenbach rose up and delivered a bullet pass between two defenders while falling back, hitting his teammate right in the chest for an easy layup.
The ability to read the play and then deliver the pass so accurately in the span of two seconds at his height shows why Hoiberg is so excited about what Breidenbach will be able to do in his four-out and five-out sets. Breidenbach sets a lot of on- and off-ball screens and he operates out of the high-post as well as the perimeter to initiate offense for the Monarchs, so the transition to Hoiberg’s offense should be pretty smooth for him.
Breidenbach also plays hard. Whenever he’s not the one clearing the glass, he runs the floor hard in transition. In the fourth quarter against Capistrano Valley Christian, with Mater Dei leading by 21, he hit the deck going for a loose ball and tipped it to a teammate.
Defensively, Breidenbach is a pretty solid rebounder, though he does need to continue adding strength to his frame as he occasionally struggles to hold his ground. He’s not blessed with tremendous lateral quickness, but he does work hard and shows some ability to switch and hold up on the perimeter because of that. He has terrific help defense instincts and can be an effective rim protector. He’s also willing to step in and take charges.
Breidenbach is an incredibly versatile player and I’m looking forward to seeing the ways Hoiberg uses him at Nebraska. Add the goggles to his unique skill set and I think he has a chance to become a fan favorite in Lincoln pretty quickly.
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.